Family Adventure in Brittany and Loire Valley, France

Discovering the Charms of Brittany and Loire Valley with Kids

Our autumn vacation in France was different from our previous family vacations abroad. I bought the flight tickets to Nantes as soon as the line opened at a laughable price of 70 euros per ticket. I didn’t really know what the travel options in the area were, but it’s France – what could go wrong? Usually, I read about the destinations that interest me and only after I am really captivated and excited, do I look for flight tickets. This was also the case with our vacation in the Azores last summer.

After purchasing the tickets, I began researching the area. The weather at the end of October is already cool, so I decided not to go as far north as Normandy. The chosen destinations are Northern Brittany – the Mont Saint-Michel area and the central Loire Valley.

Following our action-packed two-week family adventure in the Azores, we embraced the idea of a more laid-back vacation in France. This trip, a delightful bonus to our travel calendar, was all about savoring the moments rather than rushing through them. We planned for a serene experience, with Mont Saint-Michel as our only must-visit landmark. Our itinerary was flexible, open to spontaneous discoveries rather than filled with exhausting attractions or lengthy hikes. This vacation was an opportunity to unwind, with plenty of time allocated for leisurely stays in cozy vacation rentals, where we could indulge in reading, playing, and simply relishing the tranquil beauty of our surroundings in Brittany and the Loire Valley.

And most importantly, if it’s France, then you can’t go without culinary experiences. I booked Michelin-starred restaurants in advance for two nights of couple’s dining.

This was the first time we flew ‘low-cost’ as a family – we only packed four trolleys, and it was actually quite comfortable. No need to load up suitcases for the flight or wait for them when landing late at night. We didn’t add seat reservations – that’s the advantage of EasyJet, they always seat families together.

Practical Tips for Traveling in Brittany and Loire Valley

Accommodation: Our trip lasted a week.

Brittany – Mont Saint-Michel: 2 nights. Stayed in the town of Dol-de-Bretagne at the Manoir de la Crochardière guesthouse. Top Recommended Accommodations in Brittany

Loire Valley: 3 nights. Stayed at the Domaine de la Chapelle – Ch d’hote guesthouse. Top Recommended Accommodations in Loire Valley

Nantes Airport: First and last night at Escale Oceania Nantes.

Car rental: An excellent search engine is economy car rentals. They also work with smaller rental companies that sometimes offer lower costs in the market. There is an option to cancel up to 48 hours before picking up the car.

Our flight to Nantes with EasyJet was on time and served as a redeeming experience compared to our previous flight with them to Scotland. We arrived at midnight and slept at the airport to pick up the car the next morning and start our journey. The terminal in Nantes is relatively small and has a total of 3 hotels within walking distance from the exit. We stayed at the Escale Oceania Nantes – a great 3-star hotel for an overnight stay before and after a flight. The hotel has comfortable family rooms and a nice breakfast. Another hotel with double rooms, a 4-star, is the Hôtel Oceania Nantes.

Day 1: Discovering Saint-Malo and Les Rochers Sculptés

We headed north towards Saint-Malo – a walled port city on the northwestern Atlantic coast of France in the Channel region, about an hour from Mont Saint-Michel. After discussing the visit options in the city with the boys, we chose to walk on the city walls. Right at the entrance gate, there are stairs leading up to the wall. The route is about 2 kilometers long. We walked along the city walls, from where we could see the rooftops of the old sailors’ houses and, of course, the stunning Saint-Malo bay and the nearby islands. We arrived at low tide and could see boats ‘stuck’ in the sand, imagining how it all looks at high tide.

After a pleasant round of blue waters and many seagulls, we returned to the car and continued to our next stop, Les Rochers Sculptés. It’s a beach with sculptures carved into granite rocks by a deaf and mute priest. This was his way of expression. The priest lived between 1839-1910. The sculptures represent the legend of the Rothéneuf family, pirates, and sea robbers until the revolution.

Our family’s adventure in France continued as we arrived at our chosen guesthouse, Manoir de la Crochardière, ideally situated for easy access to both Mont Saint-Michel and Saint-Malo. The guesthouse was a delightful surprise, a picturesque farmhouse nestled amidst lush green lawns. The serene setting, complete with friendly goats and chickens, a heated pool, and a jacuzzi, offered the perfect blend of relaxation and fun for our family. The charming and tranquil atmosphere of the guesthouse was so captivating that I found myself continuously photographing our surroundings.

Top Recommended Guesthouses Near Mont Saint-Michel in Brittany

Day 2: Experiencing the Magic of Mont Saint-Michel: A Highlight of Our Family Trip to Brittany

Mont Saint-Michel was one of the reasons I decided to spend two nights in Brittany. Mont Saint-Michel is a small rocky island on which a monastery has been built since 708 AD, surrounded by a medieval village with streets and stepped stone alleys. It is considered the most beautiful village in France. The village is surrounded by impressive walls and fortifications. The place is very famous for its tidal phenomenon. Twice a day, it connects to the mainland at low tide and becomes an island at high tide. This made it a relatively strategic location and it was not damaged in World War II.

