Tree-top adventure parks with zip wires, walkways, nets, high ropes and swings have opened up in Provence in recent years. The parks all provide courses of different levels and most of them have something to offer for everyone from 2 years up. You’re always attached so there’s no chance of falling off but obviously it’s not recommended if you suffer from a fear of heights!
We recommend you book ahead. Here is a list of some of the parks in the region. Most of them have picnic areas.
• Passerelles des Cimes, between Lagnes and Fontaine de Vaucluse
• Colorado Aventures, Rustrel
• Le Royaume des arbres Parc de Charleval, Charleval (between Mallemort and Aix-en-Provence)
• Indian Forest, Aix-en-Provence
• Accro Passion, Salon-de-Provence
• Aoubré l’aventure Nature, Var
Kayaking on the Sorgue
This is a fun, family activity. You float about 4 ½ miles down the clear, emerald-green Sorgue river from Fontaine de Vaucluse to l’Isle-sur-la-Sorgue. It takes about 2 hours and a shuttle will take you back up to the starting point. Kayaks and canoes are for 1, 2, 3 or 4 people. Life jackets are provided.
Depending on the company you choose, you can go down the river on your own or be part of a group with a guide. If you’re feeling brave you can swim. But beware! the temperature of the Sorgue is a chilly 55°F / 13°C all year round. (For warmer water, head west for kayaking at the Pont du Gard). Depending on the weather, we recommend you wear a swimming costume or shorts, a windcheater, tennis shoes or trainers (which will get wet), sun cream and a strap for your sunglasses! As this is a very popular activity, particularly in the summer, it’s best to reserve in advance, by phone only. Ask for a waterproof container (un bidon) to put your wallet, keys, phone, etc. in.
Kayaking on the Sorgue is open from the 3rd weekend in April until the end of October.
There is a choice of 2 kayak/canoe rental companies at Fontaine de Vaucluse: Kayak Vert (tel: 04 90 20 35 44) is unaccompanied and has a minimum age limit of 6, and Canoe Evasion (tel: 04 90 38 26 22) is accompanied by a guide and has a minimum age of 3. With children or if you are new to kayaking, we would recommend Canoe Evasion, as Kayak Vert becomes a little frenetic in July-August.
A spectacular miniature railway in a garden in the village of Saint Didier, between Venasque and Carpentras, 12 miles north of Gordes. There are 25 trains and 650 metres of track going over landscaped mountains, through tunnels, over bridges, into stations, past lakes, waterfalls and towns and all this peopled by over 500 7cm-high figurines.
All of this born of one man’s love of playing with train sets. Twice a year the plants, models and figurines are moved around to create new settings.
Soft drinks and ice creams are on sale and you eat your own picnic in the garden.
Younger children love the Jarditrain, and secretly dads will too. The name comes from the contraction of jardin (garden) and train.
Entry: 5.50 to 7.50 euros, free for under-3s. Open March to December.
Opening times are somewhat irregular so check the Jarditrain website
Jarditrain, 186 Chemin Neuf, 84210 Saint Didier. Tel : 04 90 40 45 18
Grottes de Thouzon
10 miles from Avignon, the Thouzon Cave, also known as the Fairies’ Cave.
The fossilized bed of a river leads down into a wonderland created by little drops of water. In the cave there are stalactites and stalagmites as well as draperies, columns, crystals and other geological features but the cave is notable for its ‘sinus’ stalactites which, with a diameter of just 3mm, can reach an astonishing 2 metres in length.
The guided visit takes 45 minutes and is in French but the guides are able to answer questions in English. You can obtain a transcript of the visit in English at the desk.
As the ambient temperature in the cave is just 13°C (55°F) it’s a good place to cool off during a Provence summer – although you might want to take a jacket.
Entry: 6.60 to 9 euros, free for under-5s. Open all year, from 10 to 6.45pm in July-August.
Official site: Grottes de Thouzon
Grottes de Thouzon, 2083 route d’Orange, 84250 Le Thor. Tel: 04 90 33 93 65
Pont du Gard
Just to the west of Provence but we claim it anyway…This monumental 2000-year-old Roman aqueduct bridge was built to bring fresh water from a spring near Uzès to the fountains, baths and private homes of the Roman colony in Nimes. The aqueduct is considered to be a technical masterpiece of Roman engineering and is the highest Roman aqueduct bridge in existence. It was added to UNESCO’s list of World Heritage Sites in 1985.
In the 177-acre park surrounding the monument, you will also find:
• A museum that traces the history of the aqueduct using models, virtual reconstructions and multimedia screens, with water as the principal theme.
