Autumn school holidays are upon us. It’s been more than a decade since I’ve had to worry about keeping kids entertained during school breaks, but I remember it well. The Toussaint vacation offers opportunities to get out and visit some places, some of which close for the winter right after break. Here are 10 ideas and a few extra Halloween-only events.
Villascopia is a premier place to visit Gallo-Romaine ruins.
Go way back in time to the Gallo-Roman era with a visit to Villascopia, located in Castelculier, about 7 km from Agen. Visits start with a Scenovision Spectacular film, continue through exhibition rooms and then a walk among the ruins. I wrote about Villascopia in Feb. 2015, and you can read that post here. Villascopia is open during Toussaint from 2-5 p.m., and the venue is hosting a special Halloween event, Les Sorcelleries de Villascopia, from Oct. 23-31. For admission prices and more information, visit the Villascopia website here.
Aquarium du Périgord Noir
The largest private freshwater aquarium in Europe is in La Bugue (24). It is home to around 6,000 fish that swim about in 66 basins containing 33 million liters of water. The young friend that we took along on our visit especially liked the alligators and snakes — go figure. A prehistoric-themed labyrinth is right next door. I wrote about the aquarium in Sept. 2016, and you can read that post here. For ticket information and hours, visit the Aquarium du Périgord Noir website here.
Musée de l’Histoire du Costume
I’ll admit I am partial to this small museum, and not only because it is located just outside my village of Lauzun (47). Madame Dolène Durieux is one of the sweetest people I’ve encountered, and her collection of handmade costumes on dolls is a delight to behold. Well-known historical figures as well as contemporary celebs are all here. I wrote about the museum in May 2015, and you can read that post here. The museum is open by appointment; call 05.53.94.10.62 or email firstname.lastname@example.org.
Château du Gavaudun
Standing atop the Château-fort de Gavaudun (47), one can imagine keeping watch over the valley below. The fortress was built in the 11th century on the river Lede in the lovely Gavaudun Valley between Biron and Lacapelle. The fortress is just a skeleton now, but it is still spectacular (although not handicapped-accessible). I wrote about Gavaudun in July 2014, and you can read that post here. Gavaudun can be visited 10 a.m. to 6 p.m. everyday until the end of October. On Thursdays during Toussaint, Gavaudun presents a special family treasure hunt for ages 6-8 and 9-12. For information, visit the Château du Gavaudun website here.
Maison des Gens de Garonne
This place is on my to-do list, and I finally have plans to visit Maison des Gens de Garonne before it closes for the season. The site, located in the pretty village of Couthures-sur-Garonne (47), close to Marmande, offers visitors a chance to learn about the history and people who inhabited this area of France. A visit includes two films (one in 3D). Maison des Gens de Garonne is open 10:30 a.m. to 7 p.m. from Oct. 21-Nov. 5. Admission is 8€ for adults, 6€ for ages 6-12 and free for age 5 and younger. The Gens de Garonne website doesn’t appear to be working, so to contact the attraction, call 05.53.20.67.76. I wrote about the village of Couthures in Nov. 2014, and you can read that post here.
Canal Bike Ride
For families on two wheels, there’s nothing like a long flat road with no cars. The path along the western extension of the Canal du Midi, or more properly called le Canal de la Garonne, is one of my favorite places to ride. It runs from Toulouse to the Atlantic. Look at a map and pick out a spot to park the car. If it’s a nice day, pack a lunch, or plan to stop at one of the villages along the canal.
Bridoire Château des Jeux
If you have children, you’ve likely visited the 12th-century castle Bridoire. This château caters to kids offering games and activities for young visitors. During the Toussaint holiday, Bridoire presents Les Fantômes de Bridoire, a special Halloween adventure from 2-6 p.m. each day. After Nov. 5, the château closes until spring. Bridoire is located in Ribagnac (24), near Monbazillac, 12 km south of Bergerac. I wrote about Bridoire in July 2014, and you can read that post here. For information about visiting this “castle of games,” visit the Château de Bridoire website here.
Les Grottes de Maxange
Another attraction that will soon end its season are the Maxange caves located in Le Buisson de Cadouin (24), between Bergerac and Sarlat. In 2000, Angel Carballero whose family who had operated a quarry here for two generations, discovered the network of grottes containing astonishing crystal geodes. The distinct conditions of the cave have resulted in rare geological art that is beautiful and eccentric. For hours and tariffs, visit the Les Grottes de Maxange here.
Take the train to Bordeaux
This city is so intertwined with wine, that some may not realize that it is a delightful destination for children too. Bordeaux’s CAP Sciences museum presents Luminopolis, which the Bordeaux Tourism website describes as “a city of knowledge that contains everything there is to know about light.” An Escape Game makes exploring the exhibition great fun. During the school vacations the museum is open 2-6 p.m. Tuesday through Friday, and 2-7 p.m. on weekends. For details, visit the CAP Sciences website here.
Bordeaux’s Quai Richelieu is hosting the tall ship Mir from Oct. 27 to Nov. 7. Visitors can visit the ship, which is one of five sister ships built at the Lenin shipyard in Gdansk, Poland. The Mir, whose name means “peace”, is designed to be sailed with a crew of 200. Details can be found on the Bordeaux Tourism website here.
To top off the day, ride the ferris wheel at the Bordeaux Fun Fair, located at the Esplanade des Quinconces.
For information about Bordeaux, visit the Bordeaux Tourism website here.
Zoo de Mescoules
Although this small zoo is close by, I only just heard about it. And if I can spirit away my favorite young French friends for a few hours, I plan to visit Zoo de Mescoules. located between Bergerac and Eymet. I mean, who doesn’t love giant snakes, crocs, alligators and other slithery creatures from exotic locations? The privately owned zoo was established in 2009 and is open all year round. For hours and tariffs, visit the Zoo de Mescoules website here.
I know Halloween is relatively new to France, but it’s catching on. Many villages are hosting special markets, and pumpkin-centric events. For example, Chateau de Duras (47) invites Halloween revelers to its Ado’lloween event for ages 10 and up beginning at 7 p.m. on Oct. 31. Halloween treasure hunts are taking place in Allemans-du-Dropt and Casteljaloux (sign up at the local tourism offices). Older kids who seek some Halloween cinematic scares can head to the Cinema Le Plaza in Marmande for a triple feature: “The Addams Family,” at 7 p.m.; Francis Ford Coppola’s “Dracula” at 9:15 p.m. (both in VF); and the Stephen King/Brian de Palma classic “Carrie” at 11:30 p.m. (in English). Each film’s admission is 4.30 € .
Stop by your local tourism office or Mairie to find out what’s happening on Halloween in your village. And check the newly redesigned AngloInfo Events section for more ideas for family fun during Toussaint and throughout the year.