The best time to visit the island is during high tide. Due to global warming, most of the time it is at low tide, and only really at high tide do the waters begin to rise and cover the mudfields. Their website has accurate tables that show exactly when high and low tides occur. According to the table, the high tide was at 10:13. It is recommended to arrive about an hour earlier, and from our guesthouse, it was a half-hour drive. This means getting up early… before sunrise (sunrise at this time of year was around eight-thirty in the morning). There was some grumbling from the family about why I was waking them up in the dark on vacation… but I insisted.

An excellent website for high and low tide times.

We arrived at nine in the morning at the vast parking area of Mont Saint-Michel. Everything is well-organized and arranged as befits a famous tourist site. We joined other travelers in boarding the designated shuttle service, a convenient and eco-friendly way to access the island, as private vehicles are not permitted. The appearance of the island is very impressive.

Right at the entrance to the village, we climbed up the wall and made our way to the monastery at the top. During the walk, we saw how the mudfields slowly began to fill with water. There are days known for very impressive high tides, but they are few throughout the year. We didn’t encounter such a day, but we could still see the progression of the water covering the dry areas.

From the entrance to the monastery, there is an impressive staircase leading up to the terrace at the top. During the tourist season, there is a long queue at the entrance to buy tickets, but since we were off-season, the place was not crowded and very calm. In the season (June to September), it is recommended to book tickets in advance for the monastery (even the day before) to avoid wasting precious time standing in lines.

A bit of the view from above:

After visiting the interior of the monastery, we descended through the beautiful alleys back to the bottom of the village. We chose to walk back to the car, a journey of about half an hour.

One of the goals of this vacation was to visit special Michelin-starred restaurants for quality couple time. One of the excellent restaurants we visited was Maison Tirel-Guérin, a one Michelin-star restaurant. It was a fantastic experience! We were so enthralled by the meal that we didn’t take any pictures.

Day 3: Rail-Biking, Forest Adventures and Celebrating Autumn in the Loire Valley

We had a 4-hour drive ahead of us…

First, we went to the pastoral village of Medreac. Here, we discovered a creatively repurposed old train station, now a delightful rail-bike attraction. Each bicycle, connected to a small cart, offered us a charming hour-long ride along the scenic railway track, providing a truly unique and enjoyable experience.

Our adventure continued as we visited a captivating rope park nestled in a forest near Rennes. This enchanting park, complete with a trampoline park set above the trees, was a haven of fun and exploration. While the family enjoyed the rope park, I took the opportunity to immerse myself in the beauty of the surrounding forest and lake, capturing the stunning autumn foliage in my photographs.

At this point, we were really hungry for lunch. This was the first time we ‘aligned’ with the restaurant opening hours in France. After 14:00, everything is closed! And only reopens in the evening. After a few attempts, we realized there was no chance and went into a bakery to buy fresh baguettes.

Toward the evening, we arrived at our guesthouse in the Loire Valley. Domaine de la Chapelle – Ch d’hote, located among vineyards and fields. The weather turned rainy.

Day 4 - Markets, Culture, and a Bit of History.

We woke up to an especially rainy morning. The forecast was not optimistic at all, and it seemed there wouldn’t be a dry moment. After some hesitation, we set out towards the town of Amboise. Amboise is a very charming town in the center of the Loire Valley, near the Loire River. In its center, there is a large castle with an impressive view. On Sundays, there is a Sunday market next to the Loire River where vegetables, fruits, cheeses, meats, and even clothes are sold. All local produce. We took a very short stroll through it. The market is not covered, but we enjoyed the brief break from the rain.

Amboise, a town steeped in history in the Loire Valley, is renowned for its connection to Leonardo da Vinci, one of history’s greatest minds. The tale of da Vinci in Amboise unfolds with an invitation from King François I, who, recognizing da Vinci’s extraordinary talents in both art and science, offered him residence in France. The king’s admiration led him to provide da Vinci with a small palace in Amboise, known as Clos Lucé.

Clos Lucé, more than just a residence, served as a creative sanctuary for da Vinci during his final years. Today, it stands as a testament to his genius, attracting visitors from around the world who are eager to explore the life and works of this iconic figure. A visit to Clos Lucé offers a unique insight into the Renaissance era and the profound impact da Vinci had on both the artistic and scientific worlds.

Exploring Leonardo da Vinci's Clos Lucé: A Journey Through His Home and Inventive Garden

Our visit to Leonardo da Vinci’s residence, Clos Lucé, in Amboise, offered a fascinating two-part exploration. The first part was an immersive experience in the expansive garden, featuring life-sized, interactive models of da Vinci’s ingenious inventions. These hands-on exhibits provided a unique opportunity to engage with the creative genius of da Vinci.

The second part of our visit was to the house itself, a journey through the living quarters and workspace of this Renaissance master. Our initial plan was to explore the garden when the rain ceased and retreat to the house upon its return. However, the weather had other plans, and we were unable to fully experience the garden’s offerings as the rain quickly resumed, leading us to seek shelter inside the house. Despite this, the brief time spent in the garden left a lasting impression, as captured in these photographs:

This visit to Clos Lucé provided a unique insight into the life and legacy of Leonardo da Vinci, blending historical exploration with interactive discovery.