• ‘Memoires de Garrigue’ – a trail of just under a mile through 15 acres of restored agricultural parcels, explains man’s influence on the Mediterranean landscape. Allow about 1 ½ hours to walk the trail.
• ‘Ludo’ – a 6,500 sq ft interactive area of games and discovery for children aged 5-12 (available in French, English, German and Spanish). The games and activities are divided into four themes: a journey into the past, controlling water, finding evidence of the past and observing nature.
• You can also make your first sighting of the Pont du Gard by water, when you kayak down the Gard river and pass under the bridge. We recommend Natu’Rando at Remoulins for this adventure, they take good care of you. It’s a gentle 2-hour trip downriver and the water is warm. They can also set you up with mountain bikes if you want to explore the country on 2 wheels.
Official site: Pont du Gard
Barben zoo is set on a plateau near Salon-de-Provence, about half-way between Marseille and Avignon.
The zoo is set on a hill, with generous enclosures for animals for the most part. Wander along 5 ½ miles of footpaths and meet the 700 animals from 130 different species (including giraffes, elephants, tigers, bears, lions, rhinos, meerkats and reptiles) that are housed in the 80-acre park. The reptile house is at the bottom.
There’s a mini train that takes you from the bottom to the top and back if you don’t want to walk. At the top is the café serving basic food (burgers, hot dogs, ice cream), picnic area and large playground. For children it’s a great day out, with the animals, the mini train and the playground.
Barben Zoo is open every day of the year and you can book tickets online. The zoo recommends that in the summer you come early because the animals are likely to be more active before the heat of the day.
Entry: 16 euros, 11 euros for 3-12, free for under-3s. Open 9.30-7pm in July-August, and 10-6pm the rest of the year.
Official site: Barben Zoo
Zoo de la Barben, Route du Château, 13330 La Barben. Tel: 04 90 55 19 12
Barben Castle is right next door to Barben Zoo, and so makes a full day of fun for children. Originally a medieval fortress, the castle is complete with crenelated towers and turrets and a hanging garden. Guided tours of the chapel and a dozen rooms including the dungeons last about an hour. Tours can be given in English and there is a book of games for children that is also in English.
In the school holidays activities for children are organised, for example a medieval tour given by a knight or a guide in period costume and a treasure hunt around the castle. At Easter there’s an Easter egg hunt in the garden and in April there’s a Children’s Medieval Festival with sword fighting and archery workshops, dance, pony rides, medieval cuisine and a demonstration of chain-mail making. Nocturnal visits are possible on Thursdays in July and August when there are games for kids. At Halloween, there will be games and workshops for children, a drawing and costume contest and a firework display with hot chocolate and wine. These activities are only available in French.
Entry: 10 euros, 8 euros for 4-12 year-olds. Closed in December and January.
Official site: Barben Castle
Château de la Barben, 13330 La Barben. Tel: 04 90 55 25 41
• Wave Island (formerly Splashworld), Monteux, 12 miles from Avignon. This is a big waterpark by European standards, with 17 attractions – pools, slides, also surfing an artificial wave. The longest slow river and the biggest artificial wave pool in Europe. If you book a VIP cabin you get a place to rest as well as queue-jumping passes.
Official site: Wave Island
• SpeedWater Park (formerly Aquacity) at Pennes-Mirabeau, half way between Marseille and Aix-en-Provence. Various slides including the Black Hole (a descent of 150m/164yards on a double ring in the dark) and the Kamikaze (a near vertical drop) as well as less scary slides and attractions as well as a wave pool suitable for all the family. Salads, ice creams and hamburgers available.
Official site: SpeedWater Park
• Waterworld (formerly on Lac Dramont), near Fréjus in the Var. Obstacle course on a lake, like the TV show Total Wipeout. Simple and fun for all the family. New address: Chemin de la Gaudrade, 83480 Puget-sur-Argens
Château des Baux-de-Provence
Les Baux de Provence is a spectacular village perched on its rock high above the surrounding landscape in the Alpilles, with views as far as the Camargue. It is from here that the Lords of les Baux in the middle ages took on and defeated all comers, thanks to their impenetrable stronghold. According to legend, the Lords of les Baux descended from King Balthazar, one of the Three Wise Men who visited Jesus.
Today there is the village of Les Baux itself, and more interestingly for children, the remains of the castle. You can walk around the ruins and climb up to the top of the dungeon tower, the views are amazing. The highlight is probably the siege engines with their daily catapult demonstrations. You can download The Château des Baux-de-Provence app for iPhone/iPad & Android before your visit. On arrival there is a free audio guide available in English and an activity book for children aged 7-12.
