The European family vacation is a classic, often complete with lost luggage, hotel booking snafus, and inappropriate packing. But before you start envisioning a Griswaldian disaster, there’s a way to thoroughly plan for travel with kids (and grandparents) without sacrificing style and adult R + R.
After a recent work trip to Paris, my husband and I agreed to let his father organize a seven-day sojourn to the Loire Valley for us, our two young girls (ages four and five), and my partner's mother. With some trepidation, we relinquished the reigns and agreed. But our itinerary and accommodations turned out so perfectly that I’d be inclined to recommend them for any family traveling to Europe.
Here’s How We Did It:
The first night was spent in Condeau at the Domaine de Villeray hotel and spa. Only an hour and a half outside Paris, it feels worlds away. The family-run Domaine, built in the XVI Century, is charming beyond belief, and perfect for a night or two of swimming at the pool and al fresco dining.
The second evening we headed to Les Domaine Hauts de Loire. Complete with all the luxurious décor and landscaping that Relais & Châteaux properties are known for, this space was ideal for spending the entire week. There are fabulous running and biking trails, and adjacent to the relaxing swim area is a small kids playroom with a connecting outdoor playground (there are even two bunnies). Protected and enclosed, read by the pool while knowing the children are playing safely. For dinner, we opted for the more formal dining experience, but they do offer a more casual bistro option.
From here, we spent the next three nights at the Chateau de la Flocelliere. A medieval castle that was converted into a chateau sometime during the Renaissance, it’s been inhabited for ten centuries, a rarity in France. Currently owned and operated by the Vicomte and Vicomtesse Patrice and Erika Vignial, guests are ensconced in the world of their hosts, surrounded by ancient history and landscapes, and dining together on food prepared fresh from their gardens. Erika and Patrice are lovely and accommodating hosts, in-tuned to their guest's needs and able to recommend fantastic activities for children. The surrounding park is home to trees over 200 years old, and the kids loved exploring and swimming in the area. The Chateau is also close to Puy du Fou, one of the most famous historical theme parks in the world.
On the sixth night, we headed back towards Paris. My father-in-law planned for us to stay in Giverny. A mere 45 minutes from Charles de Gaulle Airport, and a stone throws from the Monet's former home and gardens, it was the perfect place to spend the last two days of our trip while avoiding a long schlep to the airport. But when we arrived, what was billed as “a cottage” was a condo on the side of the highway. Rounding out the décor was some duck-tape holding the refrigerator door handle in place. Panicked, I intervened and called every single style-approved hotel within a 3-mile radius. Miraculously there were rooms at Chateau la Cheneviere.
We found respite at this beautiful property in Normandy. The chateau, built in the 18-th Century, has an incredible history, occupied by the Germans during World War II, and later American soldiers during the D-day landings. Here, we biked to the seaside town of Port-en-Bessin and made visits to Omaha Beach and the famous "American cemetery." We relaxed by the pool, the luxurious grounds and walled garden area perfect for picnics with the family. It was the ultimate finale for our trip, one I would easily recommend to others.
What to Pack
Packing for kids (especially when you’re going overseas) can be tough, but here there are certain essentials you’ll use again and again. This includes a sundress for warmer weather, a cardigan for covering up, sneakers for easy walking, Capri leggings to throw easily pull up after the beach, a Breton long sleeve tee for maximum French bebe appeal (Saint James), camisoles for those hot days, and a backpack to throw everything into (Herschel Retreat backpack).