The Ile de Ré, halfway down the French Atlantic coast, is a beautiful island destination offering the perfect family break: bicycles, beaches, restaurants and old-fashioned outdoor fun
It is the holy grail for families – the affordable holiday that will appeal to parents and children alike. Too many involve separation from the children as they learn to play table tennis, have their faces painted or splash about in the kiddies' pool having more fun than their parents (who are lying by the big pool worrying about them). Alternatively, witness the bored children plugged into their MP3 players as they trail behind their culture-vulture parents in yet another ornate, gothic cathedral.
The solution lies halfway down the French Atlantic coast on the beautiful, sunny, occasionally windswept and (importantly) entirely flat island of the Ile de Ré. Attached to the mainland by a bridge from La Rochelle, it is a haven for families seeking time together in the great outdoors. Luxuries are available for the adults, should they choose to indulge themselves – and there is good, old-fashioned energetic outdoor fun for the kids.
Bikes are the order of the day on the Ile de Ré. Cars are allowed, but they have to know their place – and everyone accepts that it is the cyclists who are in charge. Bikes can be rented cheaply from outlets all over the 30km-long island, and almost every inch of it is covered by cycle routes that allow you to immerse yourself in the vineyards, beaches, quaint villages and relaxed environment that makes the island such a popular destination for chic French families that return year after year. For those children too young for their own bike, trailers can be hired so you can pull along your offspring as they relax and take in the view – or just catch up on some sleep.
You can recover from a morning’s gentle cycling by parking the bike and indulging in lunch at one of the many terrific restaurants dotted around the island. One example is the Grenier du Sel (+33 5 46 29 08 62) at 20 rue de la Baie, Ars-en-Ré. It has a delightful shady courtyard and a set lunch menu costing about €18. Alternatively, the fantastic daily food market at Le Bois Plage en Ré serves wonderful local food for a picnic lunch, including the oysters for which the island is famous.
Unsurprisingly, this being an island, there are a number of attractive beaches. The one at Le Bois Plage en Ré is among the most popular. It has a "learning" pool for young children in summer, as well as acres of golden sand that allow plenty of space for the kids to run free while you relax and catch up on some sleep of your own.
Accommodation options range from the seriously grand (Hôtel Le Richelieu in La Flotte, with period rooms overlooking the sea, plus spa facilities and a Michelin-starred restaurant to boot) to numerous L'Ocean in Bois Plage en Ré has an air of zen-like calm, stylish rooms, a swimming pool and a restaurant serving delicious, fresh local food at prices that won’t break the bank. As in most French restaurants, children are welcomed with open arms across the island and children’s menus are often available.
The Ile De Ré really is the perfect European destination for the family that wants to holiday together. When the children go back to school, they really can say that they went to La Rochelle for their summer holidays.