Summer school holidays are almost here and already plans are underway for things to keep the kids entertained until September rolls around and schools go back.
Here are some of my budget-friendly suggestions for families to stay entertained through summer:
PARC PHOENIX – NICE
Parc Phoenix is one of our favourite family attractions on the French Riviera. Located at the L’Arénas complex near the Nice Côte d’Azur Airport, it’s a great place to spend a few hours if you have kids of varying ages.
The park features:
- A lake with ducks, fish and various water birds
- Enclosures with animals including parrots, meerkats, wallabies, otters, monkeys, porcupines
- Fountains, cascades and water zones with stepping stones, turtles or small fish
- A huge greenhouse with tropical and sub-tropical plants and flowers, and animals such as alligators, flamingoes, snakes, koi carp, tortoises and iguanas. Note: The aquarium has been closed for some time.
- A mini farm zone with goats, poneys, pigs and chickens
- A large playground area with various climbing frames, slides and play equipment suitable for 1 year upwards. The playground zone also has accessible toilet facilities with a baby change table.
- A small restaurant sells snacks and drinks – paninis, salads, crepes, fries, ice creams, coffee, cold drinks. There are tables and chairs with umbrellas.
- Temporary exhibitions of art or photography; often themed around science, animals or botany
The park is stroller-friendly; wheelchair access is wholly possible for the park grounds, excluding some areas in the greenhouse that have stairs.
Carparking: Visitors to Parc Phoenix get 2 hours free parking at Parking de l’Arénas next to the park every day in summer from 15 June to 15 September, during Zone B school holidays, on weekends and on bank holidays.
2-for-1 attractions: An extra bonus is that if you visit Parc Phoenix you can also visit the Musée des Arts Asiatiques next door, which has free entry. Guided tours, workshops, audioguides and the tea ceremony are additional cost. My opinion is that the Asian Arts Museum is more suited to adults, but it’s a lovely light-filled building with some excellent displays and temporary exhibitions.
Special events: The park’s restaurant can arrange catering for birthdays, weddings, conferences. They also host an Easter Egg Hunt at Parc Phoenix every year where toddlers look for eggs in straw, and older children follow a treasure hunt for chocolate eggs (for the Easter activity, reservation is not necessary).
Opening hours for Parc Phoenix
Summer hours 01 April to 30 September: 9.30am to 7.30pm
Winter hours 01 October to 31 March: 9.30am to 6pm
Note: The park is open every day, including bank holidays. The ticket office closes 1 hour before park closing times.
Adults €5 each (or €3 with the Musées de Nice pass)
Kids under 12 years are FREE
Find out more about the opening hours and map for Parc Phoenix here: Parc Phoenix
RIVER WALKS – VILLENEUVE LOUBET, SOPHIA ANTIPOLIS AND LA COLLE-SUR-LOUP
When it’s hot and crowded at the beaches, we love to visit some of the river locations a short distance from the coast where you can walk along shaded forest paths and/or swim in cool water.
Here are 3 family-friendly river walks located within 15 minutes drive from the coast. The first one is baby stroller and bike-friendly; the second and third options follow dirt / gravel paths but there are some areas of big rocks or tree roots on the pathways, so while it’s manageable for bikes it’s not particularly pram-friendly by the end of the tracks. All walks below are a short distance from the carpark area, maximum 10 minutes walk one way, so perfectly manageable for ages 18 months old upwards.
- River Loup walk from Villeneuve Loubet village: At the entrance to Canyon Forest, cross the road bridge and park at Villeneuve Loubet village at Parking du General du Gaulle. Cross the river via the bridge beside the carpark and follow the riverside path. It is firm dirt so fine for bikes, scooters, baby prams and electric wheelchairs.
2. Pont de la Veirière along the La Brague river: The access is a bit tricky to locate as it’s not particularly well sign-posted.
There are 2 options: From the Fitlane in Sophia Antipolis, follow route des Crêtes passing Air France on the left until it joins onto route des Macarons. Continue straight ahead, you will pass the large Fire Station on the right-hand side before the road reaches a left bend. Here, you can park at ‘La Veirière’ carpark and walk downhill to the river following the gravel path.
