My first post on family holidays in France just has to be about the Ile de Re, a gentle joy of an island.
It is hard to explain how an island 19 miles long and 3 miles wide on the West coast of France, near La Rochelle, with just ten main villages, can be so captivating. White-washed cottages, gentle grey shutters and hollyhocks by the door. Wide-open, uncrowded beaches. Big waves for the big kids and hermit crab-hunting for the little ones. Daily outdoor markets with fresh vegetables grown right there on the island. Night markets with moules frites and paella. Theatre, carousels and pony rides. It is the ultimate family island, where the children get to have a simple bucket-and-spade holiday and their parents relax, safe in the knowledge of good French wine and seafood to come later. Add in the fact that it has the same sunshine quote as the South of France but with a gentle breeze and fairly consistent temperature of 25 and you see the family appeal.
It is possible that you have heard the island is a little too chi chi and that there are too many immaculate Parisiens cluttering up the cafes. It is true that some of the port towns on the North of the island can feel that way. Base yourself on the south side of the island, in the unpretentious, family-friendly villages of Sainte Marie, La Noue and Bois Plage with their huge, soft sand beaches. That way you can head up to La Flotte or St Martin when you feel like exploring and then retreat back to your base.
I overheard one British man on the beach saying he was “underwhelmed” by the island and he couldn’t quite see the appeal. I feel he missed the point. If mornings at the outdoor market, picnics on the beach, nature trails and bike rides and barbeques in the evening with all your spoils from the market are not your thing, then the island is not the place for you. For those of us who enjoy doing very little surrounded by beautiful nature, it is pretty close to perfect. The charm and the appeal lies in the focus on simple pleasures – delicious fresh food and unspoiled nature. Perhaps that is why it appeals so much to families with young children.
For me, it is a happy thought to know that the island is just a train ticket away.
Accommodation on the Ile de Re
I would advise making this a self-catering holiday so that you can really enter into the pleasure of the daily outdoor markets. There are some hotels but most people choose to either rent a house or stay on one of the campsites.
Wake Up In France has a great variety of villas to rent, many of which have their own pools.
Camping Interlude has a fantastic location right at the family-favourite Gros Jonc beach. Pitches available for camping and mobile homes to rent. Village Oceanique, close to Bois Plage, has bungalows, chalets and mobile homes to rent and a communal swimming pool.
Alastair Sawday’s recommendations are always sound and he has Fisherman’s Cottage in St Martin as well as Venelle-de-la-Croix in Ars-en-Re and Maison de l’Ange in Sainte Marie.