Provence is a beautiful region, rich in history, gastronomy and wine, It’s also a playground for families. The limestone landscape is ideal for both big and small explorers with walking, cycling, mountain-biking, climbing and canoeing – and even caving experiences to enjoy. Daniel Wrightson of Provence and Tuscany holiday villas shares some of his top tips.
Cycling off road in Provence
Cycling off-road can be a magical pastime for children. It enables you to go further, see more and is a real adventure for little minds, especially if you can weave in some historical sites along the way. Old buildings are far more exciting if you’ve cycled there through a forest and “discovered” them yourself.
Tips: Plan ahead. If you can, spend a bit of time scouting the route first, local tourist offices can help. Make sure it’s a route you’ll be able to walk if necessary, you might end up having to carry a child and bike! Take plenty of water, some snacks and a map. Ideally plan a route with ice cream at the end. If the kids are very young, a car pick up for the return can be a good idea. I cycled with my four-year-old son through the woods from Cabriéres d’Avignon to Gordes. Along the way we explored an old “Borie”. These are typical to the area, squat stone structures with incredibly thick walls and one internal room. They were used as shelters for both animals and people.
Further along the path we came across a Troglodyte Mill, an amazing old olive mill carved out of a cliff, with a shaft carved out of rock down which the olive collectors could pour the crop.
A descent into a gorge to cross a stream then brought us up close to the road and into the village of Gordes and finally into the main square where the tempting prize of ice cream awaited us. His grandfather came to pick us up and we drove back to our holiday villa in Cabriéres.
Here’s the route on PlotaRoute, a useful route planner app. It’s around 6 kms overall, so I could have walked it if necessary.
Canoeing in Provence
You’ll find that the instructions are clear as to suitable age for descent for kids. Generally, the French are not over protective, but they are careful to make sure activities are safe. The youngest descent we found was near Isle-sur-la-Sorgue, close to Avignon, where 3-year olds upwards were able to join in.
My tip for canoeing is to make sure you’re canoeing on a river where you’d feel happy getting out and able to rescue somebody. Don’t take your kids down something that worries you to start with. Life jackets and helmets are always provided.
We opted for a descent on the Argens river in the Var, where the minimum age was 5 (via www.k-noe.com).
Nature, fun and picturesque locations
We reached a small gravel island and stopped for lunch and dipped our feet in a shallow part of the river. There was even time for sketching the sites en route (right).
On the way back the first obstacle was a large weir. Our guide had told us before leaving to paddle towards the weir edge at full speed – our impetus and the current would make sure we’d got over the lip and then the river’s current would carry us down the rest of the way. We slid sideways down the weir and dropped into the river below and continued towards the village, passing a number of mini-rapids, small narrowing of the current where our keel scraped the rocks. The canoe rocked, and we had a fabulous adventure.
Half a day doing one of these activities will provide your kids with memories they’ll treasure forever – and really boost their self-confidence.