Think you can’t escape crowds of children on a summer get-away to France? Think again. Jill Starley-Grainger scoured the country to find fantastic child-free breaks
Summer holidays seem like they’re made just for kids, with everyone from theme parks to natural parks putting on special events for them. But maybe you don’t want to be surrounded by hordes of excited school children on your precious days off work. Ditch the tots and enjoy some quality time with proper grown-ups in France.
One of Paris’s best-kept secrets is that it’s practically deserted in August, meaning there will be no packs of school groups obscuring the Mona Lisa at the Louvre; a heavenly lack of children pretending to be a hunchback in Notre Dame; leisurely evening meals not punctuated by the squeals of toddlers – bliss! If you want Paris to yourself, this is the time to go.
Bordeaux is a haven for adults all the time, but especially during its wonderful wine festival, when people from around the world descend on the city to eat, drink and be merry. Tres-chic Nice and pretty Perpignan get their fair share of children in the summer holidays thanks to their southerly locales, but avoid the busiest beaches and take to the water or hills instead, and you’re sure to enjoy serene peace and quiet.
Wine lovers will be pleased as punch on a visit to Bordeaux, where it seems even the Gironde River is flowing with fermented grape juice. If you want to learn more about the wine you’re drinking at the city’s fine dining establishments, take a class. Bordeaux L’ecole du Vin (Wine School) runs half-day to three day courses throughout the year in the city centre, while L’ecole du Bordeaux offers residential courses in nearby Pauillac, with classes at taking place in the beautiful surroundings of Château Lynch-Bages.
If you’d rather partake of your vino in a more relaxed style, visit Bordeaux 29 June – 2 July, when one of the wine world’s biggest events takes place – the bi-annual Bordeaux Wine Festival. The city’s elegant streets and boulevards will be packed with more than 300,000 people, who have come from near and far to sample wine in a non-pretentious environment. Not only will there be plenty of the world’s most famous wine on offer, but there will be tours of the nearby wine regions and chateaux, wine-tasting classes, art exhibitions, free music concerts, parades and barrel-rolling contests.
Bordeaux L’ecole du Vin : 33 (0)5 56 00 22 88, www.vins-bordeaux.fr
Bordeaux Tourist Information: www.bordeaux-tourisme.com
Bordeaux Wine Festival: www.bordeaux-fete-le-vin.com
L’ecole du Bordeaux: +33 (0)5 56 90 91 92, www.ecoledubordeaux.com
A wheelie good time
Need to burn off all those excess wine calories in Bordeaux? Let someone else do most of the leg-work for you. Bicyclette Verte provide everything you need for a self-guided cycling tour (seven days, from 590 euros), including bikes, itinerary, accommodation, luggage transportation and most meals. Their Landes to Adour Land cycling tour starts about an hour outside Bordeaux and takes you past Romanesque abbeys, to beautiful quiet, white, sandy beaches, past lakes and into the pine forests. The route is easy and mostly flat, making it ideal for even the most leisurely of cyclists. Since you’ll be cycling with your friends at your pace, chances of coming across a gaggle of giggling schoolgirls is slim.
Bicyclette Verte: 33(0)5 49 35 42 56, www.bicyclette-verte.com
Eau so exciting
Parlez-vous Francais? You will after two weeks of French lessons on the chic Riviera. When you’re so near the water, it seems a shame to spend all your time indoors. With Caledonia’s French and Sailing/Diving course, you’ll take French lessons in the morning and sailing or diving lessons in the afternoon. Pay attention in class, though, because all instruction on the boat is in French! Can’t speak a word of Francais? Not to worry. It’s suitable for all levels of French speakers, from those who can barely say s’il vous plait to those who want to converse en Francais all day.
The two-week course (from £620) in Nice starts on dates throughout the summer. Minimum age is 16, but most students are older. If that’s still too young for you, there are separate courses available for people over 50 who already speak a little French.
Caledonia Languages Abroad: 0131 621 7721, www.caledonialanguages.co.uk
Nice Tourist Information: www.nicetourisme.com
Holidays with heart
Get involved with the local community, enjoy expeditions with knowledgeable guides, have your meals and accommodation taken care of – all for 130 euros for three weeks! What’s the catch? Luxurious it isn’t, but this volunteering holiday has such a high feel-good factor, you won’t even notice the lack of tiny shampoo bottles. Spend time in the morning helping out with a local project, such as rebuilding a citadel wall, then check out the region in the afternoons, either on your own or on the organised group outings.
