When travelling with young kids, my husband and I like to try and make life as easy as possible for ourselves. Where once we would have slept on an airport floor for a few hours, thrown accommodation options to the wind or piled into a crammed bus along with a chicken or two, we now tend to throw money (a little or a lot) at situations to (try and) save our sanity and protect our sleep. That’s how we ended up in Saumur on our road trip to France. We wanted to break up the journey on our way down to the Camping Cote d’Argent from Cherbourg and add a fairytale French town to our family adventure. And it was well-worth the stopover. Here are my top tips for 24 hours in Saumur France with kids.
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24 hours in Saumur France with kids
Wander the medieval streets
Saumur is one of those gorgeous French fairytale towns where quintessential, impossibly beautiful architecture blends into a picture-postcard riverside setting. Where castle turrets soar above impeccable white stone buildings and grey slate roofs jostle together with medieval latticed facades and buildings that have stood slightly on the wonk for centuries. Where shuttered windows are the norm, their sills draped with vibrant flowers and an olde-worlde atmosphere reigns supreme in characterful bars and restaurants. Make sure you set aside some time just to wander the streets of Saumur – as it’s a medieval town, it’s easier – and more exciting – to get around on foot, to nip down alleyways into pedestrianised squares and explore the nooks and crannies, cafes and eateries of this charming place.
Eat in Place St Pierre
For lunch, I’d suggest Creperie St-Pierre La Quichenotte for crepes. Tucked away in one of the little streets that runs alongside the spectacular Eglise St Pierre, is this delightful little restaurant. Beamed ceilings above, all kinds of delicious French galettes to choose from inside. There aren’t just crepes on the menu though, go for the good value three-course prix fixe option for a French feast!
A number of other restaurants are dotted around Place St Pierre, their tables spilling outside to make the most of warm weather. They all seemed quite similar, quite pricy owing to the location (and France just seemed fairly expensive in general), but serving tasty food nonetheless. We picked one at random in a hunger daze, L’Auberge Saint Pierre, whose criss-cross ancient exterior belied the funky wine bottle chandeliers and neon flex bottle lampshades on the inside. While I loved my goats cheese salad, and the girls did try some Boeuf Bourguignon off my husband’s plate, there was no kid’s menu to speak of and our two left feeling peckish despite the lashings of bread we attempted to bestow upon them.
Eating out in the evening, we came across a bit of an obstacle when, having toured the ramparts and castle before wandering aimlessly through town, we went in search of somewhere to feed the kids urgently as hunger rage set in. Being 5pm or so, it wasn’t an unreasonable hour for us Brits to think about food, but it quickly became apparent that most of Saumur’s restaurants shut after lunch until around 6 or 7ish. This would have been fine later on in our holiday, but after a day’s travelling and exploring, there was no way we were going to be able to drag our overtired children out for a refined dinner. If you’re using this for a stopover route and you’ve eaten lunch out already, consider a visit to Carrefour City and a floor picnic in your hotel room as part of your 24 hours in Saumur with kids! One of my favourite parts of the holiday.
Visit Eglise St Pierre
Restored in the local white stone back in 2016, you’d be forgiven for thinking this church is younger than it is. It actually dates back to the 12th and 13th centuries, and is quite nice to pop in for a glimpse of the stained glass windows and beautiful architecture after eating in the square (or perhaps before, when the kids’ blood sugar is a bit lower and they’re quieter for this peaceful place!)
Find the Instagrammable umbrellas
Although not particularly functional – the lashing rain during our time there proved that – the dangling lines of multi-coloured umbrellas that can be found around Saumur are pleasing to the eye and make for a lovely photograph. The vivid rainbow colours are quite striking against the age-old buildings that they hang from. If it were up to me, all towns would be decorated with some kind of rainbow love. You’ll find them in the Place St Pierre as well as the Franklin Roosevelt street.
