Q: We are planning to go to the South of France this summer with our 18-month-old daughter and three-and-a-half-year-old son. We'd like to stay in a small coastal town with child-friendly beaches, in a gîte or family-run hotel. Where do you suggest?

Neal Patel, via email

A: Choosing a small coastal town suitable for a family break is difficult, but only because there are so many excellent options. However, Villefranche-sur-Mer has the requisite child-friendly beaches and is on one of the Côte d'Azur's most attractive bays.

Located between Nice and Monte Carlo, Villefranche is a quaint town with narrow, winding streets and terraced hills. There is an attractive harbour to the west and a sandy beach to the east. The 14th-century old town has peach, ochre and terracotta-hued buildings, and during the evening the bars and restaurants fill with both tourists and locals.

The tourist office (00 33 4 93 01 73 68; www.villefranche-sur-mer.com) recommends the converted 17th-century convent, Hotel Welcome (00 33 4 93 76 27 62; www.welcomehotel.fr), where all rooms come with a balcony overlooking the harbour; prices start at €96 (£80) for a double during the summer.

If you'd prefer a gîte, then the umbrella organisation Gîtes de France (00 33 4 92 15 21 30; www.gites-de-france.com) lists a number of properties in the area, such as "gîte 6,178" in nearby Eze. The two-bedroom property has a garden and terrace, and can be rented from €515 (£429) per week during the summer. Villefranche is a 20-minute drive from Nice, which is served by both rail and air (British Airways, easyJet, Bmibaby, Flyglobespan, Flybe and Jet2).

Just off the Côte d'Azur, near Toulon, lie the Iles d'Hyères, which have beautiful beaches. Two of the islands are national parks, and one of them, the Ile de Porquerolles, is particularly unspoilt. A regular ferry service (00 33 4 94 58 21 81; www.tlv-tvm.com) leaves La Tour Fondue near Hyères on the mainland, and takes around eight minutes to reach the island, costing €16 (£13.30) return; €14 (£11.70) for children aged four to 10.

Cars are banned from Porquerolles, which makes it a great place to walk or cycle around, exploring the pristine beaches and pine forests. Bicycles are available to hire from dozens of outlets, including Le Cycle Porquerollais (00 33 4 94 58 30 32; www.cycle-porquerollais.com), which rents them out from €13 (£8.30) per day.

Hidden away behind pine and eucalyptus trees and flanked by beautiful secluded beaches, Le Mas Langoustier Hotel (00 33 04 94 58 30 36; www.langoustier.com) has family apartments with two bedrooms, one bathroom and views over the surrounding vineyards and ocean for €314 (£262) per night in August, half-board. Alternatively, Clos des Galejades (00 33 4 94 58 30 20; www.galejades-porquerolles.com) has a clutch of apartments and studios in town or by the beach. Prices start at €758 (£632) per week.

Whereas the sheltered waters of the Mediterranean make for a safe place for young children to paddle, the protected fishing port of St-Jean de Luz is the Atlantic coast's equivalent. Tucked into the crook of French Basque country, this small but bustling fishing port is home to some of the best seafood restaurants in France. The Basque architecture – half-timbered, peaked buildings – of the old-town adds to the ambience, and live music events during the summer months create a convivial atmosphere.

Set back from the beach, La Devinière Hotel (00 33 559 260 551; www.hotel-la-deviniere.com) retains the feel of a family house. Double rooms cost €180 (£150) during the summer, with €20 to be paid for each extra person. Breakfast is €20 (£17).

If you'd prefer something with on-demand family facilities, Pierre et Vacances Bordaberry (0870 026 7144; www.pierreetvacances.com) is a low-key resort in a woodland estate on the coast at Urrugne, between St-Jean de Luz and the sandy beach of Hendaye. Self-catering studios are still available this summer and start at €890 (£742) per week in August.

Send your family travel queries to The Independent Parent, Travel Desk, The Independent, Independent House, 191 Marsh Wall, London E14 9RS, or email crusoe@independent.co.uk