Family Adventure in Western France: Paris, Caen, Saint-Malo, Bordeaux, Basque, & More - 17 Days
- Spend time on the beaches of Southern Brittany
- Learn to play Basque Pelota
- Follow pirate footsteps through the narrow stone alleys of Saint-Malo
- Discover the powerful legacy of D-Day in Normandy
- Wonder at the splendor of the Versailles estate
|Day 1||Welcome to France! Arrive in Paris & Evening Eiffel Tower Tour||Paris|
|Day 2||Ile de la Cité & Grevin Wax Museum||Paris|
|Day 3||Versailles with the Family & Paris Museums||Paris|
|Day 4||Louvre Treasure Hunt & Patisserie Tour||Paris|
|Day 5||Transfer from Paris to Caen & Segway Tour||Caen|
|Day 6||Family Tour of D-Day Sites||Caen|
|Day 7||Transfer from Caen to Saint-Malo, Mont-Saint-Michel en Route||Saint-Malo|
|Day 8||Free Day in Saint-Malo & the Emerald Coast||Saint-Malo|
|Day 9||Saint-Malo to Concarneau & Afternoon on the Beach||Concarneau|
|Day 10||Concarneau to La Rochelle & Afternoon City Tour||La Rochelle|
|Day 11||La Rochelle to Bordeaux, Canelé Class, & City Tour||Bordeaux|
|Day 12||Food Tour of Bordeaux & Afternoon Free||Bordeaux|
|Day 13||Bordeaux to Sarlat la Canéda||Sarlat|
|Day 14||Back in Time to Cro Magnon Man||Sarlat|
|Day 15||Sarlat la Caneda to Biarritz, Afternoon on the Beach||Biarritz|
|Day 16||Train Ride & Basque Cake-Making Class||Biarritz|
|Day 17||Au revoir, France!|
Day 1: Welcome to France! Arrive in Paris & Evening Eiffel Tower Tour
Welcome to Paris, the City of Lights! This elegant capital boasts centuries of history, art, fashion and, of course, romance. Upon arrival, you'll be picked up from the airport and transferred to your hotel by private car. Take some time to settle in and relax before heading out to explore the streets near your accommodation before dinner.
Paris is alive and thriving with activity, day and night. It's the perfect city to indulge in a little shopping, with department stores like Lafayette and Printemps housing some of the best local designers around, and small boutique shops offering unique high-quality wares.
Colorful boulevards and historic monuments invite visitors to stroll through the downtown, while narrow alleys and cozy cafes create a romantic atmosphere. For art lovers, spending time at Paris' smaller museums is a once-in-a-lifetime experience, as the city has one of the most impressive art collections in the world. Alternatively, lazing around in the parks or at a sidewalk cafe on a sunny day is simply blissful.
After settling into your hotel, head out for your first look at the city. Spend some time walking around downtown and enjoying the sights. In the evening, meet with your private guide for a 3.5-hour exploration of the Trocadero Esplanade and Eiffel Tower. Start at the Trocadero to see its statues, monuments, and city views. Continue to the Iron Lady herself with skip-the-line tickets, giving you the most time to visit both floors and take in the incredible views from the top.
Day 2: Ile de la Cité & Grevin Wax Museum
Spend the morning exploring the heart of Paris: the Ile de la Cité, located on an island in the middle of the Seine River. Start the tour at the world-famous Notre Dame Cathedral, a 12th-century masterpiece of architecture and home of the infamous Hunchback. Unfortunately, due to the April 2019 fire, the cathedral is closed until further notice for repairs and restoration. But even from the outside, the building's grandeur and history inspire a sense of awe.
From here cross over the Seine to explore the northern edge of the vibrant Latin Quarter, including Paris's oldest streets. End your tour with a visit to the iconic Shakespeare & Co. bookstore, whose colorful history includes acting as a meeting place for the greatest Beatnik minds in Europe and hosting generations of weary writers among its bookshelves in exchange for a day's work.
In the afternoon, head to the Wax Museum of Grevin to come face-to-face with your favorite characters and celebrities (or at least, wax versions of them.) Skip the long line and head directly inside to see your favorite icons, with plenty of opportunities for photos and laughs for the whole family.
Day 3: Versailles with the Family & Paris Museums
In the morning, head outside of the big city to the resplendent Versaille estate. Take the train there, then head directly inside with your skip-the-line access to spend a few hours exploring the palace and grounds.
