Our very first “Explore My City” guest post comes from Phoebe an Aussie/Brit who now lives in Roquefort les Pins, a small village on the The Côte d’Azur (French Riviera), France. She lives with her husband and two boys and runs a bedroom holiday apartment, Lou Messugo, attached to their Provencal-style home.
The Côte d’Azur might be more well-known for its glamorous hedonistic lifestyle than for family-friendly vacations, but let’s dispel that myth. Here are 10 top ideas for great days out and activities for kids, perfect for holiday-makers and residents alike.
This list is based on my experiences with my boys, it’s in no particular order and doesn’t include the obvious and many attractions of all the nearby beaches on the Riviera.
- Le Bois des Lutins, an adventure playground so original you can’t help but be charmed. The main attractions are the netted walks high in the trees, linking tree-houses and platforms from where you can search for hidden fairies, elves and pixies. To get down you have to brave the enormous slides and tunnels. You’ll also find giant inflatables, including the “hamster wheel”, toboggans in the woods, zip wires, an underground troll cave, traditional wooden games and unusual swings. Because most of the park is in the woods it makes a great day out even on the hottest days. You can take your own picnic or buy food on site at the snack bar. Billed as being suitable for 2-102 years old, I wouldn’t disagree! Everyone finds something they love at this wonderfully low-tech park. Click here for more details
- Musée Océanographique de Monaco This world-class oceanography museum sits spectacularly placed on the cliff face looking out to sea on the rock of Monaco. This in itself is worth the journey but perhaps not for the younger members of the family. For them there’s an excellent aquarium – not big but perfectly sized for young children – with a touch pool and times to observe the fish being fed. The museum is stuffed full of marine world curiosities. Again, it’s not so big that kids lose interest, but just full enough of oddities to capture their imagination. You’ll find a whale skeleton and an enormous polar bear alongside 200 year old diving gear and all sorts of pickled sea monsters! The roof terrace has a restaurant and excellent play area next to a turtle enclosure all with 360° panoramic views of Monaco and the Mediterranean.
- 3. Rollerblading/cycling along the seafront at Cagnes sur Mer. Click on the link to see the post dedicated to this activity.
- 4. Le Village des Fous is a unique theme park consisting of a “crazy village” and a labyrinth with challenges and obstacles that you have to get through in order to access the village. Not only do you have to find your way through the maze but you have to answer riddles and succeed at physical challenges to get through each stage. The riddles and challenges are graded according to age, with 4 levels starting at 4 years old and up to adult making it suitable for the whole family. The theme of the park changes each year (Vikings/Pirates/Samurais etc) which keeps locals and returning visitors on their toes, no cheating possible! Clues come in English as well as French. Once you’ve made it through the maze the “Crazy village” awaits! (It is possible to by-pass the maze and go direct to the crazy village if that appeals more). This is a fun park with original rides such as pedal karts, a flying bath tub, water catapults, crazy mirrors, water slides, water jets and plenty more. You can take a picnic or eat at the café. The maze gets very hot in high season but there are plenty of drinking fountains and areas where you can cool off in water spray making it perfectly bearable even on the hottest day. In summer be sure to pack the kids’ swim stuff (and plenty of sunscreen).
- Parc Phoenix, 7 hectares of exotic gardens with 2500 plant species and one of the biggest glass-houses in Europe located on the western edge of Nice. The pyramid-shaped glass-house has 6 different climatic zones offering the visitor a rich, colourful, steamy, tropical experience. Kids love the enormous exotic plants that look like they’re out of a cartoon they’re so bright and wacky, and they just adore the iguanas wandering around freely! You’ll find a number of animals such as beavers, wallabies, prairie dogs, tarantulas, pelicans and other birds living in sympathetically designed enclosures and several excellent play areas. The whole place is beautifully landscaped and designed for a fun and fascinating day out. Picnics are allowed and there is a small café too.
- Take the Mini Train (tourist train on wheels) around Nice and then wander along the Promenade du Paillon through the water jets to the excellent children’s playground. This will appeal to younger children as it’s a relaxing way to see some of the old town of Nice and its famous seafront boulevard the “Promenade des Anglais”, followed by a fun play. In summer kids strip off to their underwear (or put on swimsuits) to play in the fountains (so be prepared and bring a towel). The playground is great at any time of year.
- Aquasplash, don’t all kids (big and small) love a water park? A vast choice of waterslides, some not for the faint-hearted, and a pirate play zone for the littlies make this a fun day out. It can get very crowded in high season so my advice is to get there as it opens. You’re not supposed to take picnics but you can get away with it if you’re discreet (I always do).
- Pitchoun Forest, zip-line adventure course in the trees (in the style of “Go Ape” in the UK). There are 4 different courses for different levels of difficulty consisting of rope ladders, zip wires, rope bridges, wooden tunnels, trapezes and swings but none of them are very high up making them suitable for as young as 3 years old (or 1m high) and up to about 9. Adults can walk around the course alongside the children to assist if necessary. Unlike in places designed for older users, the children are permanently attached to the wires; another reason why it’s suitable for such young kids. You can take your own picnic or eat in the café at the Village des Fous next door.
- Ferry ride to Ile Sainte Marguerite from Cannes followed by a walk along la Croisette to find the stars’ handprints. Everybody loves a boat ride, right? The ferry across to the island of Sainte Marguerite takes 15 minutes, just long enough to get salt spray on your face but not feel sick! The island itself is home to a 17th-century fort where the man in the iron mask was imprisoned, a bird reserve, beautiful rocky coves and majestic umbrella pines all linked by shady walking paths suitable for pushchairs. There is a restaurant and a snack bar (not always open, depends on the season) but this is the perfect place to take a picnic and spend a day on your own little beach, paddling, rock pooling or swimming away from the crowded beaches along the coast. Once back in Cannes, if you have the energy stroll along the famous Croisette seafront boulevard, eating ice-creams and search for the hand-print of the pink panther (I think that should be paw print!) Film stars have had their handprints immortalised around the Palais des Festivals where the Cannes Film Festival takes place every year and amongst them, if you look carefully, you’ll find the famous feline.
- Marineland, the biggest marine life theme park in Europe with dolphin, orca & seal shows, sharks, rays, penguins and polar bears. I hesitated whether to include this as it’s not really my kind of thing but I was reasonably impressed after my first visit, having discovered that a lot of important research is also carried out here. There is no doubt however that children love the shows particularly the playful dolphins and spectacular killer whales. It can get very crowded so once again my tip is to arrive as it opens in the morning and prepare your visit ahead, checking the times of the various shows so as not to miss out. It is possible to take your own picnic or eat at one of the many cafés and restaurants.
All of these are within 30 mins of Lou Messugo with the exception of Monaco at 1 hour. Many are only 10-15 mins away. Lou Messugo is located in Roquefort les Pins, a quiet village perfectly situated between mountains and sea, only 25 minutes from Nice International Airport,
Thanks to Phoebe for sharing her little corner of the world with us. If you would like to know more about Côte d’Azur, or even fancy a place to stay then get in touch with Phoebe. Not only does she run Lou Messugo but her website is packed full of details for activities in the area relevant to all ages. Her blog covers a wide range of topics from her perspective of French Culture as an expat, her background as a TCK, and some stunning photography.
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