We have always been sightseeing with our children ever since day one and have never pandered to the idea that you can’t visit cultural/historical sights with young kids. Our boys are now 14 and 8 and have visited towns, villages, castles, ruins, museums, monuments and cultural sights in 22 and 18 countries respectively. We’ve found the key to successful sightseeing is that you have to work at making it fun, don’t assume kids will appreciate looking at views/old buildings etc (they won’t!) and above all you shouldn’t try to see too much.
Living where we do now, in the south of France, we are surrounded by many beautiful medieval hill villages, villages perchés, which are just crying out to be explored. They sit so magnificently on rocky outcrops (Peillon) or sheer cliff faces (Gourdon and Eze), some aren’t so high up but still dominate their surroundings with their commanding presence (St Paul de Vence) and some are quite hidden from view (Châteauneuf-Grasse). There are hundreds of them in the Alpes-Maritimes and over the Italian border in Liguria we are forever discovering new ones. And we continually go back to old favourites. Every friend who visits (we get a lot of visitors, believe me) gets taken to at least one which means the boys have been to certain villages like Gourdon too many times to count. And, yes, they are normal kids who groan at the mention of walking around a village again and have to be kicked off their computers/tablets etc but I can honestly say that after every single visit they’ve said “well that was fun!” Ancient hill villages might not initially seem to be very child-friendly; there aren’t any interactive displays or audioguides. There usually aren’t any playgrounds and many don’t even have cafés or shops, they can appear empty, and yet they are always a success with our children and their friends.
Here are some of the things we do to make visiting hill-top villages enjoyable.
Let the kids run around, play hide and seek in the twisting narrow lanes, the great thing about these villages is that there are no cars.
Bring favourite toys to carry around and a small ball to roll down the alleys (in the less crowded places).
Make and fly a paper plane, following it where it lands.
Encourage older kids to show the younger ones around; let them take responsibility.
Point out details in the buildings and paths; play games to see who’ll be the first to spot something unusual on a wall, or the first cat etc.
If you’ve been before and you’re showing friends around ask an older child to act as tour guide to the visitors. It makes them feel important and you get to see things from a different perspective.
Encourage children to take photos.
Always explore the spooky dark tunnels and lesser-taken paths, you never know what you’ll find.
Drink from, and splash in, fountains. Float paper boats or leaves in them. Almost all fountains in these villages are safe to drink from. If there’s no sign then it’s OK. If it’s not safe then it’ll say “eau non potable“.
Encourage the kids to enjoy any public art by interacting with it wherever possible. Mimic the pose, climb on it if allowed, discuss it, ask them what it makes them think of (if abstract) etc.
Don’t hold back on treats. Stop for ice-creams in all weathers or promise one on the way home if the village doesn’t have any.
Go into smart patisseries and chocolate shops to see if they have any freebie samples or to buy something small as a treat.
Above all, don’t make it too serious!
For more detail on perched villages near Nice take a look at my Top 13 favourite hill villages. Do you go sightseeing with your children? Do you have any tips to keep up their interest? I’d love to hear from you.
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