Last week we began our two week journey in France! We explored the culture of Paris, experienced the wonders of Versailles, and topped our week of with the sites of Normandy. Now, onto week two!

Week 2: Brittany and Loire Valley

Are you ready to start your second week in France? After exploring Paris and Normandy, you should split the rest of your time in Brittany and the Loire Valley.

Day 8 – Drive to Dinan

While you explore Brittany, I highly recommend staying in the town of Dinan, which is about 2 hours away by car. It’s a quaint town with a village feel with its own castle. Our kids loved walking around Dinan and eating crepes all day long. And you know you have entered Brittany (or Bretagne) because you will see the ubiquitous sable’ breton (Bretagne butter biscuits).

Dinan is a small town so you can stay pretty much anywhere in the town. If you want to stay near the historic core and castle, then I recommend Hotel Arvor or one of the chambre d’hôtes (bed and breakfast) in the city center. The Hotel Arvor has free parking for its guests and a decent breakfast. We were there during Covid and everything was very clean and wrapped. The kids enjoyed the bread basket and we adults enjoyed the coffee and the views.

You can take the kids to the chateau (castle) in Dinan. It’s not the most impressive castle in all of France, but it does make for an easy visit.

After time in the castle, go to the center of town (near the Mairie de Dinan, a city government building) and meander through the walled streets. I would suggest that you pick a local cafe and sit and watch the people pass by. The town of Dinan is famous for its medieval buildings which have the higher floors veer out.

If you don’t want to enter the castle, then explore the green area near the castle or walk down to the Port of Dinan and walk over the Old Bridge (Le vieux pont). Once you are here, you can take your kids on a walk near Lanvallay or have a meal portside.

There are plenty of places to grab a bite to eat. If you’re looking for something quick and casual, we ate at Plan B (a burger joint in Dinan), had take out assembled from various restaurants in Dinan another night, and had crepes another day. When you are in the smaller towns, you should be accustomed to eating the local cuisine – and in Dinan that means a lot of crepes (sweet) and galettes (which are essentially savory filled buckwheat crepes). Probably my most favorite meal in Dinan was the night we assembled takeout and got a great bottle of wine from La Cave des Jacobins wine shop.

Day 9 – Day trip to Mont Saint-Michel

So if you want to save time, you can stop off at Mont Saint Michel on your way to Dinan from Bayeux. That’s what we did to break up the day. If you have never heard of Mont Saint Michel, chances are you have seen images of the monastery built on a causeway in France. The cathedral is located between two regions of France: Brittany and Normandy. While many people want to stay in Mont Saint-Michel, to escape the day trippers, you have to keep in mind that there is no easy way to access the island. Once you get there, it is not really mobility friendly. There are a lot of steps and the walk up to the monastery is quite hilly. For that reason, many people prefer to stay in a town nearby and make the visit a day trip.

Our family parked in one of the many lots near the ticket booth entrance. I would advise anyone to procure tickets in advance for the monastery.

In order to access the town, you can get there 3 ways from the parking lots: 1) take a shuttle bus (relatively frequent and free); 2) walk (free, but takes a little bit of time – 40 minutes or so when you are walking with kids); or 3) take a horse-drawn carriage (costs more than the bus, and takes longer than the bus).

Once you have arrived near the island of Mont Saint-Michel, you will be let off and have to walk 5 minutes to enter the walled city. Before heading up to the church, we had a late lunch with beautiful views of the causeway. If you couldn’t get tickets for the monastery or your family doesn’t want to visit it, I would still walk up as close as possible to get the best views from Mont Saint-Michel. During our short trip, we got the kids gelato or crepes a few times to bribe them to walk up the hill. (Mom trick.)

Note: There are certain dates of the year when the causeway can get flooded, so you have to plan in advance of when you plan to arrive and depart from the island.

​​Mont Saint-Michel is a UNESCO World Heritage Site and an important medieval pilgrimage site. This designation protects the Bay of Saint-Michel and the Abbey of Saint-Michel, dating from the 11th to 13th centuries.

The Abbey of Saint-Michel stands more than 100 meters above sea level and has a mythological feel. As the location begs tourists to traverse the ominous Bay of Saint-Michel, the awe-inspiring Gothic spires appear to rise towards heaven.

During low tide, visitors would complete a “traditional crossing,” a guided trek to reach Mont Saint-Michel. Mont Saint-Michel transforms into an island with just one road access during high tide.

The Abbey Church, accessed by ascending a 200-meter pedestrian route and then 350 stairs to the highest point of Mont Saint-Michel, is one of the attractions of a visit to Mont Saint-Michel. The Abbey Church dates from the 12th century and has a calm Romanesque sanctuary and a magnificent Gothic choir.

The “Escalier de Dentelle” (staircase) leads to a terrace with stunning panoramic views of the sea from the Abbey Church.

Day 10 – Day trip to Saint Malo

Saint Malo is a picturesque port town in Brittany. This is another fabulous walled town in France – and the kids will have a fun time walking along the ramparts. If you have time, you can visit some of the ships that are docked or if it’s a warm summer day, you can take the kids to one of the small strips of beach in the town. Like many French towns, there is a kid-friendly carousel and lots of cobblestone streets to get lost in.