The village of Les Baux has its fair share of tourist shops, but is also home to no fewer than 22 official Historic Monuments, so there are rich pickings if you don’t need a Les Baux paperweight.
Note that as Les Baux de Provence is unique and a big attraction, it gets very busy in summer, so come early or late to avoid the crowds.
Entry to the castle: 6.50-8.50 euros, free for under-7s. Open every day of the year. 9am-8pm July-August; 9am-7pm April-June and September.
Official site: Château des Baux-de-Provence
Carrières de Lumières
Half a mile from Les Baux de Provence, 6 miles from Saint-Rémy-de-Provence, a former quarry has been transformed into an immersive art experience. Paintings or other images are projected onto the walls and floor with a musical accompaniment. It’s quite unlike a gallery, you walk around, dwarfed by the huge pictures, so ‘immersive’ is the right word. Themed exhibitions change every year and normally run from March to January.
Past themes have included van Gogh, Gauguin, Monet, Michelangelo, Leonardo da Vinci. For 2018 the theme is ‘Picasso and the Spanish masters’.
The Carrières de Lumières is a nice cool place to visit in the hotter months, but bring a jacket because the temperature in the quarries all year is a chilly 15°C/58°F.
As this is right next to Les Baux de Provence, this is a good 2-in-1 outing.
Entry: 10.50-12.50 euros, free for under-7s. Open all year. 9.30am-7.30pm July-August; 9.30am-7pm April-June and September-October.
Official site: Carrières de Lumières
Villa des Automates & Montopoto
10 miles/16 km north of Aix-en-Provence these family amusement parks are situated in 20 acres of oaks and pine trees. The two are next to one another and as one is indoor and one outdoor they are a good destination whatever the weather.
The Village des Automates is for young children – no older than 8 – and offers a gentle, old-fashioned sort of entertainment. There are automated scenes that play out when you push a button, with a song and a dance, and themes like Pinocchio, Santa Claus, pandas and dinosaurs.
The outdoor fun includes a playground, a maze, a circuit for pedal go-karts and another for tricycles, a little train, and a small farm with goats, sheep, cows, donkeys, ponies and pigs. In summer there are also water games and slides. In fact you forget that the theme of the park is the automatons which are frankly past their sell-by date.
This is one of those places that your children will enjoy a great deal more than you. Food is available, of the deep-fried variety, it’s probably better to bring your own and use the shaded picnic area provided.
In the indoor Montopoto next door there are four giant slides along with structures for climbing, trampolines and ball pit. On the electric car circuit, kids can also drive a 4X4, a police motorbike or a Mini. This is billed as the largest indoor play area in France, and is air-conditioned. The wearing of socks and not shoes is obligatory.
If your children are a little bored and restless after touring in a car, this is the perfect place for them to expend some energy.
Entry: Village des Automates: 11 euros for adults, 8 euros for children 3-14. Monotopoto: 6.50 euros for 18 months to 3 years old; 11 euros for 3-11 years old. One adult per child free. Chemin de la Diligence, 13760 St Cannat
Official site: Village des automates
The Crocodile Farm (La Ferme aux Crocodiles) is just off the A7 autoroute at Pierrelatte, 38 miles north of Avignon. Two huge glass houses and nearly an acre of outdoor area hold 10 species of crocodiles, Aldabra and Galapagos giant tortoises, lizards, snakes, tropical fish and birds, over 400 animals in all. Plus over 600 exotic plant species such as carnivorous plants, orchids, tropical ferns etc. as well as tropical fruit trees like banana, pawpaw and mango. It’s an impressive set-up for the youngsters, and you are not trying to catch a glimpse of crocodile submerged in the water, they are very present.
There are picnic areas, a snack bar and a children’s playground for when they have had enough of the animals.
Entry: 16 euros for adults, 11 euros for children up to 12
La Ferme aux Crocodiles, 395 allée de Beauplan, 26700 Pierrelatte
Official site: The Crocodile Farm
The Chauvet Cave is actually north of Provence, 50 miles from Avignon, but we include it because it is a special place. The paintings, drawings and engravings in the Caverne du Pont d’Arc are reproduced from the 36,000-year-old ones in the nearby Chauvet Cave. The Chauvet Cave was only discovered 20 years ago and is a UNESCO world heritage site.