After a brief stroll in the old center of Amboise, we decided to finish and return to the guesthouse due to the unrelenting rain.

Vineyards in autumn foliage near Amboise:

Now it was time for our second Michelin restaurant – Le Château de Pray. We went out again to Amboise on a rainy evening. This time I took pictures 🙂

Day 5 - Family Adrenaline in the Loire Valley. The Loire Valley with Kids

One of the most successful days of our vacation! We woke up to a bright day. What fun.

We went out to canoe on the Cher River. The sailing takes about an hour in each direction, and during it, we pass under the arches of the beautiful Château de Chenonceau. The owners of our B&B thought we were crazy to go out on a water activity in such cold weather, but the truth is that we warmed up quite quickly 🙂

From there, we continued to a bike ride along the Cher. It was so much fun and the weather was so perfect that we kept going and going. We remembered to turn around and head back when hunger started to bother us 🙂

Day 6 - A Glimpse of the Beautiful Château de Chenonceau in the Loire and a Quick Visit to Nante

Today we are leaving the Loire Valley and heading back to Nantes. The Loire Valley is rich in castles and magnificent medieval palaces. I knew in advance that this might interest the boys less, so we chose to visit only the Château de Chenonceau. This palace is considered one of the most luxurious from the inside, filled with furniture and art from 500 years ago. The palace sits right on the Cher River, under which we sailed the previous day.

Château de Chenonceau was built on an old site. There are references that already in the 11th century there was an initial structure. Apart from visiting the interior of the castle, the castle is surrounded by stunning gardens. In the gardens, there is a nice plant maze that the boys really enjoyed.

After our visit to the castle, we debated whether to go to the ZooParc de Beauval in the Loire Valley. This zoo is considered the most beautiful in France, and the reviews are amazing. After some thought, we decided to start heading back to Nantes leisurely and spend the afternoon in the city. Additionally, we chose to travel to Nantes via side roads instead of the fast toll highways in order to soak up more of the lovely rural scenery.

A few pictures from Nantes:

Off-Season Travel in France: A Family Journey through Brittany and the Loire Valley

Another family trip has successfully concluded.

Key Takeaways from an Off-Season Trip:

Advantages of Off-Season Travel:

  1. More Relaxed Atmosphere: There are no queues and less crowding at attractions and tourist sites, making for a more peaceful experience.
  2. No Need for Advance Bookings: This allows for greater flexibility and spontaneity in your travel plans.
  3. Increased Availability of Quality Accommodations: There’s more availability of good places to stay, and the prices are generally lower than during peak season.
  4. Unique Natural Beauty: The landscape often looks different from what we’re used to, with potential snow in mountainous areas, colorful autumn leaves, and more, adding uniqueness and interest to the experience.

Considerations for Off-Season Travel:

  1. Unpredictable Weather: There’s a higher chance of rain, but on the flip side, there are no heatwaves, and the weather is cooler and refreshing.
  2. Different Operating Hours for Tourist Sites: Attractions may have varied or shorter operating hours, be open for only half a day, or even be closed during the week and open only on weekends. This requires thorough preparation and in-depth checking with tourist sites. Proper planning, whether on your own or with a travel consultant, ensures no surprises and allows you to time your visits appropriately.

What We Didn't Manage to Do in the Loire Valley

ZooParc de Beauval – One of the largest and most popular zoos in all of France and among the most impressive in the world. Throughout the day, there are very impressive shows such as a birds of prey performance and a sea lion show. The zoo houses a vast array of animals in well-maintained and impressive enclosures, including several rare species like pandas.

♥ Château de Chambord – The largest castle in the Loire Valley. The castle is particularly impressive from the outside. Options for visiting the castle include: a tour using an iPad inside the castle, electric boat cruising on the river adjacent to the castle, walking tours on various paths in the gardens and nearby forests, bicycle tours, and horse-drawn carriage rides. Additionally, during the tourist months, there is a daily birds of prey and horse show at the castle (in French only).

♥ Château de Villandry Gardens: A Renaissance-era castle. The main attraction here is the large and impressive garden, spread over three levels, each with a different theme: a water garden, a geometric garden, and a kitchen garden with herbs, fruits, and vegetables. In the kitchen garden, there’s also a charming plant maze. It’s entirely possible to skip the interior tour of the castle and focus solely on the surrounding gardens.

Troglodyte Villages – During the medieval period, commoners worked in the quarries extracting tuffeau stone, which was used to build the magnificent castles of the nobility. Over time, these quarries evolved into permanent settlements, leading to the creation of underground villages. Some of these caves were transformed into mushroom cultivation sites for gourmet varieties or into wine cellars.

♥ Hot Air Balloon Flight – One of the leading attractions in the Loire Valley! A wonderful experience that allows you to view the famous castles from a bird’s eye perspective

Top Recommended Accommodations in Brittany and Loire Valley, France

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