Travel back in time to past centuries as you discover what life was like living in the splendor of the court of the Kings and Queens of France. Your historian guide will walk you from hall to gilded hall, pointing out ornately painted ceilings, the Hall of Mirrors, and the private royal quarters. After touring the castle head outside to the manicured gardens and lawns, where a dazzling display of flowers and exotic plants delight visitors of all ages.
Enjoy lunch near the castle, then take the train back to Paris for a free afternoon in the city. Options for this afternoon include Cité des Sciences (Europe's biggest science museum,) Cité des Enfants (an interactive children's museum,) Museum d'Histoire Naturelle, and the Grande Galerie de l'evolution (natural history museums with life-like displays,) and the Aquarium of Paris.
Day 4: Louvre Treasure Hunt & Patisserie Tour
Paris's Louvre is the world's largest art museum, and there's plenty of secrets and hidden gems to uncover. Spend the morning on a family treasure hunt as you learn about famous works of art. Kids will get additional motivation through the museum's Paris Muse Clues program, designed to engage young artists in history.
The scavenger hunt will take you and your private guide through a range of collections, from Egypt and Ancient Near East to Greek and Roman, ending with Renaissance Italian and Frech. Kids will learn art history while sharpening their skills of observation. Solving answers to the clues will lead them to discover an educational prize hidden somewhere under the Louvre's glass pyramid.
In the afternoon, explore the sweet side of Paris on a pastry tour. You'll taste favorite French treats, from cakes and tarts to chocolates and more as you explore one of the city's swankiest parts of town: Saint-Germain-des-Pres. Spend two hours sampling crépes, crème brûlée, pain au chocolat, espresso, chocolates, macarons—and more!
Enjoy people walking along the Seine after dinner in a streetside cafe.
Day 5: Transfer from Paris to Caen & Segway Tour
Leave Paris behind this morning as you take the train west to Normandy, arriving in Caen by lunchtime. In the afternoon, spend two hours exploring the city on a private two-hour segway tour. You'll see the city's main historical sites: the River Orne, the two abbeys, the castle, and the old town.
Caen's history stretches back centuries to the time of William the Conqueror (hero of the Battle of Hastings in 1066,) who called the city home. In more recent memory, the city was a vital location for D-Day and the Normandy Landings of World War II. On June 6th, 1944, Allied forces bombed the area, starting fires that burned the town center. This was followed by a two-month counter bombing by the Germans, which further destroyed the town.
Thousands of the town's citizens sought shelter in the Church of St. Etienne, and a hospital operated out of the Men's Abbey while thousands more lived in the Hospice of the Good Saviour (Bon Saveur) nearby. The Allies, warned ahead of time by the city, left the buildings intact. Nevertheless, Caen suffered greatly, and much of what you see together is a reconstruction of the old town.
The city is also home to two famous abbeys: L'Abbaye-aux-Hommes (the Men's Abbey) and L'Abbaye-aux-Dames (the Ladies Abbey), which were built by Duke William of Normandy to prove his worth to the Catholic Church.
After your two-hour segway tour, spend the rest of the evening exploring the sites on your own and enjoying the town's squares.
Day 6: Family Tour of D-Day Sites
Today is a full day to discover the powerful legacy of D-Day on Normandy's landscape, as well as its effect on the world. Your local specialist, an expert on the Battle of Normandy and the five landing areas (Utah, Omaha, Gold, Sword, and Juno), will walk you through an emotional day. You'll navigate famous scenes of war, memorialized by the films "The Longest Day" from Darryl Zanuck or "Saving Private Ryan" from Steven Spielberg.
Pay tribute to the armed forces who fought to end the war on this day as you visit Pointe du Hoc, Omaha Beach, the American Cemetery, and D-Day Experience (an interactive 3D movie theater which chronicles the day's events.) At the end of the 8-hour tour, return to Caen.
Chat with a local specialist who can help organize your trip.
Day 7: Transfer from Caen to Saint-Malo, Mont-Saint-Michel en Route
In the morning transfer from Caen to St. Malo, stopping at Mont-Saint-Michel en route. The iconic castle sits on an island in the middle of a huge bay, where Europe's biggest tides create a natural moat. Mont-Saint-Michel gets its start in 708 CE, when the Archangel St. Michel ordered Aubert, the bishop of Avranches, to build a sanctuary on this location.
