Bordeaux, Saint-Émilion and the Dordogne Valley for families
With the gorgeous medieval town of Bergerac behind me, the Dordogne river sparkling in the sunlight before me and a glass of Monbazillac in hand, I wondered why I had never thought to visit this part of France before. The delightful mixture of charming villages, gorgeous countryside, historic cities and, to be honest, the sheer “french-ness” of it all, won me over in no time. Watching the children around me captivated by the wonders of Bordeaux’s latest attractions, kayak down the local rivers, and simply thrive in the wonders of the French countryside made it clear to me that Nouvelle Aquitaine is a perfect region for families to visit.
Stretching from Poitiers in the North to the Spanish border in the South, Nouvelle Aquitaine is one of France’s largest and most diverse regions. Containing beaches, mountains, cities and stunning countryside, there really is something for every family.
- families with older children
- family city breaks
Long known as France’s La Belle Endormie or sleeping beauty, it seems to me as if Bordeaux has truly woken up. I found Bordeaux to be a vibrant city, filled with both the rich historical heritage it’s known for and striking modernity.
In the historic centre of Bordeaux, you’ll find the heart of the city and certainly no shortage of pretty squares and narrow paved streets, all bustling with charming family-friendly bistros and trendy wine bars. But Bordeaux has much more to offer.
Take a boat (or a taxi - but that’s less fun) across the river to find Bastide, one of the hippest parts of Bordeaux and home to Darwin. Darwin is hard to explain. Filled with local craftsmen, street art, artisan delicacies and so much more, essentially it's an incredibly cool, eco-friendly space for the community.
Older kids will love tackling the indoor skatepark, while the whole family can enjoy exploring the year-round markets, eating at the largest organic bistro-dining hall in Europe and enjoying the extremely chill but cool atmosphere.
Just north of the elegant Chatrons district, you’ll find Bacalan, a much more affordable part of the city. It takes around 30 minutes to walk into the city centre from here but plan your accommodation well, and situate yourself near a tram line, to reach the historic heart in minutes.
You might think that a wine museum would make a poor choice for a family activity but Cité du Vin would prove you wrong. Their immersive ‘Children’s Tour’ guides under 12s through the many themed exhibits appropriate for children where they can learn about the great wine civilisations and cultures of the past and interact by smelling, touching and listening. Since a wine tasting is included in an adult ticket (€21), tickets for younger guests are quite a bit cheaper (€9) and those under 6 years old enter for free.
Les Bassins des Lumières, the world’s largest digital arts centre, is genuinely a sight to behold. You can explore at your own pace as the living digital art inspired by different artists, nature and parts of the world (depending on the exhibit) is projected on the walls of this massive ex-submarine base.
With water reflecting the art across all sides of the base, adults and youngsters alike will appreciate the completely unique and refreshing display of artwork. While there, we even saw buggies being pushed around the base, with their occupants looking completely captivated by the experience.
You can’t visit Bordeaux without trying Caneles - a yummy rum and vanilla flavoured pastry. Don’t worry - only a tiny amount of rum is used and it evaporates during the cooking process, making it perfect for the whole family to nibble on.
If you’re looking for a little extra room consider staying at Hôtel La Zoologie. Newly opened in 2021, this luxury hotel has a fantastic panoramic duplex room that has plenty of space for a family of 4 over two floors (each with its own bathroom). There’s even a private terrace, perfect for a late-night glass of wine after bedtime.
Our favourite family-friendly hotels
Intercontinental Bordeaux Le Grand Hotel
Le Palais Gallien Hôtel & Spa
Hôtel La Zoologie
Saint-Émilion and the Bordeaux Wine Region
- History lovers
- Family-friendly vineyard trips
Stretching around the city in almost all directions are Bordeaux’s famous wine regions. Equally well known for its gastronomic delights, this area is a beautiful blend of pretty medieval villages, gorgeous countryside and, of course, fine wines.
Nestled just east of Bordeaux, you’ll find the charming village of Saint-Émilion. Saint-Émilion gains its name from an 8th-century monk who sought refuge in the village. According to legend, while living in a cave, he performed miracles and turned the village into a religious centre. After his death, the town was named after him.
Today Saint-Émilion is considered one of the most prestigious wine regions in the world but there is much to this beautiful village than great wine and religious history. Saint-Émilion is a fantastic destination for a family holiday. Children will delight in exploring the secret underground depths of the village, particularly when they arrive in the largest monolithic church in Europe.
Pick up one of the themed treasure hunts available from the tourism office to discover the village with little explorer Robin or head out to Château Cormeil-Figeac where your little ones can take part in a wine apprentice workshop. And with over 800 wine producers in the area, there are plenty of other family-friendly wineries and vineyards to discover.
