For the last couple of years we have been Holidaying in French campsites with our young child (now children). These campsites usually have the advantage of excellent pools and often activity clubs for various ages of children. Previously we have stayed in the Loire and Brittany but this year we went a little further afield to the island just off La Rochelle called Ile de Re.
Daunted by such a long drive we stopped off in the Loire to break up the journey. We knew we’d arrived at a fairly upmarket place when we learnt that the toll to use the bridge to get on the Ile de Re was €8 (€16 after 19 June). This does then disincentivise anyone one from leaving the island once you are on it so maybe they have a great plan? At the beginning of our holiday we worried about this but as it turned out we didn’t really want to leave that much anyway.
The Ile de Re is an approximately 40km long (depending how you measure it) strip of sand in the shape of a ‘J’. It’s main selling point is that whoever is in charge has worked very hard at making sure that it is ‘unspoilt’. By unspoilt I mean that all of the towns and villages on the island look very cute with all their white washed houses and relative lack of tacky shops and restaurants. Everywhere you turn there is a lovely and very clean beach. The downside of all this unspoiltness is that the remaining restaurants are all quite pricey and we found that eating out was a bit special.
The main town and capital, St Martin de Re as well as being cute and unspoilt also sports a fantastic looking vauban fort. For history buffs this fort saw off the English in 1627 and got a mention in the book ‘The Three Musketeers’.
We stayed at one of the campsites near the town of La Bois Plage which was nicely right on the beach and also had a pretty nice pool complex. On the downside there was no free wifi (in fact very expensive), the pitches were on the small side and the whole place was basically a sandpit. The last point for me was the real demerit. It is possible that I’m either very slovenly or very picky but to have everything that you drop or put on the ground get instantly covered in sand was very annoying.
There were trees on the site but shade was still hard to come by and I’m really glad that we took a cheap Homebase gazebo. No matter how harsh the sun, we were able to offer the children and ourselves a bit of respite from the sun and on one occasion rain.
I think the number one draw of the island is the opportunity to cycle round on well kept purpose built paths in safety. The place is perfect for those who like a gentle cycle or are a bit nervous or who are children. There are no serious cyclists here just people who like an amble about, possibly followed by a nice lunch. the cycle paths criss-cross the island and join all the towns. One of the nature reserves can only be seen well by cycle. There is no danger of any hills here either, the island is flat as a pancake.
I hired a bike and a little trailer for the kids for a week and used it every day. At one point I thought I might be able to take both of them out but they did tend to fight like two cats in a bag so I found it better only to take one. The trailer worked very well and my kids really loved it.
Other things to do
Before we arrived I did worry that there was nothing to do here but there are a couple of things. One highlight worth checking out is the lighthouse – Phare des Balleine – at the extreme west of the island. I highly recommend the climb to the top for the superb views and the amazing spiral staircase.
If you have ever wondered how they make sea salt, look no further as there is a museum at Loix. This, along with a number of vineyards I’m afraid I failed to check out.
There is a ruined abbey and second Vauban fort north of the town of La Flotte that was quite nice. Apart from the pretty towns themselves and the nature reserve that seemed to be about it. There certainly appears to be no nightlife here which is either a good or bad thing depending on your point of view. I thought it was great.
With the great beaches and pleasant cycling I was never bored though.
If you are looking for a gentle, relaxing and quaint holiday destination then the Ile de Re might be the place for you. If you are looking for excitement and partying then you should look elsewhere. I would be tempted to go back when both my kids can cycle.
See all photos from the trip.