Bringing History to Life

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

4 Responses

  1. […] I saw was the sense of pride and wonder on their faces every day. I appreciated how much they learned. I was humbled to watch their transformation and see our family coalesce over a roadside picnic or […]

  2. John O.

    My wife, two daughters and I just returned from our fourth Backroads trip, stretching our boundaries a bit with an overseas trip to the Dolomites in Italy (our group leaders were the extraordinary threesome of Josh, Gerard and Agostina). Your comment about experiencing history in person really resonated; we think Backroads is the perfect way for our family to learn, experience and appreciate history and different cultures. Indeed, my 15 year old daughter learned about WWI in school this past year, and was jazzed to learn about Italy’s role in this war from our guides, and see firsthand the Italian bunkers. Upon her return home she shared this information with her history teacher, whom has scheduled a lunch with her to learn more. This was our best Backroads trip, and the bar was set high! It’s why we love the Backroads experience: the fun, the activities, the friendships, and the non-pedantic education. Keep up the good work!

    • Tom Hale Tom Hale

      Hi John–Isn’t it wonderful to have fun with your kids, find common ground, and watch them learn and grow at the same time? Thanks so much for letting me know that my own family story resonated.

  3. Fred Rankin

    Our first Backroads trip was the Normandy and Brittany biking trip. We had not been on a bicycle in over 30 years. Our preparation was one 20 mile bike ride in San Diego about a month before our scheduled trip. So it was with excitement and trepidation that we embarked on this trip. The Backroads leaders took great care of us. Each day our confidence grew. The other members of the group, who were much more experienced bikers than we were also were encouraging and helpful giving us tips from strategic gearing to clothes to what types of bike to consider purchasing. When we got home, we promptly bought bicycles. This trip hooked us on active vacations and Backroads. In about a month, we will join our 8th Backroads trip to Iceland.

    • Tom Hale Tom Hale

      You raise such a good point about Backroads trips–the energy and camaraderie amongst the group. While you can go at your exact speed, it’s so nice to have your “peleton” encouraging you and making it all really fun.

      I am profoundly touched that we could inspire you to buy bikes, get outside and join us again and again.

      p.s. Iceland scenery is spectacular. Enjoy!

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