Independent Families: 'Is the Ile de Ré toddler-friendly?'
Saturday 02 February 2008
Q. We are looking to book a holiday with our two year-old in June or July and thought about going to the Ile de Ré. We'd like somewhere that's family friendly and be able to holiday without using the car. Could you recommend a holiday village with a heated pool and a toddler club that's close to a safe, sandy beach? We'd like to be near restaurants and shops if possible.
T Dixon, via email
A. The Ile de Ré is a wonderful choice for a family holiday. This Atlantic island, off the west coast of France, has been connected to the mainland by a slender road bridge for 20 years yet is still a tranquil haven: a flat, fragrant, family friendly holiday spot. Just 30km long and 5km wide, it's criss-crossed by an extensive network (100km) of cycle paths which wind through fields full of poppies, pine forests, pretty French villages, past fishing harbours, salt pans and oyster farms. It's also celebrated for its endless sandy beaches backed by powdery dunes.
Somehow the island has managed to retain a certain innocence and feels like the France, or rather the "seaside" of yesteryear. It is the perfect place for running barefoot along the shore, playing hide and seek in the sand dunes, picking your way through rock pools and picnics on the sand. Strict building regulations have meant that even new properties have to stick to the low-slung whitewashed-with-green-shutters look. However, the chi-chi shops and waterfront restaurants of the fishing villages give it a very French maritime sophistication.
The Ile de Ré has long been the island of choice for holidaying Parisians. In the past few years, though, it has become a lot more accessible for Brits thanks to a crop of flights to nearby La Rochelle. You can fly on easyJet (0905 821 0905; www.easyjet.com) from Bristol and Gatwick, Ryanair (0871 246 0000; www.ryanair.com) from Stansted, Flybe (0871 700 0000; www.flybe.com) from Glasgow, Manchester, Birmingham and Southampton, and Jet2 (0871 226 1737; www.jet2.com) from Edinburgh and Leeds/Bradford.
Flights for the three of you departing Stansted 14 June and returning 28 June with Ryanair cost just over £225 at the time of writing. The same dates with Jet2 from Edinburgh come out at £255 while flights with easyJet from Bristol are £288.
From La Rochelle airport it's just a short taxi ride to the Ile de Ré after which you can cycle everywhere – there are rental shops all over the island.
St-Martin-de-Ré on the north coast is the island's capital. It is surrounded by ramparts built to ward off the English in the 17th century and is now an attractively crumbling little port.
The waterfront is lined with cafés and restaurants, while behind the dilapidated façades are chic interiors shops and expensive boutiques. The market hall is brimming with fresh produce and the perfect place to fill your bicycle baskets with picnic fare.
You can choose from a couple of luxurious places to stay in St Martin, including the Hôtel de Toiras (00 33 5 46 35 40 32; www.hotel-de-toiras.com), a member of Relais & Châteaux. Babysitting is available. But if you are set on a holiday village, see the island's website ( www.iledere.com).
There are six holiday villages, but two have no swimming pool. The best beaches, safe with shallow water, are on the south coast and, as such, the place that most suits your requirements is Le Bois-Plage-en-Ré with its smattering of shops, restaurants, market and endless beach.
Le Bois-Plage-en-Ré has two holiday villages: Le Village Océanique (00 33 5 46 09 23 22; www.village-oceanique.com) is an attractive cluster of bungalows and chalets surrounded by woodland. It has children's and adults' heated swimming pools, tennis courts, basketball, volleyball, petanque and bicycle rental.
A week in a chalet sleeping four from 14 June would cost €434 (£334). (For two weeks it is €868/ £668). Ré La Blanche (00 33 5 46 09 72 72) is 800m from the island's largest beach and has a heated pool.
However, none of the island's holiday villages offer toddlers' clubs. The children's clubs start at three-, four- or even six-years-old. Canvas Holidays (0870 192 1154; www.canvasholidays.co.uk) has toddlers' clubs at its sites but only at select locations: Ile de Ré is not one of them.
If you're willing to overlook this then a campsite might also be another option.
Two weeks at Canvas Holidays' Camping Interlude, which is a 20-minute walk from Le Bois-Plage-en-Ré and all its facilities and a five-minute walk to the beach would cost £402-450 for the three of you, accommodation only, in a two-bedroomed tent, for a fortnight starting on 14 June.
There are 48 campsites on the island, 14 of which have chalets, tent pitches and a swimming pool.
Les Grenettes (00 33 5 46 30 22 47; www.campinglesgrenettes.com) in Le Bois-Plage-en-Ré is set in pine woods behind the dunes just 200m from the beach and has a heated pool. Prices per week for a chalet in June are €355 (£273).
Also in Le Bois-Plage-en-Ré, close to the beach, is the three-star Les Varennes (00 33 5 46 09 15 43; www.les-varennes.com),which offers sailing, pony-trekking, tennis and cycle tracks as well as a swimming pool and chalets sleeping four for €313 (£241) for a week until 28 June.
Send your family travel queries to The Independent Parent, Travel Desk, The Independent, 191 Marsh Wall, London E14 9RS, or email firstname.lastname@example.org
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