Chateauroux France with Kids
Oversimplifying traveller types to two categories could go like this: Type A travelers want to see things while Type B travelers want to experience things. This dichotomy leads down two very different paths so let’s use Paris for example. The Type As will spend their time ascending the Eiffel Tower and nudging their way past other agape tourists to snap the perfectly overcrowded picture of the Mona Lisa. Type Bs will find a quiet cafe in a double-digit arrondissement to people watch, with the Eiffel Tower peeking from behind a building in the distance. Type As will tour Europe in three weeks while Type Bs will rent a house on the coast for three weeks. Both travel types have advantages and disadvantages and people switch back and forth all the time, depending on the destination. My only hope is that you and your partner are the same type.
I used Paris above because France is the quintessential example highlighting two very different travel philosophies. Paris is amazing and I highly recommend you to visit Paris on your first visit to France. With more time, add the Normandy coastline. With even more time, connect to the Provence region in the south by high-speed TGV from Paris. But for those identifying as Type B travelers, especially those who’ve experienced Paris, Normandy and Provence, check out a second-tier French city like Chateauroux.
This less-sleepy-than-you’d-think charmer is connected to Paris’s Austerlitz train station by a regular connection via SNCF Intercities (2:14 hrs, 16 EUR and up, several daily).
The Intercities trains are modern, clean and boast both power ports and multiple seating arrangements. Some carriages have four seats facing and some carriages even have six seats facing, making that a perfect seating configuration for a large family. SNCF tickets can be purchased online well ahead of your date of travel or via any SNCF office at most French rail stations (and some international, like Amsterdam Centraal).
Chateauroux itself boasts the Bertrand Museum, a Napoleonic collection of 18th and 19th century paintings, sculpture and military regalia (free, open until 6pm, English audio guide).
When I visited, there was even a display of items created with Legos. Think the villa of Napoleon’s exile and even a massive portrait made with single 1×1 sized flat bricks.
If museums don’t charm your children, try the tourist information office’s (across from Chateauroux station, open until 6pm, free brochures) three walking tour routes. Each is themed (architecture, middle ages, combination) and incidentally passes at least one playground and a handful of boulangeries/patisseries. Pick up a map at the TI.
For a nature-lovers option, visit the TI to rent bicycles (7 EUR for half-day). Call ahead if you have younger kids to ensure they have a child trailer or child seats on hand. Just north of Chateauroux (3 minutes by bicycle), past the old city’s edge, lies a flood plain that’s been outfitted with trails. Some are paved, some are gravel and some are single-track (not advised with the bike trailer). With the handy map in hand, you can easily spend a half day biking around the paths and over the streams.
Nearest Chateauroux, you’ll find a castle (outside viewing only). At the northeast end of the green space lies a sizable lake, where you can find locals swimming, boating, playing miniature golf (5 EUR adults, 3 EUR kids) or dining at the restaurant. There’s also a large playground next to the restaurant. Even further northeast lies a nature trail that boasts a boardwalk, cows, horses, turtles and a stretch of medieval wall. All of these places are easy to find using the posted maps every quarter mile or so. You could walk in this region too, but I highly recommend a bicycle to get around.
Type A travelers won’t find much to excite them in Chateauroux. There are no big name sites or bucket list activities. Just a small museum, old churches, a disused convent, a castle you can’t enter and some nature. Type Bs, however, can slow their pace and enjoy the walks and rides. When even Type Bs get antsy, Chateauroux is an easy jumping-off point via rental car to a dozen nearby castles (research: Region Berry).
The reason to spend two days in Chateauroux is to feel France. There are no tourist shops and zero annoying men trying to sell you Eiffel Tower trinkets or selfie sticks. English menus aren’t common and it’s possible that you’ll have to communicate with your accommodation via Google Translate. But isn’t that why you go to France?