While in Brittany, make sure you stop off at one of the biscuiterie (Cookie or biscuit shops) or creperie in town. Brittany is especially well-known for its assortment of sweets. They really do like their sweet breads and cookies, like the far breton and the Kouign-amann. For some of the most delectable kouign-amanns in Saint Malo, you should stop by Kouign Amann Saint Malo. And if you think you can get the same type of quality back home, forget it. Just enjoy the calories while you’re there.

two young kids ordering dessert in Paris

Saint Malo Gelato

Day 11 – Drive to Amboise

Our next drive was our longest drive – as it’s a good 3.5 hours to drive from Dinan to Amboise. We had considered other towns, such as Nantes and Angers, but after looking at images of the town and its proximity to many of the chateaux in the region, we decided on Amboise – and I was very enthusiastic about this decision upon our arrival.

On our way to Amboise, we stopped in the Saumur region of France. If you’re familiar with French white wines, then you have heard of Saumur – home to Chenin Blanc and the red Cabernet Franc. Although we didn’t have time to visit any of the wine caves in this region, we did stop off at a cave dwelling that populates the area. In fact, there are so many wineries I wish I had the opportunity to visit – but I’ll save that for a future trip!

We took a slight detour to “Le Mystère des Faluns” – Les Perrières, located near the town of Anjou. This place is really off the tourist map for several reasons. Most of the other visitors, and there weren’t that many, were French-speaking tourists. Another reason is that most French tourists are not hanging out in the Loire Valley visiting sights like this, they are most likely in the south or near the coast to cool off during the summer. And if people are in the Loire Valley, the vast majority of them are visiting chateaux or wineries – not cool caves like this place.

The entire self-guided tour takes under an hour. While walking through this massive space, the museum has made it more of an art-installation. If you have visited other cave dwellings in Matera, Italy or somewhere in Turkey, this is not the same experience. If you want something similar to that, there are a few other cave dwellings in this region. But if you want a funky cool exhibition that happens to be placed in a deep cave, then check out the Faluns.

After our stop at the Faluns, we continued our drive to Amboise. This was the first town that we came to where I heard a lot more English being spoken.

We stayed at the Hotel Le Clos D’Amboise which is located right on the edge of town. Amboise is not a very large town, so as long as you are on the side with the historic sights it won’t take you very long to get anywhere. For a more upscale experience, then consider the Hôtel Le Manoir Les Minimes. There are also a lot of private chambres and smaller hotels available in Amboise. Unlike Bayeux, we didn’t find parking to be as easy. Even though our hotel had dedicated parking, there weren’t many spaces available so we parked at local lots near the hotel. Despite that, the room and breakfast were spacious and the kids really enjoyed the pool.

The town of Amboise is pedestrian friendly and there are plenty of restaurants to choose from in the city center. Some of our favorite places to eat were Label Cantine – an Italian-inspired place to grab a quick bite to eat. My husband and I enjoyed the bottle of Bio wine with our pizzas and pasta, and the kids loved the friendly staff. For a more upscale experience, then consider dining at La Fourchette or the restaurant at Hotel Le Clos d’Amboise. Both La Fourchette and Le Clos d’Amboise offer a more typical French dining experience.

Day 12 – Visit the Château d’Amboise and Château of Clos Lucé

I normally don’t recommend visiting more than 1 sight per day with kids, but with these two places being so close to one another in this town, I would recommend it. Plan to get your tickets in advance and I would first visit the Chateau d’Amboise and then head to Clos de Luce. The Chateau offers unrivaled views of Amboise and the surrounding Loire Valley. There are only a few buildings to visit and there is a kid-friendly e-guide which you can use when touring the castle.

After you visit the Château, then grab lunch in the town center and then walk to Clos Lucé. Clos de Luce is technically another château that is most famous for being the home of Leonardo da Vinci during the last few years of his life. While the kids didn’t have the patience to visit his château, they did enjoy the sprawling grounds of Clos Lucé. After visiting some historic buildings, the kids were ready to try the hands on physical representations of da Vinci’s genius. This area is definitely made for kids, as the museum has a kid-friendly guide book (Le Carnet de l’Inventeur (The Inventor’s Notebook) see the museum entrance) to explore and learn more about da Vinci and his ideas.

Day 13 – Visit Chateau de Chenonceau

Which of the many chateaux in the Loire Valley should you visit? The one that is closest to you. Seriously, with kids you don’t want to drive too far to visit the historic sights. That’s how our family decided on visiting Chateau de Chenonceau – and the kids loved it. It was only a 20 minute drive from Amboise, making it a very easy decision for us. This chateau is most famous for its bridge over the river Cher. What’s even more interesting is the history behind this chateau. Supposedly it was a gift for the King Henry II’s mistress, only to be forced back to his widow Catherine the Medici after his death. The mistress ended up getting the Chateau Chaumont.

Once you get your tickets to the chateau, I would recommend that you arrive a bit early and explore the grounds first. Then, when you have your timed entry, you can enter the chateau and visit the rooms. One of the more popular rooms is the kitchen.

After you visit the castle itself, make sure to spend some more time outside. There is a fabulous labyrinth near the entrance that kids and adults will enjoy. Food is available at the chateau or you can bring some snacks along for the visit and if it’s a nice spring or summer day, enjoy them outside taking in the views of the castle.

Day 14 – Return to Paris and go back home (sniff, sniff)

And there you have it, a perfectly planned two week family vacation in France. If you don’t want to plan this all on your own, contact me and we can start your travel journey together.

a dad with his young kids in Paris, France

Leaving Paris

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