Visit the Chateau de Saumur
You can’t spend 24 hours in Saumur with kids without a visit to its crowning glory, the fairytale Chateau, which has sat atop the town surveying the land below since the 12th century. It’s gone through some tumultuous changes in its time – it was originally an old fortress that was converted into a Renaissance palace, then used as a prison under Louis X1V, later becoming a military barracks and a prison again in Napoleonic times. Inside is quite sparse in terms of furniture, but the views from the castle are rather magnificent and kids will love checking out the collection of ancient toys and exploring inside.
If you don’t have time to go in the Chateau, wandering up and walking around the ramparts will give you a sense of its history, along with some pretty epic views. On summer evenings, there are free shows which play out in the rustic amphitheatre seating next to the castle (details on the Saumur Tourist Office website) and the neighbouring vineyard and grassy patch is a lovely spot to stop for a picnic.
Visit the market in Saumur
If your visit falls on a weekend, you’ll see the centre of Saumur turned into a vast traditional street market. Go to peruse the live ducks, hens and rabbits, or pick up fresh fruits and vegetables, cheese, bread, pastries, wine, liqueurs, oils, honey, biscuits, chocolate, meat, flowers, crafts and more!
Hop aboard the little train!
We didn’t manage a ride, but we did see the Les Petits Trains of Saumur from afar up by the Chateau de Saumur. If you’ve got reluctant walkers and only 24 hours in the town, this is a fun option for seeing all the main tourist sites without the whining! The journey takes about 45-minutes and there’s a bit of commentary too.
Where to stay in Saumur France
This 18th century hotel is in a fantastic location on a road next to the River Loire, in the shadow of the looming Chateau de Saumur. If you’re in a car, nip down a small alleyway just after the hotel and you’ll find the hotel’s large enclosed parking area (€9 – book in advance). The hotel is immediately welcoming with its pretty gardens, towering trees, colourful flowerbeds and a cobbled courtyard laid with tables and chairs.
Inside, the prestigious hallmarks of the building’s past have been lovingly-preserved (check out the renovation photos in the hall) and the staircase, crowned by a trompe-l’oeil ceiling, is one of the most eye-catching aspects. The stone steps and iron bannister wind and wend themselves up through the middle of the building past view-gazing windows to the second floor (or there is an elevator if you don’t fancy lugging the bags up this way).
A side door, hidden away at the end of the corridor, leads out into a slightly less elegant area of the hotel – the third floor, where our family suite was located. Our room was large, but the only windows were two skylights which adults can just about see out of if you stand on the bed and poke your head out of the window. A bit of a shame as the view outside in both directions was quite spectacular. While nothing special, our room had comfy beds, a separate toilet to the bathroom, coffee machine and a fridge and it fit four of us comfortably. From the hotel’s photographs, the bedrooms on the lower floors are much more impressive, and still boast their original decor from Louis XVI, the Restoration and Empire periods.
Outside there is a small, enticing swimming pool and hot tub which share a magnificent view of the castle – bathing here definitely makes you feel rather grand! You’ll also find a restaurant onsite, which opens at 7pm – be aware you need to book for this. On the night we stayed, we couldn’t face fine dining out with our kids as they were travel weary and overtired, so we opted for a room picnic with food we’d bought from the nearby supermarket. The buffet breakfast is €14 for an adult and €7 for a child, which I thought was a bit pricey, so we declined and instead picked up some croissants from a Boulangerie nearby.
For us, the location was great, it was easy to walk into town and being so close to the Chateau made our stay feel quite spectacular and unusual. The enclosed parking onsite felt very safe and was handy as our car was packed to the rafters with our camping equipment, roof box and back box, and I’d have felt a bit nervous about leaving it out on the street.
In hindsight, the kids were actually so good and of an age where we didn’t really need to stopover and we could have managed the trip in one go, but we all really enjoyed exploring Saumur. I’d definitely recommend as a stopover for families heading further south in France.
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