The paintings are extraordinary and the Aurignacien Gallery is excellent, explaining how life was for the people who made the paintings through models, a film and interactive information panels. You should allow at least 45 minutes for the Gallery. Tours of the cavern last 50 minutes and there are tours in English. You must book ahead and you’ll get a timed ticket. There’s a restaurant and plenty of space to picnic.
Entry: 7.50 to 15 euros, free for under-10s. Book ahead online. Open all year, times vary greatly, so check website.
Caverne du Pont d’Arc, Plateau du Razal, 07150 Vallon Pont d’Arc
Official site: Pont d’Arc Cave
The OK Corral amusement park is in the Var department 27 miles east of Marseille, and is the region’s biggest amusement park. There are rides for children as small as 3ft tall, but mostly the rides are for the 6-13-year-old range. The theme of the park is Cowboys and Indians and some are wet rides so you should also bring swimwear. There are also five daily Wild West shows every day. The OK Corral park has picnic areas and a choice of bars and restaurants.
Entry: 28 euros, or 25 euros for children under 1.4m tall. Open seasonally: every day in July-August; weekends and French school holidays April-June and October.
OK Corral, 13780 Cuges les Pins
Official site: OK Corral
Parc de Figuerolles
Not to be confused with the Calanque de Figuerolles on the coast, the Parc de Figuerolles is in Martigues, close to Marseille on the saltwater lake called the Etang de Berre. The park is a large and free resource popular with locals, stretching over 130 ha/320 acres.
The Parc de Figuerolles has walking/jogging paths, botanical walk, mountain biking and horse-riding trails, equestrian centre, a carrousel and playground, animal farm, zipline course (Indian Forest), picnic areas, not to mention the beach on the saltwater lake, with kayaking and windsurfing. With free parking and no entrance fee, this is a great resource with plenty to do.
Parc de Figuerolles, 73500 Martigues
Le Parc du Labyrinthe Géant (park of the giant maze) A giant, planted maze that is said to be the biggest in Europe is the centrepiece here, but after you have found your way out there is plenty more to keep children amused: zipwire, go karts, trampolines, bouncy castle, tree house, playgrounds. Bring your own food, the kiosk serves drinks and ice cream.
Entry: 10 euros; free for children under 1m tall (3ft 3”)
Labyrinthe Géant, quartier le Grand Pont, 13640 La Roque d’Anthéron
Official site: Labyrinthe Géant
Aix by llama
Just outside Aix-en-Provence, by the Montagne de Sainte Victoire, Aix-en-lama is an educational llama farm where you can book a half-day or full day walk, with picnic. The llamas will be your walking companions and carry your things, but you don’t ride them. You can find out about these gentle creatures as well as the countryside during your walk, which is tailored to the ages and abilities of participants.
Aix-en-lama is open all year round except August, by appointment.
½ day – adults 14 euros, under-12 10 euros
Full day – adults 18 euros, under-12 14 euros
For fewer than 6 people : half day 65 euros; full day 90 euros
Official site: Aix-en-lama
There are many riding stables equipped to teach children in Provence. Here are three in the Luberon, the first of which offers teaching in English.
Another idea for a family outing is to take a ride in a carriage (see Provence Hipposervices below).
• Les Ecuries du Luberon Riding stables at Caseneuve near Apt (3 miles) offers teaching in English. Holiday courses from 1 hour to half a day to a week. Short treks from an hour to a full day.
Official site: Les Ecuries du Luberon
• Haras de Lagnes Riding stables in Lagnes between L’Isle-sur-la-Sorgue and Gordes, offering courses for everyone from 12 months upward as well as short treks of 1 or 2 hours in the Luberon.
Official site: Haras de Lagnes
• Poney Club Joucas Riding stables and breeder of ponies. Treks from 1 hour to a full day. Longer treks, including for 8-10 year olds, from 2-7 days.
Official site: Poney Club Joucas
And for carriage rides:
• Provence Hipposervices, in St-Saturnin-les-Apt, gives you the opportunity to visit the Luberon in a horse-drawn carriage and see parts of the country you would never experience in a car. Themed visits include medieval castles, wineries, ochre landscapes, lavender fields, etc. Olivier also offers short riding treks for experienced riders. English spoken.
Official site: Provence Hipposervices
Walk through the woods on the Castellan hill in the small town of Istres and you’ll find 25 life-sized dinosaurs, including a Tyrannosaurus Rex, a 16m/52 ft long Diplodocus and a family of Triceratops! This is a nice place for a family walk or picnic, among pine trees with lovely views over the water. Wear suitable shoes and allow about 1h30 for the visit. Entrance is free.