No skills or experience are required to join in one of Apare’s volunteer work camps, which help protect Provence’s heritage sites, but you have to be at least 18. Nearly 25% of participants are of retirement age, though, so don’t assume it’s going to be full of gap-years. Accommodation is basic, and you’ll work around 35 hours a week, but if you don’t mind missing out on five-star luxury, you could be learning skills, making new friends and seeing France in a completely different light. Two upcoming camps, starting 26 August and 16 September, involve work overlooking the stunning bay of St Tropez.
Apare (Association for Regional Participation and Action): + 33 (0)4 90 85 51 15, www.apare-gec.org
Read all about it
Bitten by the Da Vinci code bug? Follow the trail north of Paris to Chateau de Villette, the residence of the book’s British historian, Sir Leigh Teabing. Several scenes from the movie were filmed at the estate. For a luxurious break, book on the chateau’s Da Vinci Code six-day break, which includes accommodation, themed tours, lunch at the Ritz and a Da Vinci Code discussion group. Although children aren’t excluded from this break, it’s unlikely to appeal to them ¬- or their parents, given the high price tag: 3,900 to 4,300 euros per person, including five nights’ stay at the chateau. Plenty of shorter Da Vinci Code tours are available in Paris, such as Paris Muse’s Da Vinci Code Trail (2 1/2 hours, 30 euros).
If you’d rather be writing than reading, hone your skills with Travellers Tales’ two-day course in Paris. You’ll visit places in the city for inspiration, then try your hand at travel writing. Your base will be English bookstore, Shakespeare & Co, on the banks of the River Seine, and the writing workshop coincides with the bookstore’s annual literary festival.
Chateau de Villette: +1 415 435 1600, www.chateauvillette.com
Paris Muse: +33 (0)6 73 77 33 52, www.parismuse.com
Shakespeare & Co: +33 (0)1 43 25 40 93, www.shakespeareco.org
Travellers Tales: www.travellerstales.org
Considered by many gourmets to be the finest food in the world, French cuisine is often seen as complicated and requiring great culinary skill. That’s where Le Cordon Bleu comes in. This internationally famous cookery school offers classes in Paris for those who want to prepare a slap-up, bells and whistles meal. Tantalising courses include Mediterranean Cuisine (21-24 August, 889 euros) and Cooking for Friends (dates throughout summer, one day, 142 euros). Most of Cordon Bleu’s non-professional courses are translated into English, but make sure to check before booking.
Le Cordon Blue: +33 (0)1 53 68 22 50, www.lcbparis.com
Paris Tourist Information:
Wet and wild
Take the plunge with this multi-activity Pyrenees mountain adventure for over 18s only. A qualified guide will take you through your paces on a holiday full of thrills and spills. Start off your trip with a day of canyoning, which involves getting down canyons using skills such as scrambling over rocks, jumping, abseiling and swimming. Next it’s on to caving, where you’ll go deep into caves using headlamps and ropes. Recover with a day relaxing in the local village or thermal baths before finishing your holiday with some rock climbing, mountaineering, horse riding or mountain biking.
At night you’ll come back to cosy Le Village Catalan in the foothills of the Pyrenees. If one of your party isn’t up for such adventurous activities, there are tamer offerings available at the village, such as painting and photography courses. The one-week action adventure course (from £520) is for a minimum of five people and includes accommodation and activities.
Le Village Catalan: 0800 652 1255, +33 (0)870 507 057, www.actionsites.com/village
Perpignan Tourist Information: www.sunfrance.com
Soothe away aches, pains and stresses with seawater-based thalassotherapy spa treatments. The French, who invented thalassotherapy, absolutely swear by it. Spend a week relaxing in the serene, adult-oriented surroundings of Les Flamants Roses near Perpignan, availing yourself of the rejuvenating spa treatments on offer. The luxurious four-star hotel-spa is situated on the white, sandy beaches of the Mediterranean and has three floors dedicated to spa treatments.
Try the ridiculously indulgent six-day passion cure (960 euros), which features two massages a day, or the six-day golf special (660 euros), which includes green fees at the local golf course, invigorating multi-jet bath and Thai foot massage to help recuperate after a day on the links.
Les Flamants Roses: +33 (0)4 68 51 60 60, www.hotel-flamants-roses.com