The other preferred option that we take is to park at the carpark shown as (B) on the map in this link: https://drive.google.com/open?id=1NuAMu0iFhY-EGRqA0Y-GD4lQEXPCAyo7&usp=sharing Once you park, go left along the river 5-10 minutes and there are plenty of swimming holes and shaded areas to access the river.
There are no toilet facilities of course, but plenty of places for a riverside picnic, swimming, climbing trees, skipping stones in the river. If you have toddlers, there are lots of places for a shallow splash in the water. Great place to walk dogs too!
This is a great river walk for nature spotting for kids; we always see lots of butterflies, birds, dragonflies and small fish. https://drive.google.com/open?id=1NuAMu0iFhY-EGRqA0Y-GD4lQEXPCAyo7&usp=sharing
3. Kayak Club river walk along the River Loup at La Colle-sur-Loup: The town of La Colle-sur-Loup is located just 10 minutes drive from the coast. From the town, head towards Ludiparc along route du Pont de Pierre, turn left into chemin de la Fuontsanta and park at the Spcoc Canoë Kayak Club.
The carpark is well shaded and you can follow the river to the left along flat ground for 15 minutes, passing shaded swimming holes and picnic tables along the river.
The Kayak Club river walk along the River Loup at La Colle-sur-Loup is an easy family walk that is great for hot days! (pic: Couleur Montagne)
Eventually, you get to a large pebble beach area, with a great outlook of the river and limestone cliffs that are popular for rock climbing (the climbing spot is called La Bagarée with varying degrees of difficulty. The list of climbs available is here). This area is part of the Parc Natural Départemental des Rives du Loup.
A wonderful riverside pebble beach that’s great for picnics and swimming in cool water (pic: Couleur Montagne)
Note: There is limited shade at the main pebble beach, so take an umbrella. Don’t walk underneath the cliffs as there are sometimes rock falls. There are also small rapids so take care with small kids; the river is not so fast-moving that the kayakers will suddenly be approaching but do keep a look out for some!
Again, no toilet facilities at the pebble beach and take all your rubbish home with you. There are lots of butterflies, birdlife and insects along the forest path, as well as small fish in the river.
Here’s a map of how to find the Kayak Club in La Colle-sur-Loup: https://drive.google.com/open?id=1uwP6BFyE8oUPUqdwP11vzkIQTisoDeIM&usp=sharing
FAMILY-FRIENDLY BEACHES – JUAN LES PINS, CAP D’ANTIBES AND THÉOULE-SUR-MER
With the redesignation of public versus private beaches on the Côte d’Azur, there is now more room for a spot on the sand (or pebbles). When you have children, there are some main factors you may consider regarding beaches:
- Availability, ease and cost of carparking
- Clean and shallow water
- Toilet facilities
- Food & beverage outlets
- Beach activities
- And for me, the less crowded the better!
Not all of these are ‘must haves’ to ensure a great time at the beach, however if a beach has at least 5 of these it gets a thumbs up from us for family-friendliness. Here are a couple of my summer picks for family-friendly beaches on the French Riviera:
Plage de la Gallice is a small public beach located at the port in Juan les Pins. Coming from Hôtel Belles Rives direction toward the Cap d’Antibes, you’ll find pay carparking at Port Gallice and even in the height of summer there is usually a space. Pedestrians will see a set of stairs 300 metres from the Belles Rives that leads down to the snack kiosk and beach. You can also walk to the beach along the seafront via a concrete walkway, passing Le Provençal Beach and the Belles Rives.
This beach is more of a locals hangout than a tourist spot, so if you arrive early in the day it’s a fantastic beach spot and gets some shade in the morning from a high wall bordering the length of the neighbouring properties. There is a snack shop there, beach showers and accessible toilet facilities.
Note: Usually the water is quite clean, however sadly this beach did lose it’s Pavillon Bleu (Blue Flag) status this year which is awarded for environment excellence and high water quality (that being said, because it’s located right by the marina it’s monitored regularly for water quality, so check the noticeboard at the entrance to the beach).
