Tracing the steps of WWI American Soldiers in France with kids
It all began with an invitation. The French government was in the middle of the centennial celebrations of World War One (1914-1916). My family and I were invited to trace the American soldiers’ path through the Champagne region of France with kids, exploring the monuments, cemeteries, trenches, mines, caves, food, accommodations, and yes, even a little champagne.
I thought this plan was madness, but my mantra when traveling with my kids has always been: You never know what will work until you try it.
It was the middle of the summer; we had a few plans, but nothing that couldn’t be rearranged. Three weeks after the invitation we packed up and were on an Air France flight to Paris to pick up a rental car and drive through Eastern France with kids in tow, better known as Champagne country to most French wine connoisseurs visiting the country.
Our itinerary would be rigorous, but nothing our boys, ages four and seven, couldn’t handle. I already knew jet lag with kids would be fun, so I had our Air France flights booked for the day before we needed to start our trek east. We shacked up at the Le Meridien Etoile Paris just down the street from the Arch de Triomphe. This gave us easy access to food, and a quick shopping trip with the always-wonderful Leah from Leah Travels who has been living in Paris for the past year (lucky lady!)
Let me tell you—late July in France is sales season, so make sure you hit up a few shops while you are passing through Paris on your way to your WWI adventure.
WWI France with Kids Itinerary
- Arrive in Paris
- Recover from jet lag at the Le Meridien Etoile
- Pick up your rental car
- Drive east to Chateau Thierry in the Aisne region
- Explore the town of Chateau Thierry (read our Things to do in Chateau Thierry guide)
- Sleep at the Chateau de la Marjolaine
- Breakfast at hotel
- Visit the Cote 204 Monument, which overlooks the Marne Valley
- Enjoy a quiet lunch at the Creperie Les Bigoudènes in Chateau Thierry
- Visit Bois Belleau and the Oisne Aisne Cemetery
- Explore the Roosevelt Family history through a guided tour with Mr. Caper (visit Chamery village and where Quentin Roosevelt’s plane crashed)
- Dinner and sleep in a cozy yurt at Moulin Bertrand
- Breakfast at Moulin Betrand
- Discover the medieval city of Laon (worth a full day if you have the time).
- Don’t miss the cathedral and underground of the citadel (by appointment only)
- Drive to Vauclair Abbey for a picnic lunch and to wander the ruins of this ___ century abbey
- Head to the Caverne du Dragon to walk through an old quarry cave that played an important roll in the battle on the Chemins des Dames.
- Reward your kids with some geocaching around the Chemins des Dames
- Enjoy dinner, a swim in the pool and a good night’s sleep at the Hotel du Golf de L’Ailette
- Breakfast at the Hotel du Golf de L’Ailette
- Drive to Reims
- Wander the streets of Reims marveling at this city that rebuilt itself after nearly 80% of it being destroyed by the Germans nonstop shell fire.
- Tour the Reims Cathedral for a poignant look at the history of this city, what survived the war, and what the residents had to rebuild to make their city the major metropolitan area it is today.
- Lunch at the Café du Palais, 14, Place Myron Herrick—51100 Reims. Order a glass of rose champagne and whatever your server deems as the local specialty. Do not skip dessert.
- Spend the afternoon walking through the trenches of La Main de Massiges. Book a guided tour if you can so you get the most out of your visit.
- Dinner and sleep at Le Tulipier (excellent food and they have an indoor pool for the kids)
- Breakfast at the hotel
- Drive to the Butte de Vauquois for an introduction to mine warfare during WWI
- Drive to the Meuse Argonne American Cemetery to pay tribute to American troops who died in the war.
- Stop for lunch just down the hill from the cemetery at Museum Romagne 14-18. This museum/café owned by Jean-Paul de Vries has a collection of WWI items used in the daily life of a WWI soldier.
- Work off lunch with a drive and then climb to the top of the American Monument, which was built by the American Battle Monuments Commission (ABMC). The top gives excellent views of the area.
- Drive to Verdun (stop at the Parc Foret’varsion if the kids need a play break)
- Dinner at the Hotel Restaurant Orchidess (ask to sit outside where the kids can play on the trampoline and play set)
- OPTIONAL: Night showing of the Des Flammes// a la Lumiere (From Flames…to Light)- this is a seasonal show, which requires advanced purchase tickets. It also doesn’t start until about 11pm; families with smaller children may need to skip this activity.
- Sleep at the Les Jardins du Mess
- Breakfast at hotel or walk across the bridge into town to find a pastry shop for coffee, croissants and éclairs.
- Spend the morning exploring the city of Verdun. It is easy to walk to the Citadel (???) or drive to the Verdun Memorial.
- Lunch at Chez Mamie for a taste of local Lorraine region cuisine (there is a patio in back. If there are no tables set up, children are free to quietly play in this space, so ask for a table in the back of the restaurant.)
- Drive to La Falouse Fort to explore
- Spend the rest of the afternoon at the Verdun Battlefield
- Alternate activities for an afternoon out with the kids:
- Le Royaume des Jeux (inside rec center)
- Les Jardins du Royaume (outside)
- Verdun Plage (temporary beach by the lake of Pre l’Eveque)
- Playgrounds at the parks in Verdun
- Nap at the hotel
- Dinner in Verdun (at hotel or a restaurant in town)
- Breakfast at hotel
- Drive to Metz in the morning
- Visit the Centre Pompidou-Metz to get a taste of the rotating exhibits in this modern architecturally designed museum.
- Take a tour of the city on the mini-train that picks up outside of the cathedral
- Check out one of the highest naves in Europe at the St. Etienne’s Cathedral
- Grab coffee and let the kids ride the carousel
- Enjoy dinner anywhere that smells good when you walk past
- Sleep at the Hotel Novetel Metz Centre
- Breakfast at the hotel
- Pack up your bags
- Drive back to Paris (about four hours drive)
- Drop off your rental car
- Fly home or to your next destination
Check availability and grab the best hotel rates now!
This is a jam-packed itinerary. There are no ifs, ands, or buts about it. However, if you want to make the most out of your time in France, and explore as much WWI history with kids as possible, this is the best way to do it. Some days were longer than others with our boys, but we always had a little downtime, or at least time to pick up macarons and ice cream to keep the boys moving forward.
PIN IT FOR LATER!
Many thanks to ATOUT France, Air France and the tourism offices of Aisne, Champagne Ardenne, Meuse and Lorraine for hosting my family as we discovered WWI history in France with kids. As always, my opinions are my own. When they aren’t you will be the first to know.