The Lou Messugo Blog - life in the south of France from a British/Australian TCK's perspective, bringing you French culture, travel on the Côte d'Azur and beyond, expat issues and a little bit of je ne sais quoi all mixed up with a hefty dose of photography.
The Côte d'Azur (French Riviera) is a wonderful playground for old and young alike. Perhaps more well-known for its glamorous hedonistic lifestyle than for child-friendly vacations, this list should help 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.
1. 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
2. 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 here to see the post dedicated to this activity. Of course this can also be done on the Promenade des Anglais in Nice too. In both places bikes can be hired.
4. Le Village des Fous is a unique theme park consisting of a "crazy village" and a labyrinth that you have to get through in order to access the village. In the labyrinth not only do you have to find your way through but there are also physical challenges at each stage. 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, rope walks in the trees, toboggans in giant tires, water jets and much 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 & towels (and plenty of sunscreen).
5. 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 otters, wallabies, crocodiles, marmoset monkeys, lemurs, flamingoes, kookaburras 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.
6. 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.
7. 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 playzone 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).
8. 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. For older kids there's a more challenging course a couple of kilometres away at Canyon Forest (find out more here).
9. 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.
10. 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 gîte with the exception of Monaco at 1 hour. Many are only 10-15 mins away.
I've also written about things to do with young teens on the Côte d'Azur, ideas for rainy days on the Côte d'Azur, activities with toddlers and top indoor activities (all of which can be done when the sun shines too!) Have you been on holiday in the South of France? Do you have any favourite things to add to my list?
*** UPDATE 2016 Since devastating floods destroyed parts of Marineland killing an orca and many other captive fish and animals in October 2015, I have revised my opinion of this place and no longer endorse it. Personally I won't visit again.
What a great list, it all looks fantastic. I love Iguanas and would have to be dragged away from them. The water parks and water play also look wonderful.
How sad about the marine park. A few years ago we went to one inthe Netherlands that I had fond memories of as a child and all I can say is, never again.
Thank you for linking to #TravelAtHome
I was wondering if you knew of any attractions for children with special needs. my son is 4 and autistic and I wondered if you had any thoughts on anything he may like to do? he is very active but hates too many people and queuing
Thanks for this. Off to Cannes area with my brothers and nieces and nephews soon, so very helpful.
I love the idea that the kids strip off and head straight into the fountains (so bring a towel!). That is apparently so irresistible for all kids. I had no idea that the Cotes D'Azure was so child friendly. Lucky you bringing up your boys there!
Yes it's a great place to bring up kids, there's so much to do, this is only the tip of the iceberg.
Thank you for the amazing information! We are going to Cote d'Azur in April with our children!
April's a great month, you'll have a fab time!
A great roundup of fun activities with kids, wish I had seen these before our trip last summer!
What a shame Priya! You'll just have to come back, but thanks for stopping by all the same.
What amazing attractions so close to you... you are really selling the area to me... I am due a visit I think we would love all of them, but Le Village des Fous looks absolutely brilliant! Love the idea of Crazy Village! I shall bookmark this for future reference. Thanks for sharing on #MondayEscapes
When are you booking you holiday to Lou Messugo Ting???
So much fun stuff! I could see myself enjoying a lot of these activities - let alone my daughter. Great tips. Will come see you one day. #mondayescapes
Please do come and visit, it's a great place!
This list looks AMAZING! I want to get there now and do it all! I was 12 the last time I was there, so really need to start planning a trip with my own little one
The Côte d'Azur ad Nice in particular has become much more family friendly than it used to be, nowadays it's a great place for every age.
It's somewhere I never think of as particularly family-friendly but so much to actually do there with kids #MondayEscapes
It's hugely family-friendly these days Cathy, this is just the tip of the iceberg!
The oceanography museum looks so fun! And who doesn't love a splash pad!? Super cool, thanks for sharing.
It sure is a fun museum!
They look like great fun, especially the labyrinth obstacle course, and the first one - would love the inflatable hamster wheel. #LAB
I only visited the south of France as a child. I think we will need to visit soon this looks amazing!
Sounds lovely! Your blog really does make me wish we could afford a visit soon! My daughter would love number 1 and searching for hidden fairies she is obsessed with them and has a woodland themed fairy garden bedroom!
I've never been to the south of France, but I think I need to visit now! Le Bois des Lutins sounds like an amazing adventure playground and you have some amazing attractions nearby.
A great list of activities, thanks for sharing. Lovely photos too x
Wow. Looks amazing place. Your little ones look like they are having a fab time #LAB
My kids love all these things and are so lucky to live here. They don't realise just how much though!!
Wow, this looks and sounds absolutely amazing! I wish I could be transported there right now. It's definitely going high up on my wish list.
That's great! And you know where to stay too don't you???!
Wow, totally inspired by Le Bois des Lutins, looks so cool! Defo one to visit sometime. Thank you. #pocolo
Yes the Bois des Lutins is brilliant!
I WANT to be where you are!! This all looks fantastic. What great family fun. Thank you for linking to PoCoLo
Book yourself a holiday here at Lou Messugo then!! Simples!
Oooh! This looks like so much fun! We're also going on holiday in France in July. Can't wait! My 3-year old will love the Aquasplash and the little train #PoCoLo
Your 3 year old would also adore the Bois des Lutins, it's an amazing place. I can't recommend it more! Enjoy your holiday!
Fabulous and comprehensive post. Who would have thought it was so kid friendly. I would LOVE to go back and do these fun things for the kids. Thank you for sharing, especially the Musée Océanographique de Monaco.
The Musée Océanographique is definitely one of my favourite places to visit with kids. I'm glad you enjoyed my post.
Love the pics! It looks like a great place to take my kids. Thank you for sharing and giving me another place I want to visit.
My pleasure Mistie
Wow! Everything sounds and looks so much fun x
These activities sound amazing, lots of great things to do with the kiddos! I just love your pics, particularly the 1st one
We're lucky there are so many fun and original things to do in the area and I too love the 1st photo of my son in the "hamster wheel"!!
We will definately have to revisit Les Bois eds Lutins and make our first trip to Labyfolies in May. If I read anymore of your blogs I will have to extend our stay to fit it all in - so exciting! The photo of Oscar on the ferry should be used as their advert - fantastic!
So you got to Labyfolies and didn't we have a great day out!
Yes to all of it - it's surprising just how kid-friendly the region really is! The Nuits de Sud was also a huge hit with our kids, for those fortunate to visit the area during the summer concert season.
Thanks for commenting Rachel. You're right about les Nuits du Sud too, it's a great way to take young children to their first concert. If anyone's wondering what this is all about take a look at the post I wrote about this fab music festival here http://www.loumessugo.com/en/blog/entry/southern-nights