Cruising around the south of France may not sound like a family-friendly vacation. And for many years, it hasn’t been.
Parents who wanted to access the history and beauty of the French countryside rented a house and explored their local area, since most accommodations in the region were geared toward couples. No more.
Pack up your kids, from tots to teenagers, and string together a week of hotel hopping here.
> The Camargue
Why Go: France’s cowboy country in the southwest is Montana minus the mountains for our Continental cousins. Home to bull ranches that date to the 16th century, these low-lying plains by the coast are nothing like what you picture as Provence.
Where to Stay: Mas de Peint, an authentic ranch where the fields are full of prize bulls and white Camargue ponies, and guests can ride gardian-style (gardians are the French cowboys), for those with the stomach to handle some serious rodeo roping. [Watch the video: The Gardians of the French Camargue]
> Les Baux-de-Provence and Saint-Remy
Why Go: These two towns are storybook Provence, with ancient ramparts, cute plazas filled with cafes, and an overall bon humor when it comes to kids. Don’t miss the Alpilles Museum in Saint-Remy for a history of the region dating back to prehistoric times (there’s even a dinosaur!) and Carrières de Lumières, an amazing art space inside a former quarry in Les Baux.
Where to Stay: Families with older children should check into the new Hotel de Tourrel in the center of Saint-Remy. The ample, design-forward suites (there are only seven) are stocked with vintage furnishings and nicely situated such that teens can explore on their own while never straying far from their parents.
Broods who prefer a more traditional resort should try the recently opened Domaine de Manville, owned by a family who wanted to create the ultimate home-away-from-home for their children and grandkids. Family suites, children’s menus, and a kids’ club, plus proximity to Saint-Remy and Les Baux, make sightseeing and downtime equally easy.
Why Go: Art and history. Paul Cézanne was born here, and visitors can follow the trail of his life, from his childhood home to his studio to his école and even a picnic and walk around Sainte-Victoire, the mountain that inspired much of the Post-Impressionist’s work.
Don’t miss the Musée Granet, where you can see some of the few Cezannes on display in his hometown, and the new Caumont Centre d’Art. For older kids studying World War II in school, a visit to the Camp des Milles, a former internment camp and deportation point to Auschwitz, is a sobering reminder of the area’s Nazi occupation.
Where to Stay: Aix is a great city for strolling, but families who want a little country mixed in with their more “urban” experience should stay at Les Lodges Sainte Victoire, five minutes outside of town and with a swimming pool and gardens that are ideal for corralling a younger crowd.
> Provence Verte
Why Go: Provence Verte means “Green Provence,” and this area has the forested mountains and vineyard-covered valleys that are a nature lover’s dream. Perfect for walkers and serious bikers with older kids, this region also puts visitors in close contact with Verdon Gorge (France’s Grand Canyon) and alpine lakes.
Where to Stay: Vineyard or town? Families who want a setting in a quaint town should stay at Hostellerie de l’Abbaye de la Celle, a ten-room hotel and restaurant owned by celebrated chef Alain Ducasse. Michelin stars aside, the inn is about as family-friendly as they come. The chefs will happily whip up pasta for younger diners then let them romp on the lawn while mom and dad down a dreamboat meal.
For the vineyard setting, set out your GPS and find your way to the Château de Berne, a 1,500-acre estate hidden away in the hills. They have family suites, cooking classes for kids, and a big pool perfect for cannonballing away the afternoon.