The vast and varied region of Pays de la Loire (Atlantic Loire Valley) is a fabulous holiday destination when you have the kids in tow, from its crazy cultural attractions to endless cycling and watersports. It’s home to zoos, interactive museums, giant mechanical creatures to ride, a world-famous race track and France’s second most-visited amusement park after Disneyland Paris.
A sloth at Nantes’ mechanical menagerie
Aimed at kids aged 9 to 90, the Machines de l’Île is an extraordinary cultural hub that combines the imaginary worlds of Jules Verne with the mechanical universe of Leonardo da Vinci. In addition to the giant elephant, robotic spider and extraordinary carousel of ride-on sea creatures, a 120-kilo sloth has taken up residence, suspended from a branch, whose head, eyelids, tail and paws can be set in motion by visitors.
Want to teach the kids about going green? On the coast in Saint-Nazaire, there’s a new wind power museum. ‘EOL Centre Éolien’ offers 45-minute, educational and interactive visits focused on the history and development of wind turbines and caters adeptly for English speakers. www.leportdetouslesvoyages.com/en
Terra Botanica in Angers is the world’s only theme park dedicated to plants. Here you can learn six centuries of plant history and understand how they hold the keys to our future. A world of exploration and discovery, it’s bolstered by a superb adventure playground and a programme of entertainment. www.terrabotanica.fr/en/
Not far from Angers in Doué-la-Fontaine, the Bioparc is a troglodyte (cave) zoo for endangered species, where over 1,200 animals have found a haven of peace. Work your way around the mineral and vegetable labyrinth and watch the animals from observation bubbles. www.bioparc-zoo.fr/en/
The great outdoors
One of the region’s best assets is its near-3,000km network of cycle trails, which include sections of the major Vélo Francette (from Normandy), Vélodyssée (down the Atlantic coast) and Loire à Vélo (along the River Loire). The latter wends its way past some major châteaux – Saumur, Brissac, Angers and Nantes, as well as abbey-turned-cultural centre Fontevraud – so it can be educational as well as physical for children. Why not combine it with a fun vintage bike festival in Saumur? Anjou Vélo Vintage takes place each summer. www.cycling-loire.com / www.anjou-velo-vintage.com/en
Electric leisure boats are all the rage on the River Sarthe, 86km of which is navigable. Book a day or half-day out with Aventure Nautique which has boats for 7-10 people, departing from La Suze-sur-Sarthe. www.aventurenautique.fr
For watersports with a bit more adrenaline, head to the coastal resorts of St-Gilles-Croix-de-Vie or St-Jean-de-Monts and try a class in sailing, sea canoeing, stand-up paddling or sand-yachting.
In the driving seat
Family of petrolheads? Head to the 24 Hours museum in Le Mans, fully interactive and great for kids.
Showtime at Puy du Fou
Puy du Fou is the second most-visited amusement park in France after Disneyland Paris – but in place of rides, it offers spectacular theatrical shows re-enacting periods of history, from the Vikings to the Belle Époque.‘Le Premier Royaume’, which takes visitors back to the 5th century and follows Clovis, king of the Franks, against the backdrop of Attila’s rampaging followers and a declining Roman Empire. The park’s special-effect night show ‘Cinéscénie’ is continuing its seasonal performances, and there are five on-site hotels plus numerous restaurants, where staff serve you in full costume.
Find out more about things to do in France at: uk.france.fr