Booking a family friendly chateau should be a fun job; a choice between beautiful, more beautiful or even more beautiful. The dilemma however is which one to choose? Which one will suit my family best in terms of size, layout, services, safety and of course, kit. They’re all so gorgeous and more importantly have so much to offer how do you know which one is the best one to choose?
In fact the plethora of chateaux in France means that there is something for everyone. Whether it is a pocket chateau for mum, dad and two kids or whether it is a huge gathering to celebrate a ruby wedding or a significant birthday, there is a chateau for you.
And reserving the chateau of your dreams is not the preserve of the uber-wealthy, with the right number of people a chateau can make a very sensible, not to mention very special and memorable family holiday.
So how do you go about finding just the right chateau for you and your family? A chateau that is most importantly safe for your children, is properly equipped for families and has just the right balance between tradition, period features and homeliness? A chateau where you are able to relax, where the children are happy and where you get the chateau experience that you are dreaming of.
So where you start? What questions should you ask?
First of all the process of finding and booking a chateau should be great fun. You should be able to gently meander online through the chateaux, comparing pools, facilities, service levels and imagining yourself tucked away in a quiet rose garden enjoying some time to yourself, lazing around the pool with armies of happy children splashing around. Evening up the perfect spot for a sun downer or identifying exactly where a long, lazy lunch might take place.
The challenge is to book something before you’ve had enough. When booking a holiday there is a pleasurable period of research but then a sudden cliff after which the research becomes unbearable and swift decision is necessary.
TIP: Decide on an exact when you wish to have your holiday booked up by and keep to your timetable,
Co-ordinating a big group
Gosh this is a huge topic and you are a brave person to have taken responsibility for researching and booking your chateau. Big groups quite often agree to holiday together during a drunken dinner party and in the cold light of day, the reality of holiday ensemble does not seem quite so rosy.
If you love the idea, then it is worth canvassing who within the group is still very keen. You’ll quickly sift out the less keen who will give you a myriad of excuses as to why they cannot commit. A definitive ‘yes’ or ‘no’ is much more helpful than somebody who procrastinates until the last minute and then pulls out after you’ve done all the hard work. This is the time for a polite yet frank conversation about commitment levels.
For those who are still keen, then try to gauge a ‘must have’ and a ‘would like to have list’ and a list of things that would be a complete deal breaker. It is much better to know up front what everybody’s’ expectations are.
Sometimes the organiser realises at this point that everyone was just being polite and the research can stop before anyone wastes too much time. If there is genuine enthusiasm from everybody then here are some of the questions that are worth tackling head on:
1. Locational preferences? This will help you to know how wide you should cast your search net.
2. Would your party rather drive or fly?
3. How big does your chateau need to be?
4. What are the ages of the children? This will help to determine how family friendly your chateau will need to be.
5. What levels of service is everyone expecting?
6. How much does everyone have to spend?
7. How long do you all wish to go away for?
8. What are the must haves?
9. What are the ‘would like to haves’
10. What are the deal breakers?
1. Where in the world? When you get started you’ll quickly realise that there are more beautiful, pocket chateaux littering the French countryside that you would have imagined was possible. Somehow you have to narrow down the search so location is a good starting point.
If your party wishes to drive and you are mainly catering for young families then I would look to make these distances as short as possible. And if sunny weather is important then it’s important to balance the distance question with how far south you have to go to get sunshine.
A great location to look at therefore is the Charente and Charente Maritime. It’s quick and easy to get to in less than one day’s car journey from the Channel ports of Caen and Cherbourg and this area has the second highest number of sunshine after the Cote d’Azure.
2. Fly or drive?
You may get a mixed response here, particularly if you are looking at a multi-generational holiday. In my experience grandparents love the idea of driving as they can gently meander their way south through France, stopping en-route and soaking up the atmosphere. I’ve even known a grandparent who cycled from the UK to the Dordogne and loved every minute of it.
Families meanwhile normally need to get there quickly. Time off work is precious and the objective is often to get there as quickly as possible so that the holiday can begin. Luckily France is incredibly well served by regional airports so both are relatively easy to organise.
