During our visit to France we went to Parc de Mini-Châteaux, and had a really fun time. There are models of all the Châteaux along the Loire, as well as rides and activities for children.
The Parc is a great way to fill in half a day with kids, although it is probably most enjoyable in the sunshine. Entrance is €14 for adults, €9 for young people, and free for children under the age of four, but if you were expecting wet weather then pay the extra €8 and your tickets become a two-park ticket with entrance to the Aquarium (about 4-5km away).
Next to the entrance desk there are lots of costumes for children to play dress up (free in exchange for ID) and there are items for boys and girls to wear mediaeval-style prince or princess clothes.Walking around the Parc you can look at models of the châteaux all along the Loire. If you visited here at the start of your time in Loire Valley then it might help you decide which châteaux to go to. There are little boards with information about each of the châteaux and a map. They also give the distance and travelling time away from Parc Mini-Châteaux to help you to plan your time!
James loved the horse ride the best of everything in the Parc. It’s a knight’s horse that runs along a track, but the horse moves up and down as it travels, so it feels like it’s trotting.
The car ride came a very close second, though I think it was Noah’s favourite; he cried and cried as we got off and signed “more! More!”. But you only get to go round the track twice in your vintage sports car.
They did, of course, enjoy the little horse and dragon in the playground. After we’d had a play, James and I went and got lost in the Labyrinth.
Later, we had a proper French picnic of cheese, ham, saucisson, and baguette. Washed down with local fruit cider (adults) or water (boys), we felt refreshed and ready to head off to a full sized château – Chenonceau.
Château de Chenonceau was built in the 16th century, which is just astonishing when you consider it. Without modern mechanical engineering systems they managed to build a château and gallery upon a bridge across the Loire with some remarkable decorative structures.
I visited here with my family when I was younger. I clearly remember there being black swans in the little moats, but was sad to discover they’re no longer there.
Parking is free, but restricted so that you may not park between 9pm-8am. Entrance to the Château is €13 for adults, €10 for those aged 7-10, and free for younger children. They have an iPad-guided tour for €4.5 more; we didn’t do it but apparently there are adults and children’s versions.
Inside I think it’s rather well displayed. There’s a real fire blazing in the Guard’s Room, and in the Chapel its peaceful. Interestingly during the French Revolution the owner at the time turned it into a wood store so that the religious character was disguised. Some beautiful carvings and fabulous (furry) wallpaper in the rooms can be seen, and I loved the flowers in the kitchen as they smelled so wonderful!
Back at the hotel in Amboise we had plans to enjoy wine while the boys had an early night. Sadly, putting pyjamas on seemed to be similar to giving them a shot of espresso because they pretended but could not sleep! So we whisked them out to look at the Château de Amboise as the sunset looked promising.
By the way, if you happen to be in Amboise, and in need of a somewhat quiet meal, try La Trattoria because they have a dedicated play area in the restaurant and are very good at accommodating young children.
The next day we travelled to Château de Chambord where entrance is free if you’re aged under 25, or €11 for those aged above 25. You do, however, have to pay for parking – €6.
Chambord is a UNESCO world heritage site, and is rather beautiful!
However, it is undeniably beautiful and an amazing design. Just when you think you’re back to the beginning you see another wing you haven’t explored yet.
The grounds are so extensive that you can hire a bike or golf cart to go exploring. There are cafes and other little shops in the grounds, like a pizza restaurant and a wine store that does free tasting.
When we visited there was some serious construction going on; both the château and the grounds are undergoing a change – probably restoration on the château but I think more visitor centres.
We have loved our time in the Pays de Loire as there are so many beautiful things to see and do.