With the autumn term the longest of the year, it’s only natural that by mid-October, both kids and their parents are ready for some fun. Now is a great time to spend quality time as a family before gloomy November sets in – and it’s good value too, compared with the peak summer travel weeks. So whether you want culture, craziness or the great outdoors, France has something to suit.
1. Go wine-tasting in Bordeaux
Ok, so it might not sound like something you’d do with the kids in tow – but Bordeaux is full of surprises. South-west France’s largest city packs a punch for wine lovers, but it’s a surprisingly inviting destination for all ages; its Grand Hotel even has a dedicated childrens’ concierge and decks out its family suites with teddy bears, colouring books and miniature robes. Make for the Cité du Vin mega-museum, or try Château Bardins for appropriately tailored tastings (think grape juice with a hint of strawberry or tang of chocolate). Even a guided walking tour offers enough to entertain little ones, with fearsome gargoyles to gawp at and fairground carousels in the public squares. And with the new TGV Océane service now running there’s no need for airport fuss – jump on the Eurostar in London and be whisked to Bordeaux in under six hours.
2. Check out the Halloween Festival at Disneyland Paris
Paris is packed with suitable attractions for families – the Eiffel Tower, boat trips on the Seine or the Cité des Sciences et de l'Industrie (Europe’s largest science museum) to name a few – but there’s one place where the magic really happens. Disneyland remains popular and busy at this time of year, but for good reason: the Halloween festival started on 1st of this month and runs until 5th November, so it coincides perfectly with half term. Gather your little ghouls for a wonderfully wicked time with Maleficent and her gang of Disney villains, and feel the immortal magic of a Goofy’s Skeletoon Street Party, alive with vibrant colours and Disney characters dressed in festive garb. Plus, since it’s the park’s 25th anniversary this year, there’s a wealth of other spectacular celebrations to enjoy at the same time. Take the Eurostar or a quick and easy flight to Paris-Charles de Gaulle.
3. Head to the beach on the Côte d’Azur
Summer playground of the glitterati, the flashy seaside resorts of the Côte d'Azur take on a whole new identity come autumn. While temperatures can still reach the mid-20s, the atmosphere is more laid-back and beaches that are usually packed are blissfully quiet, as are the boutiques and restaurants. The Plage de Pampelonne and Plage des Salins near Saint-Tropez offer opportunities for endless hours of bucket-and-spading – or if you head further east to Cannes, hop on the regular passenger ferries out to the Lérins islands, where the children can hunt for shells in the rocky coves and discover the secrets of the legendary Man in the Iron Mask. There are plenty of diving and sailing schools still open in October along this superlative coastline – and regular flights from a good range of UK airports with Easyjet.
4.Play virtual kings and queens in the Loire Valley
Who wouldn’t want to be a royal for a day? Two of this iconic area’s most famous châteaux throw open their doors with special activities for children, supported by special apps – ‘Au service du roy’ at the Château d’Amboise (on iPad, available from reception) and ‘Le Roi et la Salamandre’ at the Château d’Azay-Le-Rideau (downloadable on your smartphone). The royal fortress at Chinon also has an iPad app with six fun trails, including one designed especially for 5-9 year olds – with King Arthur and the Knights of the Round Table, you can take the whole family on a quest for the Holy Grail as Merlin’s workshop and the Sword in the Stone sweep you straight into Arthurian legend. Besides majestic châteaux, the Loire Valley also has numerous flat cycle trails and bike hire points, and easily navigable waterways that offshoot from its eponymous lifeblood river. Jump on the train to Tours from Paris, or fly direct to capital city Nantes.
5. Get festive in Normandy
For a family autumn break in France, Normandy’s a great choice – just a quick ferry hop across the Channel with a choice of ports and daytime or overnight sailings. It’s a region blessed with gorgeous countryside, a dramatic coastline and a wealth of historic sites and attractions to visit… not to mention the seafood, patisserie, cider and crêpes! At this time of year there are family-friendly festivals on the agenda too: head to William the Conquerer’s Castle in Falaise (every day, 10am-7pm) for full immersion in the daily life of a Norman keep, with an interactive tablet tour and sound and light projections. Or between 23rd and 31st, the crazy ‘Ferme en Folie’ Festival in Bréhal offers treasure hunts, film screenings and art and craft workshops ideal for animal-loving kids.