Bringing History to Life

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Backroads Biking in FranceAt the end of a typical Backroads day, I find myself well fed, happily tired and awe-inspired by what I just experienced. I drafted this blog from a hotel balcony in Dinard, just across an estuary from St. Malo, reflecting on yet another one of those wonderful days. What particularly struck me about the day was how much my kids learned without even knowing the trip was actually educational. I’m sneaky that way.

When we rode into the medieval town, the estuary was nothing but a giant mud flat lined by rows and rows of beached boats. We all got a real kick out of the colorful boats, tilted like fallen dominoes. Our leader explained that the area has the second-largest tidal action in the world after the Bay of Fundy, and the kids saw in person the effect of low tide. It was a great science lesson and one we will surely remember.

History lessons with Backroads - Saint Malo low tide boats

Combining History with Activity

Our family’s recent Brittany and Normandy trip was a quintessential Backroads day for a Family Trip with Older Teens and 20-Somethings. We started out on a beautiful ride through the countryside, with a stop at Mont Saint-Michel, a UNESCO World Heritage site. We picnicked at a house that once was a refuge for corsairs, who were essentially pirates sponsored by the king of France. The couple who owns the house not only fed us well, but regaled us with fantastic tales of the corsairs.

Tom Hale on Backroads Brittany and Normandy Family Bike Tour

Rain picked up during lunch, so we all went our different ways. The bulk of the group spent the day in Saint-Malo, a very picturesque town where the book All the Light We Cannot See takes place. A few folks stopped for oysters, which are quite renowned in that neck of the woods. My brother-in-law and I were the only takers on a great 25-mile bike ride. We caught the ferry from Saint-Malo with only 5 seconds to spare, so making it was extra rewarding!

Then we cycled through Normandy and toured World War II monuments. It was both profound and touching to follow in the wartime footsteps of my father-in-law, and I expect that seeing the memorials in person impacted the kids in a much more memorable and poignant way than a classroom lecture.

As parents, we want our kids to always learn, but we really have to avoid being pedantic or they just plain stop listening to us. That’s one of the reasons I love these family trips–we get out and experience history in person. And it gives us a lot to discuss when we all gather over dinner.

Check out the itinerary of our Brittany and Normandy trips to see our route and consider how you can make history come alive.

Backroads Family Trip in Britany and Normandy

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Tom Hale

Tom Hale

Founder and President at Backroads
A native of Moraga, California, Tom Hale possesses a passion for two seemingly divergent interests—business and back roads—which he has powered into the world's most successful active travel company, Backroads. It was the back roads that first attracted him, as a competitive runner at Campolindo High School (where he still holds the two-mile record at 8:57.2) and at the University of Oregon, where he was a teammate of legendary runner Steve Prefontaine. Armed with a Masters in Environmental Planning from UCLA, Hale was six months into an environmental planning position in Las Vegas when the back roads called again—big time. A middle-of-the-night inspiration to start a bike touring company motivated him to pedal 5,000 miles alone through the West, all the while formulating plans for his new business. Settling in Berkeley, Hale washed fondue pots by night and built his fledgling travel company by day. In true entrepreneurial fashion, he did it all—designed the itineraries, maintained the bikes, led the trips, produced the catalog.
Tom Hale

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