August 20, 2018 - Luberon, Provence, Cycling, Hiking, Active, Climbing, For Children, The Var
Here are all the things we did with our children in Provence this year - so all advice has been tested in the field! The more adventurous things I did with my seven-year-old - the 3-year-old isn't quite ready for cycling or climbing adventures!
Fun activities in Provence!
We stayed in the Var first, close to Cotignac and Correns, in Maison Romaine, a large house for 12 with a pool. This part of the holiday inspection trip (!) was with extended family. We then moved west to the Luberon and stayed in Maison Timole, a lovely house for 6 in Cabrieres d'Avignon, with friends.
We nearly always manage to fit some cycling into our holidays, usually exploring off-road or staying on cycle paths, as the children are still small. Luckily it's not at all difficult to find or plan routes that are either off-road or on dedicated cycle-paths; Provence has both and we tried both systems.
First, the off-road (or quiet country lanes). After a few exploratory short rides I planned a 10 mile route that I thought Ben could manage. I find websites like Plot a Route or BikeHike are great for working out routes - you can switch between Google maps, Satellite views and dedicated cycling maps to help you work out what the lane or path might be like, and then download it to a GPS - or even just your phone. I have an old Garmin Edge, but even an app like GPX Tracker works well. Or, of course, an old school map and a pencil!
I always carry plenty of water and some snacks, as well as a GPS system (Garmin) with the route mapped - or at the very least a marker for the villa or where the car is parked. I planned a route near Correns, heading up a valley on a track and coming back through the woods close to the river. Or at least that was the plan - the path by the river turned out to be much more tight and overgrown than expected!
Interestingly, once the paths got tight it became an "Adventure" and acquired extra kudos for story-telling points when back at school. We found a walled garden with bee-hives in it, an abandoned house and a weir and we felt like Dr. Livingstone.It's amazing how much adventure you can find on your doorstep in Provence!
In the Luberon we had already, a couple of years ago, found a path from Cabrieres to Gordes that involved a troglodyte mill carved out of rock and an old Borie. This time we played it safe and went for a ride along the voie verte that runs from Avignon all the way to Apt. This is a separate paved and graded route based on an old railway line and is a pleasure to cycle along. We explored as far as a little park with a picnic table and an old dresser filled with books that you could take, swap, leave or read there, in the grove.
You need kits and expertise for this one, or a helping hand. I had the kit and expertise so we went down to Correns where there is a rocky outcrop all prepared for miniature sport climbing. Closely bolted, and with a shaded belay area, it was perfect to give young Ben a taste of real rock climbing, on a top-rope. If you'd like someone to come and help, and bring the gear, we can find a local guide.
We climbed in Correns but just up the road is a much larger climbing area, in Chateau-Vert. It is still all contained within friendly grades 5s and 6s but offers plenty of scope for older kids to get their teeth into.
Provence in general is dotted with great places for climbing - ClimbEurope is a good website to start with, or ClimbingAway, with it's search facility. Needless to say, climbing, particularly with kids, is something to be done only if you have both the equipment and the experience, otherwise it's best to find a professional to help.
We tried out a company called K Noe, based in Correns. They take you upriver in a van and drop you off above a weir - you can paddle upriver from here into a shaded gorge, with dragon-flies, herons, kingfishers and fish surrounding you. When returning down-river you have to 'jump' the weir. A swift paddle bumps you onto the edge and you tip off and down the slide - great fun. The section back into the village has other little rapids - tiny but exciting for the kids - as well as swimming spots. They are happy for children as young as 5 to go. We were enchanted, it really is magical to glide along the shaded river watching herons and dragonflies...
If you're in the Luberon there are companies that do a similar thing on the Sorgue, apparently slightly tamer so you can take smaller children - we didn't quite get round to testing them but they're near the Isle sur la Sorgue. I was interested to see - having been concerned as to how tricky the canoeing might be for little ones - that at this level, on sit-on canoes,
Provence is mainly limestone so it has a number of caves you can visit. We went for the caves at Thouzon, discovered by accident in a quarry in 1912. They are spectacular and fun to see - not to mention blessedly cool in the middle of a Provencal summer's day. There are also caves in the Var, near the Verdon Gorge - have a look at the Caves of Villecroze. We haven't visited their yet, it's on our list.
The sine-qua-non, the non-plus-ultra, the place guaranteed to get all the children agreed on where to go. Quite why it is so attractive I don't know, but our children love it and, anecdotally, so do many others! It is a model train landscape set up in a yard on the outskirts of Saint-Diziers. I can imagine the delight lies in the detail - there are all sorts of trains travelling around the tracks, and the landscape itself is beautifully built, with small shrubs trained as bonsai standing in for real trees, 2CV cars parked in the shade next to workers' huts, groups of people waiting on stations. Inside the building you can see the workings and exchange that send the different trains out at the correct times, as well as play with train themed toys or get an icecream or a coffee. It's simple but beautifully executed and seems to always the perfect place to go when the children are getting bored of churches, museums or village markets. Here's a taste in a video:
Bonus: Walking and exploring the hill villages of Provence
I know, it's obvious, but bear with me. I think the key here is exploring, finding places that are fun for the kids to see, imagine and be in. Our favourites on this trip were Oppede le Vieux - this is the village where the German Tank scene was filmed for Mr Bean's movie; that fact provided the first layer of external interest that fired the kids up before we arrived; the magic of the village itself worked for them once we got there. Other places have been Fontaine de Vaucluse - you walk up the narrow valley because at the end you get to see a river gush out from the base of the cliffs, fully formed. Or Roussillon, where the walk is through brightly coloured ochre cliffs that are other-worldly, topped by pine trees growing at strange angles.