In the 10th century, the monastery was replaced by a Benedictine abbey that welcomed pilgrims who came to worship the archangel. Construction on the building continued until the French Revolution in 1791 when the abbey became a prison. It wasn't until 1864 that the castle was added to the French List of Historic Monuments and restored for visitors.
Head across the causeway to the castle on foot, or catch a ride with a horse-drawn wagon for a scenic approach. If the tide is out, walk across the sand with a trained guide to the base of the castle's fortifications like the pilgrims used to (the quicksands make it dangerous to cross alone.) Your guide will walk you through the main castle building, pointing out the history of various rooms and halls. The castle is remarkably well-preserved, with huge fireplaces still showing signs of soot from centuries of use.
After exploring the castle and the surrounding gardens, head downhill to the town where you'll find souvenir shops, cafes, and art galleries. You can expect lots of walking today on steep staircases and wet sand, so make sure to wear comfortable shoes and bring a jacket for the brisk ocean breeze.
After lunch in Mont-Saint-Michel, continue to St. Malo for the afternoon. The city boasts a rich seafaring culture, with centuries of history tied to the ocean. There's a fierce sense of regional identity here, with mottos like "Neither French nor Britton, I am from Saint-Malo." A long-time pirate haunt, the “Cité Corsaire” has always had an independent streak—even declaring itself an independent republic in 1590.
Spend two hours exploring the city's old cobblestone streets on a private two-hour walking history tour. The city's old historic ramparts, which date back to the 11th century, still encircle the city, while 17th-century bastions protect tidal islands nearby. Head to the exterior sea wall for views of Grand Bé island, Fort National, and Dinar across the water. Narrow streets lead to unexpected views of the ocean and small squares, while lavish homes built by ship owners line the seafront. After the tour, find a quiet cafe or crêperie to enjoy a coffee and some French sweets.
For dinner, stay inside the city walls and pick from one of many restaurant options. It's an otherworldly experience to walk through the walled fortifications and narrow cobblestone streets at night, especially if a mist rolls in from the ocean. Stroll through the town to work up an appetite, then sit down for a family meal. If seafood is your thing, you're in luck—there's no shortage of incredible seafood restaurants, from casual neighborhood brasseries to higher-end dining. Follow your nose to open-air cafes (the ones with the striped red and white canopies) for an unforgettable French dinner.
Day 8: Free Day in Saint-Malo & the Emerald Coast
Spend a free day exploring the Emerald Coast or relaxing on the beaches of Dinard. Activities include:
- Twice a day, the Bay of Saint-Malo and Dinard is transformed into a vast natural theater for the biggest tides in Europe. As the tide recedes, it leaves behind vast stretches of sand and rocky tidal pools. Head out with the family for a few hours of gathering seashells and exploring life inside the tidal pools
- For a relaxing day on the beach, head to the prestigious seaside resorts of Saint-Briac, Saint-Lunaire, Dinard, and Saint-Coulomb
- If you're in the mood to explore, the banks of the River Rance over plenty of things to discover: from tidal mills and fisheries to dignified Malouinières (country houses) and little fishing villages. Saint-Suliac is particularly lovely and has been voted one of the "Loveliest Villages in France."
- Wednesdays and Sundays are market days in this part of the world, with regional vendors setting up incredible spreads of fresh vegetables, the day's seafood catch, and various meats and cheeses. If you're lucky enough to catch one of these markets, it's a good idea to plan for a picnic on the beach. Finger-licking-worthy paella simmers in giant pots, locals line up to buy fresh-baked bread, and the sweet smell of baked pastries wafts over the vendors' tables
- Spend a few hours cooking together during a two-hour cooking class, with both sweet and savory options available. Learn about the theory and history of the crepe as you learn the practical skills for making a real Brittany coast crepe
- Get some fresh air and see the countryside on a 1.5-hour horse carriage ride along the seafront, including an aperitif of local cheese and meat, as well as the ever-present Normandy wine
Day 9: Saint-Malo to Concarneau & Afternoon on the Beach
In the morning, start your road trip to Concarneau in Southern Brittany, a three-hour drive away.
Arrive around noon, and enjoy lunch along the coast. Spend the afternoon relaxing on the beaches of Southern Brittany. The wide sandy beaches are a playground for the young and young-at-heart, with lots of options for active families. Build a giant sandcastle, take a trip out to the open ocean on an old sailing boat, spot dolphins and other marine life, go diving, surf the waves, try paddleboarding, or explore the coast on a sea kayak.
