Our two week holiday to France feels like a lifetime ago but I really wanted to share all about our trip as when I was searching for information I couldn’t find much on the beautiful island of Ile de Re. As information was short we didn’t really know what to expect when we drove over the bridge from La Rochelle but we were greeted by blue skies, soft white sandy beaches and the prettiest French towns I’ve ever seen. We had eight days on the island which seems a long time but we learnt on this holiday that pacing ourselves leads to a more enjoyable experience. We drove from the UK, catching the ferry from Dover and breaking the journey up with an over night stay in Alencon and then travelling onto our favourite Glampsite for a few more days. There was so much to see and do we’re definitely planning a return trip as we only scratched the surface of what Ile De Re has to offer. There is so much to cover from favourite towns and best beaches to what worked for us as a family with young children, I’ve broken it all down below…
The beaches on Ile De Re are some of the best we’ve ever visited, they are the kind of beach you expect to fly around the world to see, instead of driving from the UK. Our favourite beach was Plage Trousse Chemise (above pics) at the very top of the island. We visited on a cloudy day and had the whole place to ourselves – we paddled in the sea, collected shells, played mermaids. It was idilic, there was also a toilet and good car park which helped.
Our other favourite beaches were Plage Gros Jonc, near Les Portes-en-Re – it was great for swimming and had a loo. Plage du Peu Ragot at Couarde-Sur-Mer – it had a loo and a snack bar and a brocante! Plage de la Basse Benaire at Sainte-Marie-de-Re – it was wild and had a loo, if you’re cycling, cycle to the beach don’t park in the town.
Personally we’d give Plage des Gollandieres at Le-Bois-Plage-en-Re as miss, there were too many english people for us and the toilet didn’t work!
On the map the beaches look close to the towns but they are about a 15 minute walk if you park your bike in the centre of town, fine if you are just with adults but with little ones and no pram and a whole lot of beach stuff the distance makes things hard work. It’s also worth noting that there aren’t many places to get drinks or snacks at any of the beaches, it keeps them gorgeous but with little ones it just means additional prep and more to carry! With children under five I’d say drive to the beach and cycle to towns, don’t try to do both.
Above, the beach and brocante at Couarde-Sur-Mer
Each town seemed more beautiful than the last, the island became a blur of grey, green and turquoise shutters each one becoming a favourite. Not realising the size of the island we stayed in the capital Saint Martin de Re, it was lovely but not really us with two small children. If it was just Dan and I or a weekend with the girls it would be perfect – a picturesque harbour, bars tucked away in courtyards and amazing definitely not child friendly shops. It was also incredibly expensive, we knew it would be but totally under estimated by how much, it was also really a really hard place to even pick up basics like milk and cereal. It’s definitely worth a visit as the more we were there the more we liked it but it wasn’t the easiest place to settle as a family. Our accommodation was good but not worth sharing -we didn’t consider camping as an option before we went but after exploring, it’s definitely something to put out there.
Our favourite town was Ars-En-Re it had a good mix of shutters, shops, a harbour and a fab market with a gorgeous vintage carousel. The overall place had a much calmer vibe and is well placed to get to the beaches at the north of the island. If we come back we’d definitely stay close by or in Les Portes en Re although we only saw the outskirts, it seemed a great little town with a more ‘arty’ feel that seemed to suit us.
My two are happiest when we keep it simple – a morning at the beach, an afternoon in the pool we did however come across some real gems. There was the prettiest park in the world to the right of the harbour (if the the harbour is in front of you) in Saint Martin de Re, it was so clean, spacious and the light was just dreamy. Also in Saint Martin de Re there was a vintage train and carousel which they loved, I’m not sure what time it opened/closed but we went early evening and managed a few loops on the train before it closed. There is also a vintage carousel at the market at Ars en Re with a children’s entertainer, the ride goes on for ages – three goes and I reckon you could cover the market. For an ice cream La Flotte was my favourite town, smaller than Saint Martin the queues were shorter and the streets were quieter for a wander, ice cream in hand.
If I’m talking about children’s activities then I have to mention bikes – bikes are a big thing on the island. Dan cycles everyday so he didn’t find them a hassle where as I did. Once we got going on the cycle paths it was really easy to cycle around the island but I found they added extra pressure to the holiday. They were fun and it was amazing to cycle through vineyards and fields full of poppies with swallows swooping but if we go again I would only hire for a few days and just cycle rather than combining with a trip to the beach. If you have older children that can handle a ride by themselves ignore my advice and cycle everywhere! Our favourite cycle path was heading up out of Saint Martin along the coast and then down towards Couarde.
In many ways it was lucky that Stanley and Milly were with me on this trip because I could have gone craaaazy with shopping. If I were to describe my style as a road trip from the UK to Morocco via Paris, Ile de Re had the French Moroccan part nailed. In Saint Martin there are two main streets leading down to the harbour full of gorgeous French boho goodness, wander and you’ll find plenty to make your heart flutter. I’m not sure of the shops name but in it I came across the delicate wire work of Astrid LeCornu – so beautiful, I’m dreaming of a wire wreath someday. In Saint Martin tucked away in the walls of the city there was an amazing concept store called Magasin de la Republic, expensive but really inspiring. My favourite of all was just on the outskirts of Ars en Re – Le Jardin du Marche was all I could ever want in a shop – Moroccan homeware and beautiful plants (theres a post to follow so will share more soon).
I have to talk about Brocantes, there seemed to be plenty about and I managed to visit two – the site Brocabrac was so useful in finding Brocante days. Just add the dates and town you’re visiting and the closest markets will pop up (Ile de Re falls under area 17 on the list). Due to space/bike restrictions I kept my purchases small but if I had a house to refurb and a van, I’d be well stocked!
The hardest part of the trip for us was finding good food options, although we were staying in a self catered apartment – it didn’t lend itself to staying in. Most restaurants opened for food at seven but with two young children it felt late and dinner was often a hastily eaten affair, with a sound track of Peppa Pig. To be fair even if we were to eat at 5 in the UK I think we would be still be rushing but these things are important to mention when travelling with young ones.
For us as a family we really look forward to our summer travels, with lack of time together one being one of our biggest stresses having shared experiences away from the everyday is so important. As parents its time catch up, learn and grow – being out of the comfort of normal roles and routines can bring its own challenges but working through them and finding our flow makes everything worthwhile. Seeing the world through Stanley and Milly’s eyes, watching them discover the world and develop their own take on their surroundings is one of the best feelings and I feel so incredibly lucky that we get to take them us.
If you’re looking for a gentle adventure close to home then I really recommend Ile De Re, it feels like a beautiful secret but one I don’t mind sharing. Happy Summer! x