The big question is how far south are the drivers prepared to drive? And for the flyers, where do they all live in the UK and how easy is it to get from say Dublin or Newcastle to a remote part of France? I recommend using a flight mapping tool on our website called Skyscanner which will help you to see where flights go to and from.
3. How Big?
Chateaux come in all shapes and sizes but you may need to be a little bit flexible to fit everybody in. How many bedrooms will you need, will the children all sleep in a big dormitory room or do you require separate bedrooms for everybody. How much privacy will everybody want? Some chateaux will have separate wings for big parties allowing you much more privacy.
Do give some consideration to the room layout. Where will everybody sleep and how close will parents be to their children’s rooms. Chateaux have not generally been designed with modern parenting preferences in mind!
4. Looking for a family friendly chateau?
This is a really important question if you are holidaying with under-fives.
Ensuring that families have everything that they need, (equipment wise) and that mums and dads feel that their children will be safe within the space is critical to giving everybody a proper break.
Tots To Travel’s range of family friendly chateaux are all visited and vetted by one of our team for safety and the space has been looked at with a view to how a family might use it. In addition all our properties feature an Essential Kit Guarantee that includes over 20 items for babies and toddlers including blackout blinds, hand blenders and stairgates.
The question of child safety is probably the one single thing that you could do to give your party a real break and one of the most challenging within a period building. Do ask if stairs are gated, pools enclosed* and whether baby monitors work within the thick walls.
Try to get some idea of the scale of the building and its estate and give some consideration to how you are going to keep tabs on everybody. My best tip here is to have children of a range of ages as, in my experience the older ones mop up the younger ones and the children have a fabulous time!
The more toys and equipment a chateau has the better and the greater the chance that you’ll be able to relax properly. Trampolines, bikes, climbing equipment etc give you a greater chance happy children.
*For peace of mind, all Tots To Travel pools have some form of physical barrier (either a fence or a hard cover). Don’t be persuaded that a pool alarm is sufficient. Alarms are triggered by the weight of a child falling into a pool and within a large estate, you could be some distance from the pool.
5. What service levels are you expecting?
The rule of thumb here is that the larger the group the more service you should buy into. Shopping, catering, washing up and tidying up for a large group is hard work and can lead to tension. If someone else is able to shoulder this burden then do take them up on it.
6. What’s included in the package?
A chateau holiday with your family and friends should be a wonderful treat so hunt out a chateau that has a long list of additional services. Consider for example a chateau with a nanny provided and entertainment for the children, food, a concierge service and so on. The more that you allow somebody to do for you the more you’ll be able to kick back and enjoy your holiday.
7. What is there to do locally?
If you find a chateau that truly has families in mind then you should not have to make monumental efforts to keep everybody entertained locally. Pretty villages, local markets, walks, and good restaurants are a good start as are high rope parks (usually suitable for children and adults over 3 or canoeing. Remember that in peak season you will need to make a reservation, your concierge teams should be able to do this for you.
8. Special Events
Very often family groups will book a chateau in which to celebrate a special event. Do ask if it is possible to get a special menu prepared, organise a drinks party on the lawn or have a cake made. Any special wishes should be discussed ahead of schedule to ensure that your stay is as memorable as it can be.
Family groups with lots of children and babies does require some thought when it comes to room layout. Parents are likely to want to be close to their children and you’re likely to want a loo close by. Do have a look at the floor maps to ensure that everyone is happy with where they are all likely to sleep. For older children, there is sometimes a dormitory room which can be great fun as long as you’ve been able to wear the children out first!
10. Time of year
Early spring through to late autumn is a fantastic time to visit France and a beautiful time to enjoy the gardens and estates of these wonderful historic buildings.
Obviously the weather is slightly less predictable at these times but the luxury of a chateau means that you have wonderfully atmospheric interior spaces on a scale that can cope with the size of your party.
The more that the chateau’s team is able to support your group with inside activities the better. This is particularly true for families with children where a programme of events and activities will help to keep everybody happy.
11. Peace of mind
And last but not least, when you are booking a family friendly chateau and taking the responsibility of organising a big group, it’s important to know that you’ll have everything that you need and that your children will be as safe as possible. Do ask lots of questions, my team are available, very knowledgeable and very happy to discuss each and every chateau.