In my hope to help you plan your own family vacation through France, I have shared details of our own trip.
In this post, I want to highlight the fun places we visited during our trip.
Toulouse and the Midi-Pyrénées
I talked about our experiences around the Midi-Pyrénées and Toulouse in the updates I shared over at Expedia Viewfinder, but I wanted to share some more here.
We really enjoyed Toulouse, the main destination in the area that we visited. This capital city of the Haute-Garonne is home to over 1,200,000 people, making it the fourth largest city in country. Located in Southern France, it boasts a Mediterranean climate as well as the cultural influences of the same.
One of the things I immediately noticed upon arriving to the city through its very busy train terminal, was how many people spoke Spanish there. In fact, while walking around the city one afternoon, I came across a celebration of the various Basque communities near and around Toulouse. We considered driving to Barcelona one day, but with so much to see and do, we found a week to be too limiting a time to do everything.
What I loved the most about Toulouse and what I also think the kids responded to, was the energy of this city. It is lively and offers lots of good restaurants and shops. Some are more expensive than others, but we didn’t have a bad meal there ever. We found that if you go into the older part of town, you will find smaller eateries with more reasonable prices (note: dinner isn’t served till about 7 PM).
Make sure to stop into the tourist office first and get a map. This is a very pedestrian friendly city – driving in it is actually ill-advised, too much traffic and too many people walking along the small streets.
There’s a lot to see and do in Toulouse and the surrounding areas. One of the most popular spots nearby is the medieval city of Carcassonne.
We also really loved the caves of Niaux – worth the almost 2 hours to get there and see them!
It took us three full day visits to feel like we had seen and done a lot of what Toulouse offers. We stopped into almost every museum, cathedral, and shop in town.
One of the ways we chose to see Toulouse was by water with a short cruise that took us along the Garonne River and the Canal du Midi.
I also really enjoyed being surrounded by the diversity of Toulouse. It’s a college city, so there are people who come from every where to study here. I wouldn’t, however, call it an exclusively young place. I found residents and visitors of all ages, lots of families as well.
We also felt it was budget friendly when compared to other larger cities in France. These are the reasons I consider Toulouse a must visit for families, I was really happy that this was my children’s first introduction to their French experience.
As great as Toulouse is, it’s a good idea to plan a few road trips around the rest of the Midi-Pyrénées. Though we took the train to the rest of the cities we visited in France, we rented a car for our time in the Midi-Pyrénées area because of all the great destinations there were to drive to. Most of the destinations were between an 1.5 to 2 hour drive from where we were staying.
We spent a day hiking and taking in nature at the Parc de la Prehistoire.
There’s really not enough I can say about Bordeaux. I am so madly in love with that city, it hurts to just think about not being there.
I was excited to show my family around and the introduction to this city began with our HomeAway apartment rental.
This beautiful and homey townhouse in the Place des Chartons has three bedrooms and two full bathrooms, with one half bathroom on the first floor. The bedroom we chose for ourselves had gorgeous French windows which opened out into the street where we could see the cathedral and hear its wonderful bell ring, as well as to the central square, where restaurants (lots and lots of restaurants) set up tables for patrons to dine on. (Click to see the full listing of our Bordeaux HomeAway rental).
Ariele, the owner of the rental greeted us with a warm smile and friendly demeanor. She made us feel comfortable right away, and I have to say of the many renters we’ve met in the past, she is one of the friendliest I’ve ever met. She gave us a tour and explained everything in detail. I really appreciated that she had a bottle of milk and juice readily available too. It makes such a huge difference when these small details are considered, especially when renting out to a traveling family whose kids might be a bit hungry after the long trip.
My kids loved their loft room and my teen really liked the skylight in his room, one of several in the home. We were also in the middle of everything. It wasn’t terribly noisy (though the rooms did get a bit hot, something which can easily be solved with a fan – just ask Ariele for one if you don’t see one there upon your arrival).
As much as we loved our apartment, we did mange to get out and enjoy many of what Bordeaux has to offer. Bordeaux is known as a top wine destination. But since we were with the kids, we didn’t really find it feasible to invest the time or money in wine tastings or vineyard visits. One would think we wouldn’t have anything to do, but we found a lot of ways to experience the city among other families that live there full-time.
One of our favorite spots was the farmers market open every Sunday, which was the best market we explored during our entire time in France. It had everything we wanted and more, and the rain didn’t keep anyone away. It was a fun way to start the day.
We scaled to the top of the Porte Cailhau, and the 231 stairs of the Pey-Berland, which took us to the top of city.
Although Bordeaux is a smaller city than Toulouse, it still has tons to offer. Almost every time I have visited the area, I have come across an event, an open art show, or a celebration of some sorts. There is much more happening during the warmer months.
We walked a lot in this pedestrian-friendly city, taking the tram when necessary and never missing the use of a car and though we didn’t do too many wine tastings, we got to taste a lot of what Bordeaux has to offer otherwise.
It is impossible to take my children to France for the first time without taking them to the capital city of Paris. There’s a lot of Paris that I enjoy and love, and there’s a lot of Paris that reminds me of New York City – such as how expensive it can be, and how overcrowded with tourists (and yes, we were among them) in the summer. The rush of the city and the energy of the same is familiar to me…but, it is Paris, and I wanted to explore it all with my family.
We laid our heads in a modern, secure, 3-bedroom, 2 bathroom apartment in the center of the 16th arrondissement just steps away from the market, bakery, restaurants, and the metro. (Click to see the full listing of our Paris HomeAway rental.)
Again we didn’t need a car at all, other than a taxi to the airport and we had everything we needed. Benjamin, the owner of the apartment, greeted us and welcomed us into his home, even emailing us with a list of his favorite eateries for families.
We loved how airy and bright the space was, and because it rained the entire time we were in Paris, we really enjoyed having the comforts at home on nights when we just wanted to relax and watch television. The apartment is perfect for families, already kid-proofed and with a cute kid-friendly room that my boys enjoyed spending time in.
From this apartment we walked and took the metro to all the must-see spots when visiting Paris for the first time. We did it all – the Eiffel Tower, cruise along the Siene (with City Wonders), Arc du Triomph, the Louvre – you name it, we did it.
Paris was where we spent most of our money, even though we took care to take advantage of museum and city passes, took the metro and walked, and tried to stay clear of touristy eateries. But, because it was my kids’ first time, we allowed ourselves to splurge here. I would love to revisit the city during the off-season, when there aren’t so many tourists and things going on, though a city this size always has something happening. I also want to do other things that aren’t so touristy, though it’s a must when you’ve never been there before.
It rained almost the entire time we were in France. From Toulouse to Paris, it seemed the rain would not stop. It did, on the day we were leaving, but rarely before then. But I have to say, despite it all, we had the best time ever and so many laughs. The memories from this trip will stay with us for the rest of our lives.
Since coming home, the boys still talk about their France vacation. They were most influenced by the food, the exposure to the foreign language, and the long list of things we did there. I am looking forward to returning with them again someday!
Read more of my tips for planning a family vacation in France to help get you there.