Plage des Ondes is another public beach located on the Cap d’Antibes. The beach is a small sandy strip, but has a wonderful view of the bay, across to the Lérins Islands and the picturesque Port de l’Olivette. There are beach showers and toilet there, but the downsides are intermittent shade, no food outlets and limited carparking on surrounding streets. The main road beside the beach can get quite busy with road traffic in summer, so exercise caution if you’re walking.
It is however a great beach for families if you go early in the day, and older kids will enjoy climbing up the tower which you can read about here on I Love Cap d’Antibes blog. I also visit this beach regularly for paddle boarding as the water is usually calm and beautifully clear.
If you have children, the end of Plage des Ondes closest to the toilet cabin gets some shade early in the day, as seen in the second photo below.
Just behind the toilet cabin, is a small sheltered swimming area (with pebble beach) which is great for snorkeling, shown in the first photo below.
Plage des Ondes, 8am and no one around !
Plage de la Figueirette is located at Miramar in Théoule-sur-Mer and is an excellent choice for families. The beach is split in two with the end closest to Port de la Figueirette having fine white sand, beach showers and more space; the western end has gritty sand and more pebbles in the water so kids probably would appreciate aqua shoes.
The beach at the port end of Plage de la Figueirette has fine white sand and clear water
Free carparking is at the port or by Le Panama restaurant. Free public accessible beach toilets and beach showers are located at the carpark next to Le Panama restaurant with ramp access to the beach.
Plage de la Figueirette has a few beach restaurants:
- At the port, there is a small restaurant at the entrance to the port also a restaurant named La Marine that has a shaded terrace overlooking the bay, as well as a shaded snack restaurant offering paninis, fries, steak, salads and pizzas (friendly service, good prices, baby high chair, accessible ground-level toilet).
The view from the restaurant terrace at La Marine, Port de la Figueirette
- Bondi Beach is a chic beach restaurant with lots of beach loungers, beach bar, some tables under trees, kids menu. There is also a small playground area.
- Le Panama has indoor and outdoor dining areas, kids menu, beach loungers for rent.
Next to the port is a Jetscool tiki hut where you can hire flyboards and jetskis, including kids electric jetskis. The kids electric jetskis run on an inflatable course; hireage is for kids aged 4-10 years with an accompanying adult, the cost is €20 for 15 minutes.
Kids electric jetskis can be rented at plage de la Figueirette for use within an inflatable circuit (with adult supervision).
At the western end of the beach you can rent kayaks, paddle boards, catamarans, windsurfers and Optimists with Bat’Ski.
During summer, the Navette Maritime Esterel ferry also operates between Cannes-Mandelieu La-Napoule-Théoule-sur-Mer and Port de la Figueirette. This is a great scenic boat trip for families along the coast (journey is around 1 hour oneway between Cannes and La Figueirette) and runs 4 departures daily each way with stops at each port on the way.
The Navette Maritime Esterel costs €10 per adult for a day pass, kids aged 3-10 years cost just €5 return, kids under 3 years are free. It really is excellent value as you can’t get a boat trip or cruise locally for that price!
Find out the timetables here: Navette Maritime Esterel and watch the trailer video below (video from Films06 / Communauté d’Agglomération des Pays de Lérins):
Beach inspiration: Curious to find other great beaches on the French Riviera? Cannes Estate has curated a huge list of 104 beaches on the Côte d’Azur and Phoebe from Lou Messugo shares her Top 12 favourite beaches on the French Riviera.
Beach at Cannes (image: Fodors)
Water quality at French Riviera beaches: French Riviera towns and municipalities take the water quality at beaches seriously. To check the water quality at any beach on the Côte d’Azur, the French Ministry of Health provides updates on testing and analysis of water quality. Follow these instructions below:
- Choose ‘Mainland France’
- Drop down Départment: 06 – ALPES MARITIMES
- Select : A town and a beach
Click on this link to find out the latest results of Water quality at French Riviera beaches
Jellyfish alerts: Occasionally, the French Riviera has jellyfish warnings. Usually, it’s the purple Pelagia jellyfish which can inflict nasty stings. The Oceanographic Observatory of Villefranche-sur-Mer researches and maps jellyfish sightings on the French Riviera, click on this link, Jellyfish Alerts French Riviera, to go to the map or to report your own jellyfish sightings.
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