In the village itself, there are delights for the whole family at Le Cloître des Cordeliers. Set in a 14th-century cloister, you’ll find a rare sight in the region - somewhere that specialises in sparkling wine. Although, the real highlight for families is the incredible picnic baskets on offer. Take a seat in the cloister’s gardens, pick up a bottle of bubbly from the bar and order one of their amazing picnic baskets. Choose from a variety of cold sweet and savoury options to build your basket, or select hot dishes made using their french-style barbecues. Alternatively, take the kids on their tuk-tuk tour around the town before heading underground into the cellars to taste 3 different “Crémant” sparkling wines alongside Saint-Émilion macarons. Grape juice tasting is also provided for children so no one feels left out.
Have you tried a Saint-Émilion macaron before? Legend says this particular type of macaron was created by Ursuline nuns back in 1620. Today, only one person has access to the original recipe. You can find the original macaron recipe in use at Nadia Fermigier’s shop on rue Guadet (just next to the post office) and the nearby tearoom (1 place Pioceau).
Our favourite family-friendly hotels
Chateau Hotel & Spa Grand Barrail
Hôtel de Pavie
- Slow travel
- Active holidays
- Young families
Filled with picturesque villages, grand chateaus, incredible food and charming landscapes, Dordogne is a haven for those looking for a slower-paced family holiday. Part of the joy of the Dordogne Valley lies in the sheer variety of activities, landscapes and beauty on offer. No matter where you base your stay, you’ll have easy access to chateaus, wineries, gorgeous villages and family-friendly outdoor activities including kayaking and rock climbing. If you’re looking for a particularly special mode of transport, consider checking out Car Vintage to travel through the valley in style.
But where to begin? You could start by picking which beautiful village or town you’ll use as a base. There’s practically no bad choice in Dordogne but certain destinations do stand out.
For ease of access, you can’t go wrong with the pretty medieval town of Bergerac. Despite being one of the larger towns in the Dordogne, Bergerac still has a small-town feel and is perfectly placed to visit many of the hilltop and bastide towns in the area. But perhaps the main advantage of Bergerac, particularly for shorter trips, is that the region’s airport is located only 10 minutes away.
Plus, if the kids get antsy after too many historic buildings and wineries, you can always take them to Bergerac Karting to blow off some steam or indulge their dreams of being a sailor for the day at Port Minature. You’ll also find a fantastic market every Wednesday and Saturday where you’ll be able to pick up local delicacies that are perfect for a picnic.
If you’re looking for a picturesque village instead, consider staying in Monpazier, one of Dordogne’s most beautiful villages. Founded by Edward I of England (that’s right - this region was once ruled by English Kings) in 1284, Monpazier is one of the best-preserved villages in the region. Foodies will absolutely love the family-run restaurant Eléonore (which is also mentioned in the Michelin guide) and it is impossible to find friendlier hosts.
The owners also run the beautiful hotel Edward 1er which is set in a petite chateau within the village (and named after the town's founder). Kids will love splashing around their outdoor pool too.
Alternatively, if you’re looking to make the most of the french countryside, find a well-located local chateau. You’ll often find most of these historic buildings have great modern amenities such as outdoor pools and spas, plus there’s almost always loads of space for the kids to roam. A great example of this is Château des Vigiers, located just 25 minutes from Bergerac Airport. Here you’ll find a heated outdoor pool, indoor spa, tennis courts and more, plus their famous Michelin starred restaurant, Les Fresques.
For a truly unique experience, I recommend taking a day trip up to Lascaux to visit the world-famous Lascaux IV cave museum. An exact replica of the incredible cave discovered in 1940, here you can explore the cave and its prehistoric paintings in their full glory. Kids will love learning about the four teenagers (and their dog!) who made history with their discovery and how we think these prehistoric people lived and painted. I’m sure all of you will be amazed by just how vivid and creative the paintings really are, I know I was.
Throughout Dordogne, you’ll find their famous foie gras and truffles offered both separately and in dishes. Both are incredible local delicacies but it might be easier to persuade the little ones to try some of Dordogne’s yummy cheeses and the local walnuts instead. Plus, as a bonus for parents, both go excellently with their fabulous wine.
Launched in 2021, Dordogne’s Châteaux en Fête, a festival of castles, is not to be missed as it returns for the Spring. Explore the 72 participating chateaus as they open their doors to host games, exhibitions, workshops shows, concerts and more, with plenty of fun for the whole family.
Our favourite family-friendly hotels
Hôtel Edward 1er
Relais des Vigiers
Le Moulin Du Roc