For a fun, relaxed and educational family holiday that makes the most of the great outdoors, look no further than the Atlantic Loire Valley. This area of western France has everything you need to keep both kids and parents happy. Regular Brittany Ferries services link the UK to the ferry ports in Normandy and Brittany, and it’s then a straightforward three-hour drive down to the land of famous fairytale chateaux.
Despite its architectural fame, activities in this pocket of France don’t have to mean stuffy museums – the region has equal appeal for outdoors and animal lovers, and there are some great ways to get kids fully involved with the local agricultural way of life. Agritourism is fast becoming an integral part of business here, comprising visits to or stays at active farms to learn about animal care, harvesting the land and protecting the environment. If this sounds right up your children’s street, read on!
At the Ferme de Papinière in Mayenne, you can literally slip into a farmer’s boots for a day as you milk cows, feed chickens and even make your own butter. Set up by farmer’s daughter Elisabet after she became disillusioned by modern-day children’s lack of animal knowledge, the educational farm is home to a great menagerie including Provencal donkeys, Ouessant sheep, Egyptian geese, French papillon rabbits, mohair billy goats, ducks in a thousand colours and a stunning golden pheasant. The farm also offers workshops, such as making jam from hawthorn, dog rose or elderberry, with fruit picked on site. Visitors can also make little leather objects such as bracelets, purses and knife holders. You can compose your day or half-day as you like, depending on your family’s particular interests – there’s also the option of picnics and pony-and-cart rides. It’s bucolic heaven.
In the Vendée’s serene Marais Poitevin, it’s all about slow tourism and trying out new activities far from the urban crowd . This lush maze of canals and countryside is a surprisingly family-friendly destination, with its own style of farm visit offered by the Ferme du Marais Poitevin itself. Situated in Benet, the farm is only 10 minutes from the centre of the nicknamed ‘Green Venice’. The accommodation here is a choice between B&B, gîte, campsite, campervan or gypsy-style caravan, all of which make the most of the peaceful surroundings. The whole family will enjoy the table d’hôte service with homemade specialities served each evening, and you can buy products on site made from the plants, flowers and seeds picked wild in the wetlands or on the farm. Once you’ve settled in comfortably, it’s time to throw yourselves into the lifestyle by feeding the animals, shearing sheep and collecting eggs. Take guided nature walks and enjoy donkey rides, or try outings by boat or canoe. The farm also specialises in endangered breeds – so there’s even more to appreciate.
If you’re looking for something really unusual, staying overnight in an African-style bivouac camp among zebras, wildebeest and antelopes is sure to get the kids excited. This is the reality at Planete Sauvage in Nantes, a zoo like no other, which also serves up exotic meals and private mini safaris. It’s hard to believe this is something you can do in the Atlantic Loire Valley – and it’s a reassuringly large place with almost 200 acres, for those concerned by animal welfare.
Safaris begin when the zoo’s daytime visitors have all left, lending them a VIP allure that will really give children something to tell their friends. Around base camp – where you can choose from the ‘Tanzania’ or ‘Mongolia’ bivouac – zebras, wildebeest, antelopes and kudus frolic peacefully on the grass, separated from camp by wooden barriers. Dinner time gives children the chance to ask the guide as many questions as they like as they’re introduced to dishes from the Maghreb and Senegal, and conversation continues around the campfire under the stars. Spending the night in the camp is also a great excuse to explore the zoo’s other delights the following day: the Chemin de Brousse (Bush Route), the Cité Marine (Marine City) and its dolphin shows, the Temple de la Jungle (Temple of the Jungle) and the Sentier des Incas (Inca Trail). With the Atlantic Loire Valley, you don’t have to go far to travel far…
From travel to the port to exploring when you get there, taking your own car to the Atlantic Loire Valley offers the freedom and reassurance you need. Sailing with Brittany Ferries is a hassle-free experience, with various ticket types allowing you to choose the level of flexibility you need. The company is constantly reviewing and updating its health-related procedures to ensure that everyone travels safely. Fresh sea air is supplied in all public spaces – including cabins – and there’s plenty of space to roam around, wherever you are on board. We can’t wait to welcome you back to France again.