The Independent Parent: Your Questions Answered

Can you suggest a scenic driving route through France; and where can our son find a museum that has 'sleepovers'?
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Q We are a family of five: two parents and three children (13, 11, and a baby of 18 months). We have rented a house near Bergerac from Saturday 16 August for two weeks, and plan to spend three days and nights driving down through France after a morning Shuttle crossing. We'd like to visit the west coast on the way, and then stay in a comfortable hotel on the Friday night. Can you suggest any routes that are not all high-speed motorways, as neither of us has driven on the Continent before? And do you have any suggestions for hotels or B&Bs we could stay in? We would need two rooms each night, and our budget is £60-£100 per night.
P&L Duke, via e-mail

Q We are a family of five: two parents and three children (13, 11, and a baby of 18 months). We have rented a house near Bergerac from Saturday 16 August for two weeks, and plan to spend three days and nights driving down through France after a morning Shuttle crossing. We'd like to visit the west coast on the way, and then stay in a comfortable hotel on the Friday night. Can you suggest any routes that are not all high-speed motorways, as neither of us has driven on the Continent before? And do you have any suggestions for hotels or B&Bs we could stay in? We would need two rooms each night, and our budget is £60-£100 per night.
P&L Duke, via e-mail

A For the first-timer, French motorways are not as daunting as they might seem. However, if it's the scenic route you're after, with a diversion down the Atlantic coast along the way, you'll need to allow around 16 hours on the road. I've come up with a route that breaks into roughly four three- to five-hour chunks - about as much as even the calmest children will stand - but you can easily find alternatives by visiting the AA's European route-planner at www.theaa.com, or by calling 0870 600 0371.

I'd suggest spending your first day, Wednesday, heading west out of Calais, driving roughly parallel to the Channel coast - the milky Côte d'Opale, with its frill of wide sandy beaches. This will take you through the lush dairy country of the Pas de Calais and Picardie, stopping for lunch at the sleepy medieval hilltop town of Montreuil, which has an abundance of good restaurants, an attractive market-place, and is surrounded by grassy ramparts, ideal for stretching your legs before getting back in the car.

Keep heading west past Dieppe, and on along the base of the Baie de Seine to your first overnight stop, the Norman town of Bayeux (00 33 2 31 51 28 28; www.bayeux-tourism.com). As well as its centre of beautifully preserved medieval buildings, Bayeux is, of course, home to the tapestry depicting the Norman Conquest, which your two older children should enjoy decoding. You could pay a visit to its museum (00 33 2 31 51 25 50). This is open daily 9am-7pm, and admission for adults is €7.40 (£5.20), children aged 10-16 €6 (£4.30), and under-10s free. As for a B&B, two rooms at the La Grande Maison on rue Eustache de Boulogne (00 33 2 31 92 72 84) cost a total of €68 (£47), including breakfast.

From here you can spend Thursday wending your way south then west cross-country towards the windy, pine-forested Vendée coast. Heading south out of Bayeux and Normandy, you drive through the ancient wine- producing county of Anjou, stopping off in the pretty town of Angers for lunch on the banks of the river Maine, a tributary of the Loire.

After this, turn west along the Loire itself towards Nantes (00 33 2 40 20 60 00; www.nantes-tourisme.com), a busy, modern town on the borders of Brittany and the Vendée. It's within easy reach of several sandy beaches, and you may enjoy a visit to the Lefèvre-Utile biscuit museum at Château de Goulaine (00 33 2 40 54 91 42). This charts in lip-licking detail the history of LU's famous Petit Beurre biscuits, produced locally until a few years ago. The museum opens daily 2-6pm, except for Tuesdays. Admission costs €7 (£5) per adult, eight- to 16-year-olds €2.50 (£1.80), under- eights free.

As far as places to stay go, €84 (£59) will get all five of you B&B accommodation at L'Orangerie du Parc on rue du Grignon (00 33 2 40 54 91 30). From there, you can drive south to explore the fishing villages, towns and islands of the Vendée. It's easy enough to drive south along the coast, stopping wherever takes your fancy - there are plenty of safe sandy beaches with shallow waters ideal for families. The almost totally flat Ile de Ré, a large "island" joined by a causeway to the mainland, is great cycling country. Hire bikes with a child seat from Cyclo Parc (00 33 5 46 41 02 24) for €7 (£5) for a half-day.

End the day by crossing back to the mainland and the fortified port of La Rochelle (00 33 5 46 41 14 68; www.la-rochelle-tourisme.com), possibly the most unspoilt seaside town in France. Its 17th- and 18th-century centre is largely traffic-free, which makes it perfect for exploring with children, and you'll find plenty of places to shop and eat in the old fishermen's area of the Quartier du Gabut. If you fancy a break from the outdoors, visit the nearby Musée des Automates (00 33 5 46 41 68 08) on rue de la Désirée, home to an extraordinary collection of 300 automated puppets. It is open 9.30am-7pm daily, and entrance costs €6.50 (£4.60) per adult, with children under 10 costing €4 (£2.80).

And here's my final suggestion. Spend your last night before driving inland to Bergerac blowing the rest of your budget at the classy Hôtel France Angleterre & Champlain (00 33 5 46 41 23 99; www.france-champlain.com), close to the harbour and with a lovely big garden, on rue Rambaud. Two twin rooms will cost from €154 (£107).

Q I am taking my 11-year-old son to London for the weekend in the autumn to see his grandparents. I remember a friend telling me that a museum or gallery did some overnight activities, which I thought might be fun for him, but I can't remember which one. Does this type of thing exist, or did I imagine it?
R Worlsey, Birmingham

A You are correct. The British Museum holds a number of themed "sleepover" events throughout the year that have proved to be both enjoyable and educational. These are aimed at children aged eight to 15 who are accompanied by a parent or guardian, so your son will be in the right age bracket.

The next sleepover focuses on the life of the Egyptians, and is scheduled to take place on Saturday 13 September. You and your son would be able to explore the ancient wonders of Egypt. A curator from the museum will be giving talks on many of the artefacts on display in the gallery, including the famous Rosetta Stone. In addition, there will be a storytelling session, music and dance, and the opportunity for your son to make something to take home. The night is spent sleeping in the Egyptian gallery surrounded by the mummies and sculptures. There is no food available on the Saturday night, so you will need to eat before you arrive, although attendees are encouraged to bring a stash of goodies for a midnight feast. A continental-style breakfast is served the following morning.

There are 250 places on offer, and you are advised to book ahead as the events are understandably popular. Both adult and child tickets cost £25 each. In order to attend, your son will also have to become a Young Friend of the museum. This can be done by means of completing a booking form online at the appropriate section of the museum website, www.thebritishmuseum.ac.uk, or by phoning the information line on 020-7323 8566. The annual subscription is £17.50 and other benefits include free entry with a guest to all exhibitions, subscription to the magazine Remus (three times a year), access to other special events, behind-the-scenes visits, and access to Friends & Family rooms. As a Young Friend of the museum, your son will also be able to bring up to four guests.

Alternatively, if you are looking for something for a little later in the year, the following exhibition-based sleepover will be based around a treasure theme, and will coincide with the special exhibition Treasure: Finding our Past. It will take place on the 15 November, shortly before the exhibition opens on 21 November.

Send your family travel questions to SF Robinson, The Independent Parent, Travel Desk, The Independent, 191 Marsh Wall, London E14 9RS. Or e-mail crusoe@independent.co.uk

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