Two weeks in France with three boys

Old Sep 14th, 2010, 06:33 AM
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Two weeks in France with three boys

Well I am finally getting around to writing a trip report. I think that this report may be particularly useful to those who have children, specifically boys. We have three boys aged 5, 11, & 13. Also I planned the entire trip just a month prior to going on it. I had no problems in finding accommodations, etc..

We spent two weeks in France and went to Normandy (4 nights), Loire (3 nights), and Paris (7 nights). Here is what we did...

After arriving at CDG, we waited HOURS for our car. We rented from Europecar. Apparently their system was down.... (fyi, we have rented from them many times before and have never had any problems). While my DH was waiting, I took care of buying our museum passes for Paris (6 day pass) and taking $ out of the ATM (btw, we got excellent exchange rates from the ATMS throughout France. I noticed that the bank at the airport was charging about .15 more for a Euro!). The boys were exhausted and sat and read while waiting.

We finally got on the road mid afternoon-- so much for that morning start! Our first stop was in Normandy. We stayed on a farm recommended by a fellow fodorite, La Ferme du Pressoir, for four nights. It was even better than expected! (web site: http://www.bandbnormandie.com/) Odile, the owner, is very charming and helpful. And she makes an unbelievable breakfast. Her farm was perfect for our three boys-- plenty of area to just hang out and read or to run around. And you can see that she truly enjoys meeting people from throughout the world. The farm is also in a very central location to see the d day beaches and Mont St. Michel.

We spent a day at the d day beaches. Highlights for our family were Arromanches, the American cemetary and Pont du Hoc. We chose not to go to the musuem at Arromanches as it was very expensive and we have a 5 year old (and the musuem looked to be very crowded). I thought that the exhibit at the American Cemetary did an excellent job in giving us all an overview of D Day. The boys LOVED Pont du Hoc. There are lots of craters from the bombing that took place prior to D Day and the German bunkers are still there. My husband had just read Stephen Ambrose's book about d day and shared stories with us about each location.

We went to dinner that evening in Bayeaux at a restaurant called Le Pommier. Highly recommend it!

The next day we went to Honfleur and to the beaches just west of Honfleur. Honfleur is a charming town. We found that most small towns have at least a merry go round and Honfleur was no exception. While my older son and I explored the town, my husband and two youngest sons went on the merry go round, etc..

After lunch we went to the beach at Deauville. The boys enjoyed this, although the water was a bit colder than they are accustomed to (but this did not keep them out of it!).

If we were to do this again, we probably would not go to Honfleur and would instead spend some time at the beach and explore Caen or Bayeaux. Honfleur, I think, appeals more to adults.

The following day we went to Mont St. Michel. We got a late start and didn't get there until mid AM. It was PACKED!! Ever feel like you are in a can of sardines??? Nevertheless it is magnificent and something that should not be missed. If I am recalling correctly, there were comments on this forum about the walk up to it. We were expecting a very difficult walk. In fact, it was very easy. I think only someone who has difficulty in walking anywhere would have a problem. My boys enjoyed seeing Mont St. Michel and especially enjoyed playing in the mudflats!!! (it was low tide. )

On the recommendation of Odile, we went over to Dinan. Dinan is another charming town. We explored the old part of town, went up the clock tower, and walked the ramparts.

The next day we left for Loire Valley. We had a wonderful time in Normandy and would highly recommend it to other families. Our regret is that we didn't have more than 4 nights to spend there.

Will continue this later...
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Old Sep 14th, 2010, 07:00 AM
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Yes please continue Jeanned! I loved hearing about this part of France - Done Mont St Michel but nothing else. Keep up the good work.
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Old Sep 14th, 2010, 07:32 AM
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I also like hearing about this area as we are looking forward to going to Normandy area soon.

Jeanned: What ws the drive like after flying to Paris and then driving right to Normany? Jet lag? Directions etc.
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Old Sep 14th, 2010, 12:23 PM
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The following day we went to Mont St. Michel. We got a late start and didn't get there until mid AM. It was PACKED!! Ever feel like you are in a can of sardines???>

Yah - never seen more of a mob scene than one August day on the Mont - the main gauntlet to the basilica is so narrow that yes it was elbow to elbow - anyone going in high season should get there really early - we also waiting a long time in line to get into the church on top of the island.

Interesting valuable report.
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Old Sep 14th, 2010, 01:27 PM
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I've been there (Mont Saint Michel) perhaps 5 or 6 times, and the best time was once in January on a very cold and windy day. I had the place all to myself. (However, if the steps had been icy, that would be another story...)
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Old Sep 14th, 2010, 01:27 PM
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hi jeanned,

great start. I'm particularly looking forward to reading what your gang thought of the loire as it was the first part of france to which we took our kids, then 11 & 14.

how long did it take you to drive from CDG to the B&B? [BTW, the link you gave didn't work - i think that it should be:

http://www.bandbnormandie.com/

it's a very nice looking place and ideal for kids to run around.
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Old Sep 15th, 2010, 01:27 PM
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Glad to hear you enjoyed Ferme du Pressoir. It was one of our favorite places in France. Hope Odile served you some of her homemade Calvados (assuming you could stand up after a drink or two!!!). But she is fantastic.
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Old Sep 15th, 2010, 01:51 PM
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Old Sep 16th, 2010, 11:02 AM
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Sue 878, It was a three hour drive, almost entirely highways. If our flight hadn't been late, the drive definitely would have been easier. My husband drove and took one short break (he napped for 15 minutes or so while I took the boys to the bathroom and to get snacks at a truck stop). We had bought a Michelin map in the US and had no problems in finding our way around (you can get gps, but we opted not to get it). In terms of jet lag, we all adjusted fairly quick as the farm had roosters that woke us up bright and early!