Spend a relaxed afternoon sunbathing and enjoying the weather, or go for a stroll to see the small towns that line the waterfront. Whatever your mood, there's something for everyone to enjoy the day.
Day 10: Concarneau to La Rochelle & Afternoon City Tour
Spend the first half of the day driving to La Rochelle, a 4-hour drive away.
Arrive in time for lunch at a seafood restaurant on the shore, then spend the afternoon exploring the city. You have several options for touring La Rochelle: a Segway tour, bike tour, or striking out on your own. Whichever option you choose, there's plenty of things to see.
The city has a unique history and a legacy of non-conformist tendencies: during the Wars of Religion, the town was a Huguenot stronghold. Today, it's firmly protestant, with an independent streak that draws from its ocean-going history.
Start at the city's Old Port, the first thing most visitors see upon arrival. The striking medieval towers, Tour de la Chaine and Tour Saint Nicolas, guard the harbor. They're open to visitors and contain exhibits on 600+ years of maritime history. From here, wander along the Quai Duperré, enjoying the views of the open water and the city behind you. This scene is iconic and can be found in the artworks of countless artists, including Corot, Signac, and Vernet.
Continue inland to the town's Old Quarter to explore secret roads, hidden buildings, aristocratic merchant homes, and maritime museums. These contain exhibits on the city's seafaring history and display artifacts brought back by sailors.
For a dive into marine life, visit La Rochelle's aquarium (one of Europe's biggest) located along the seaboard.
Day 11: La Rochelle to Bordeaux, Canelé Class, & City Tour
In the morning, drive to Bordeaux, a two-hour drive to the south.
In the afternoon, learn to make the traditional canelé cake, an indelible part of Bordeaux and Aquitaine’s culinary heritage. Although the cake was typically associated with the nuns of the Annonciades convent in the 18th century, the canelé’s history has always been strongly linked with Bordeaux.
After the lesson in regional cuisine, head out to explore the city on a small electric vehicle—a cross between a golf cart, a go-cart, and a car. Its narrow frame and GPS built directly into the dash allow you to explore parts of the city faster and more efficiently than by car.
Spend 2.5 hours riding around the city. See the main city highlights: Grand Théâtre, the Place des Quinconces, the Girondins Monument, the Place de la Bourse with its ‘Miroir d’Eau,’ and the Porte Cailhau. Other stops include the Palais Rohan, the Pont de Pierre, the Grosse Cloche, the ‘Golden Triangle and the 18th-century quays.
Continue to the Chartrons District, famous for its many antique shops, as well as Pont Chaban, the Pont de Pierre, the Place de la Bourse, the Porte de Bourgogne, the Place Fernand Laffargue, and the Place Camille Jullian. End your tour with a visit to the Court of Justice and the spectacular french Magistrate School, then wrap things up at the new Cité du Vin.
You'll cover more than 9 miles (15 km) as you explore the winding city streets. At the end of the day, enjoy dinner along the quay.
Day 12: Food Tour of Bordeaux & Afternoon Free
Spend the morning exploring Bordeaux on a private 3-hour food and history tour. Stroll old city streets, visit the famous Capucins Market, taste local specialties, and dive deep into local legend and lore. With over 2,000 years of history and the second-most amount of protected buildings (363, just behind Paris,) there's something to see around every corner. Explore the city center to see the Grand Theatre, the Place de la Bourse, the quays, and the Chartrons District (the birthplace of Bordeaux's wine trade.) The trip will be on bikes, segways, or electric scooters.
The afternoon is free to explore on your own.
- Splash in the Water Mirror, the world's biggest. It's one of the best things to do with little kids when the temperatures rise in Bordeaux. Every 15 minutes, the water rises and creates a very shallow pool where kids can run and splash in the water. When little legs get tired, enjoy a picnic on the benches nearby
- Visit Cap Sciences, an interactive science museum for kids. It features different science exhibits and a range of age-appropriate workshops, from photography and molecular cooking to eco-citizens and more
- Take a 45-minute train ride to see the city, passing by main historic sites like Place des Quinconces and Place de la Bourse. The train departs every two hours from the tourist information office, where you also buy the tickets
- Go shopping on Rue Sainte-Catherine, Europe's longest shopping street. Here you'll find luxury boutiques like Cartier, Louis Vuitton, Hermes, and others
- Enjoy a lunch, dinner, or wine-tasting cruise on the Garonne River. You'll see the UNESCO area "Port of the Moon," the UNESCO Basilicas Saint-Seurin and Saint-Michel, the Grosse Cloche, the Cailhau Door, the remains of the Palais Gallien (Gallo-Roman amphitheater), the Bastide Botanical Garden, and the ‘City of Wine'
Day 13: Bordeaux to Sarlat la Canéda
Start your morning with a drive to Sarlat la Canéda, a 2.5-hour drive away. Arrive in time for lunch, then head out to explore the city.
