The world is one big classroom – and after the disruption caused by the pandemic, especially for the younger generations in terms of school and university learning, a surge in interest in educational travel is anticipated for 2022. This year, travel is about seeing and experiencing – but it’s also about the sheer, unadulterated joy of learning for its own sake, and taking more time to do so. France boasts a vast expanse of educational potential with history, culture and traditions aplenty, and locals only too willing to share their knowledge and expertise with visitors. Explore France to broaden your horizons, expand your interests and learn new skills – whether solo, as a couple or as a family. Here are five ideas to get you started!
1/ Live off the land in Pays de la Loire
Farm touring has taken off in this verdant region of western France, as the owners of over 350 working farms offer a wholesome introduction to living off the land – a concept of increasing importance as we all try to make more environmentally-conscious choices and educate our children to do the same. These visits are a chance to forge real human connections with farmers and growers, learning first-hand how quality local produce is grown or made, and even enjoying an overnight stay. Local harvests go beyond traditional fruit and veg to include nutrient-rich seaweed and cosmetics made with donkey milk. La Chaise Rouge near Angers combines organic farming with a country inn and restaurant, riding school, teaching farm and even a theatre providing educational entertainment. On the island of Noirmoutier, the Cabane d’Adrien is a decked shellfish bar overlooking the marshlands where you can learn about oysters, cockles and clams before they’re pulled from the water and put straight on your plate.
2/ Unearth prehistoric treasure in Dordogne
Discovered in 1940 – fittingly by a group of schoolboys – the multi-chambered Lascaux cave is one of France’s historical wonders, containing some of the best examples of paleolithic art in Europe. Many of the 2,200 artworks were painted onto the walls using mineral pigments or incised into the stone. The ‘Hall of the Bulls’ is among the most densely illustrated chambers, extending uninterrupted for 30 metres along both sides. While the original cave was closed to visitors in 1963 and a replica, Lascaux II, set up shop next door, the real education now comes from a high-tech sister site, Lascaux IV, which opened in 2016. Interactive guides and multi-screen displays give the cave art replica a new depth of meaning, as a team of 50 expert artists used digital photography and laser imaging to reproduce the paintings stroke-for-stroke. The temperature, air pressure, dampness and sounds are also identical to those in the original. Guaranteed to give you the goosebumps.
3/ Learn the secrets of French cuisine in Paris
It’s an expectation that food will play a major role on any visit to France – and the abundant desire to recreate France’s classic cuisine has fostered the development of numerous cookery schools in the capital. The top chefs have set up their own prestigious schools offering long courses (think Lenôtre, Alain Ducasse, Guy Martin) while the younger generation have challenged tradition by offering quick classes combined with tasting sessions at lunchtime or apéro hour, which makes a great option if cooking is only one of the educational adventures you plan to have in the City of Light. Don your apron at Le Cordon Bleu at Porte de Versailles – it offers a wide range of classes from market touring to sauce-making and patisserie and macaron mastery. There’s also a special ‘Petits Cordon Bleus’ for eight- to 12-year-olds – far superior to any lesson in home economics back home.
4/ Spot wildlife in the Pays des Écrins
The Écrins National Park was ‘created’ in 1973 to protect the biodiversity and spectacular natural environment of this section of the French Alps, situated in one of the highest massifs in France, with over 150 summits soaring above 3,000m. It’s a protected haven for all manner of mountain wildlife: ibex, wolves, golden eagles, bearded and griffon vultures, rock ptarmigans, mountain hares and marmots. Astonishingly, there are also 2,500 plant species here, including 40 that are rare or threatened. To make the most of this outdoor classroom, take a hike with a local guide – they’re passionate about the mountain way of life and you’ll be able to visit secret and less frequented spots with them, as well as knowing what to look out for thanks to their vast knowledge of fauna and flora. The Écrins boasts over 740km of hiking trails, ranging from short family walks to expeditions that take several weeks.
5/ Soak up sci-fi culture in Amiens
With its majestic UNESCO-listed Gothic cathedral – one of France’s most impressive – as well as a rich WW1 history, the northern French city of Amiens is a great urban destination for all age groups. It’s also home to the Maison de Jules Verne, known as the ‘House with the Tower’, where writer Jules Verne lived from 1882 to 1900. A new educational adventure for 2022 is a dedicated Jules Verne itinerary, an innovative discovery route taking visitors on an exploration of the creative genius of the author using technology, street art and a monument to his infamous 20,000 Leagues Under the Sea. The Maison de Jules Verne offers a fascinating insight into this father of science fiction, as every room in the house from the ground floor to attic transports visitors to a different world and into the imagination of the writer. You can also take a tour of Amiens on the Jules Verne Express train, starting from the cathedral square and taking in the city’s key architectural and cultural highlights, with a commentary and fascinating anecdotes.