THE BLOG
06/23/2014 04:00 pm ET Updated Aug 23, 2014

How-to Criss-Cross France by Foot -- in Half a Day

France is not a large country. Its hexagonal shape (six sides) is a pretty perfect shape, in a world of odd and irregular places. From Dunkerque to Perpigan, the longest distance north-south and from Brest to Strasbourg, east to west the widest part of the country, the span is almost the same, at just about 1,000 kilometers, or 625 miles. So you see, no matter where you want to go in the country, it's possible to drive it in one single day. Size-wise, France, at 211,000 square miles fits inside Texas (269,000 square miles) , but is larger than California (164,000 square miles.)

But now I want to talk about a theme park which let you see all the major landmarks sites and monuments of France in just a few hours, and without even using your car - except to get there! The concept allows children and adults to travel without getting far, to explore without getting tired. While it might not be a substitute for real travel, it's a nice promenade to stroll around.

The park is called France Miniature and is located in a small town of 29,000 named Elancourt, at a mere 20 miles south of Paris, accessible by rail and road. The park itself is shaped like the exact map of France, only smaller. In its perimeter, it contains in miniature sizes 30 sites of importance such as Versailles, the Eiffel Tower, the Mont Saint Michel, the American Cemetery of Colleville-sur-Mer, both the castles of Chambord and Chenonceau, Saint Tropez, the Lourdes basilica, the village of Saint Emilion, among others.

The experience of visiting so much of one country in so little time is perfect to get a feel of what you would really like to see in the flesh (so to speak), and make your travel plans accordingly. For large families unable to travel far and wide, this is a fun way to see many touristic places, even if the scale is lesser, as besides, kids like to walk among buildings meant to be of their own scale. Like a giant doll house, only this is a whole country in one spot! A nice geography lesson.

Of course, like all theme parks, France Miniature also offers rides and games for children of all ages. I was always a big fan of doll houses, tree houses, and all things miniature, like model trains and mini copies of actual cities. The very realistic reproductions are a good lesson in architecture than you may not see well when visiting the real thing. Like playing Monopoly, where you get to visit and even buy streets in cities you have been to, or not. As a child, I visited Madurodam, a similar micro-country discovery theme park in the Netherlands. Both parks are a nice way to travel with kids without the "Are we there yet?" frustrating chorus.

INFO: Open everyday May-Aug., and on selected dates the rest of the year. Closed Nov.-Dec.; Tickets start at 14 Euros (About $20).

http://www.franceminiature.fr

http://www.madurodam.nl/en/visit-the-park/practical-information/