Spend the afternoon walking around the city on your own. With a long history dating back to Gallo-Roman times, theres no shortage of historical buildings and ruins to see.
Towards the end of the VIII century, under the reign of Pepin le Bref and Charlemagne, the Benedictines established a monastery in the city. It was then that the city experienced its most prosperous period. Many cities in France were built with cobblestone streets and handsome buildings, but time and new construction have slowly obscured these historical treasures. In Sarlat, however, a law passed in 1962 granted the town enough funding to preserve its historical infrastructure for future generations.
These days, the town's homes look as they did when they were first built, with stately facades and reconstructed stone roofs.
Day 14: Back in Time to Cro Magnon Man
Dive underground today on a historic tour of the Cave Paintings of Dordogne. Approximately 17,000 years ago, unknown artists created several cave paintings in the area, some of which are found in the Dordogne area. Explore these paintings, learn about the people who created them, and immerse yourself in a time that was different from our own.
Start the day in Les Eyzies de Tayac for a guided visit of the National Prehistory Museum, which opened in 2004. It possesses the world's largest collection of prehistoric artifacts, perfect for curious young minds to learn about and explore.
From here continue to Montignac to visit Lascaux IV Cave, a perfect reproduction of the original cave—down to the damp, dark, and muffled atmosphere. Inside, the cave employs a variety of set designs to bring the original cave to life for visitors. Displays, state-of-the-art interactive workshops, and immersive technology propel you back in time to the days of Cro Magnon man.
End your day with a visit to Rouffignac Cave, where you can see original etchings and drawings. This cave was re-discovered in 1575 by François de Belleforest, who cites "paintings and animal traces" in his Cosmographie Universelle. Rouffignac has been a tourist attraction since the 19th century, and famous archaeologists like Henry Breuil, André Glory, and Martel visited the cave in the early 20th century. However, it wasn't until 1956, when Louis-René Nougier and Romain Robert, two prehistorians from the Pyrenees, finally confirmed the authenticity of the cave art.
At the end of the day, return to Sarlat.
For an alternate experience (one with more adrenaline and just a touch of prehistory,) head to UNIVERLAND in the village of Le Budgue for a day in the adventure park. Here you'll find the Aquarium of Black Perigord, the Labyrinth of Cro Magnon Man, Jungle Golf, Big Bird ziplines, throwing axes, and more.
Day 15: Sarlat la Caneda to Biarritz, Afternoon on the Beach
In the morning, drive to Biarritz, approximately a five-hour drive. If you would like to explore other towns along the coast, Bayonne and St. Jean de Luz are both great places to stop for lunch and an afternoon walk.
Spend the afternoon relaxing on the beach. Here, the Basque Country coastline stretches for 110 miles (175 km) along the Bay of Biscay, from France into Spain's Cantabria region. There's plenty of beaches to choose from, from wild, windswept shores to idyllic golden crescents and sandy urban playgrounds.
Day 16: Train Ride & Basque Cake-Making Class
In the morning, enjoy an excursion to the top of Rhune Mountain aboard the local mountain train. Alone or with a guide, head to the base of the mountain to catch the scenic train, which will carry you high above the village. The train is small with wooden carriages, invoking a scene from a time gone by. The ride to the top is leisurely, arriving half an hour later at the windswept summit where you can enjoy panoramic views and catch sight of sheep, vultures, and pottocks (little horses of the Basque Country.)
In the afternoon head to the Museum of Basque Cakes to learn how to make a traditional Basque cake. The museum, which sits at the foot of the Pyrenees and the Rhune, welcomes visitors of all ages who want to learn the secrets of the perfect cake. Kids will love rolling up their sleeves and trying to make the cake for themselves. Try your hand at the typical Basque recipe (the one with almond cream or Itxassou black cherry filling) then tour the museum to see exhibits on local culture and cuisine.
Day 17: Au revoir, France!
After breakfast, take a private car or train transfer to the airport to catch your flight home. A bientôt!