Annhig it was three hours from CDG to our B & B. We encoutered a bit of traffic around Paris (it was Sunday afternoon)but after that point, there was very little traffic on the roads. The B & B is a couple of miles off of the highway-- very easy to get to.

Jobo: It was indeed your recommendation to go to Ferme du Pressoir and we appreciate it. Odile is an amazing hostess. Yes, we did have some calvados and other apple treats. Also it was cherry season so we picked fresh cherries each day from her trees-- delicious! And my youngest son enjoyed going with her each day to collect eggs for our omelets! It was everything you promised it would be and more! Merci!!!! (ps. we have friends who are going there in a couple of months on our recommendation).
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Old Sep 16th, 2010, 12:04 PM
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Now for Loire Valley...

We sadly left Normandy and Odile's amazing hospitality mid morning and took a very leisurely drive through the back roads, headed toward Amboise. I can't describe the beauty we saw-- haystacks, unbelievable fields of sunflowers, etc.. I LOVE photography and could have spent days here! It took us about 6 hours to get to Amboise.

We arrived at our hotel, Les Pavillons de Lys (web site: http://www.pavillondeslys.com/). The hotel's location was perfect for us. We were just blocks from the Chateau and restaurants. We got two rooms in the courtyard, one had a king size bed with a loft and the other had just a king size bed. Perfect for our family and very comfortable.

That evening we had a nice dinner at Lyon d'Or and explored the town. The next morning, my husband picked up breakfast at a local bakery and we ate it outside. (the weather was fantastic while we were there). FYI, if breakfast is not included in the room rate, it is quite expensive, especially for what you get. A quick trip to the bakery and the local grocer and you can have a fabulous breakfast for much less.

After breakfast, we went directly to the chateau. The chateau was sparsely furnished but has an interesting history to it. We all enjoyed it.

After lunch, we drove to the Cher river and found a place to rent canoes (in the town of Chivey surTorraine, I believe). We rented two canoes and canoed to Chateau Chenonceau. (fyi you can go further than this; however, it would require you to take the boats out and put them back in on the other side of the lock. We decided against this since we had two canoes and only two adults). This was a fantastic way to approach the chateau for the first time.

After canoeing for a couple of hours, we decided to go to Leonardo's DaVinci's home in Amboise. DaVinci lived here the last three years of his life (in fact, he is buried at the chateau). The house was okay (the basement being the most interesting part for our family as there were exhibits on his inventions). The gardens, however, were fantastic!!! Throughout the gardens, there were life size samples of his inventions. So the boys were able to go on a replica paddleboat, in an "armored" vehicle, etc.. You get the picture. We spent 3 hours here-- almost all of which was outside. We definitely could have spent more time here, but it was already late and the troops were hungry! We had dinner at a mediocre Italian restaurant and then walked around town before retiring for the night.

The next day we had another very busy day. We first went to Chateau Chenonceau. Chenonceau and its grounds are interesting. The chateau is built over the Cher River. We did a self guided tour but frankly found the inside of the chateau to be very crowded. ( As an aside, we heard very few North American accents-- both in the Loire Valley and in Normandy. )The gardens were amazing with the maze, vegetable garden and, of course, the playground being the most interesting/fun for us. We ate lunch at the self service restaurant here-- don't recommend it as it was very expensive. We would have been better off bringing lunch in with us or eating at the reasonably priced creperie just outside the chateau's gates.

In the afternoon, we rented bikes and rode along the Cher River's bike path. If you are a family that likes to bike, there are 1. many places to rent bikes, and 2. many safe roads to explore. In my original research on this forum, I had gotten the impression that the roads were not safe for bike riding. There are paths along both the Cher and Loire Rivers and there are also less traveled roads that are safe for bike riding.

After dinner, we went to the show at Chateau Amboise. I would not recommend this for some families such as ours. Reasons: 1. the entire show is in French and it was very difficult for our children to follow it, especially since they did not know details about the history of the chateau (the show is on the chateau's history); 2. it starts after sunset which in our case was after 10:30pm-- a little too late for our 5 year old (and once seated, you really can't get up and leave unless you are on the end of the aisle which we were not); and 3. it is expensive. I was impressed how well behaved my boys were throughout the show as I know that they were bored for most of the time (1 1/2 hours).

The next day we left Amboise and headed to Chartres. This was less than a 2 hour drive. We visited the cathedral-- just beautiful. I loved the windows, labrynth, etc. After eating lunch, we walked up the North Tower and had a wonderful view. Took some great photos of its architectural features.

We then drove to Paris and arrived there around 5:30. But our week in Paris will have to wait for next time...
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Old Sep 16th, 2010, 12:11 PM
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I have to smile at the idea of boredom, because my brother and I were perfectly behaved but very bored boys on numerous occasions on a trip to Francee when I was 6 and he was 9. But we never forgot that we were doing something "exceptional" and should make an appropriate effort, especially when we could see how interested our parents were.
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Old Sep 20th, 2010, 09:48 AM
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On your drive from Paris to Normandy, did you encounter any problems with the toll booths? Did you pay with exact change, or did you use a credit card? I am glad to hear that you did not require a GPS. We are still trying to decide whether to use one for our drive from Paris to MSM next June--the directions seem fairly simple.
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Old Sep 20th, 2010, 10:20 AM
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A GPS for Mont Saint Michel? It's not exactly hidden away, and there are signs indicating the direction to take at least 50 km in advance.
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Old Sep 20th, 2010, 11:02 AM
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Thanks, kerouac!
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