Fabulous Île de Ré family holidays

Île de Ré family holidays, people sitting at harbour

Beloved by the French but surprisingly little-visited by us Brits, the Île de Ré feels like a secret hideaway. But there’s so much for families on this tiny isle. Miles of sandy beaches, pretty villages with uniformly green-shuttered, whitewashed houses and seafood restaurants galore are just some of the highlights. Cycling is the main mode of travel and the island offers all the water sports you could wish for. Friendly and relaxed – even in August – a family holiday on Île de Ré offers a slice of summer heaven.

Île de Ré is a pretty place and there’s a reason for this – the island has strict regulations. We didn’t see a building over two storeys and property owners can only paint their shutters certain shades of blue or green. The craftsmanship of walls, paving, and rooftops is exquisite. Even the murky salt marshes manage to look attractive – in certain lights. The weeds are pretty too – pastel-shaded hollyhocks grow out of cracks in the gutter (or have they been meticulously planted? I’ll have to return out of season to check).

hollyhock and blue shutter
Blue shutters and hollyhocks on Île de Ré

Looking for more information on family holidays to France? Check out these two articles:

France for families

Family holidays to Corsica

Paris with kids in winter

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Why visit the Île de Ré for a family holiday?

Families with little children will appreciate the calm seas perfect for paddling while those with teens will enjoy the access to water sports and cycling for which the isle is so well known. Most villages have a children’s play area. But with so few cars around, everywhere feels like a safe place for children to play – just watch out for the bikes!

La Flotte play area Ile de Ré
La Flotte play area

If your children have yet to gain an appreciation of French cuisine, burgers, chicken nuggets and pizza pop up with reassuring regularity on menus and there’s ice creams aplenty. However, for those with a more adventurous palate, oysters are the main feature here with moules a close second. Île de Ré is an authentically French holiday destination – the menus often have no translation into another language and prices, although not cheap, are reasonable.

Île de Ré is 30 kilometres long and just five kilometres wide so nothing is very far away. There are ten villages to explore and a few attractions to tick off – a ruined abbey, a lighthouse to climb, markets to browse and gorgeous harbours to while away an evening. But the real draw are the beaches – enough to fill several holidays.

And if you’re wondering if the cycling really is as good – and easy – as the marketing suggests, I can confirm it is. There were very small children on two wheels as well as more mature cyclists. Everyone cycles everywhere.

child cycling on Ile de Ré
Ile de Ré cycle trail

And for parents? Holidaying on Île de Ré is easy, relaxing and peaceful. You can have a few drinks in the evening and not worry about driving. Nothing is very far away so you’re never travelling for very long (unless you fancy a long cycle ride) and you cannot get lost. It feels very safe and friendly.

Where is Île de Ré?

Connected to La Rochelle on the mainland by a three kilometre long bridge (that’ll set you back €16), the Île de Ré is situated half way down the west coast of France in the Nouvelle Aquitaine region.

How to get to the Île de Ré

We travelled with Brittany Ferries from Portsmouth to St Malo overnight. From there it was around four hours drive along relatively quiet motorways (which surprised us for August). We used toll roads for some of the journey which definitely helped.

From Calais, the journey to Île de Ré is approximately seven hours – I’d take the route via Rouen rather than the motorway which skirts around Paris – Rouen tends to have less traffic.

The bridge to the island can get busy in holiday season. We arrived quite late on a Sunday so there wasn’t a queue but I’ve heard Saturdays can see rather slow progress.

The Île de Ré can easily be explored without a car, bicycles really are the main mode of transport on the island. So if you’d rather not drive you can take the Eurostar from London to Paris and then a direct train from Paris to La Rochelle. It will take about three hours to reach La Rochelle from where you can then take a bus directly from the train station to the island.

Flying is also relatively straightforward. Hop on a plane to La Rochelle and take the bus over the bridge. There are bike hire shops all over the island and plenty of availability even in the height of summer. Buses also ply the roads which crisscross the island but travelling on two wheels is much more fun – and possibly quicker.

If you’d like a car on Île de Ré but you’d rather not bring your own, a fun option is to hire a Citroën Méhari – they look like a cross between a safari vehicle and a golf buggy.

When to visit the Île de Ré with kids

We visited Île de Ré in August 2022. Like the rest of Europe, it was roasting but there was often a decent sea breeze to take the edge off the heat. The bike paths are flat so even in the 40 degree temperatures cycling wasn’t a problem. Rental bikes come with baskets so you won’t need to strap your beach gear to your back.

The first two weeks of August are peak season – if you can visit in the last two weeks of August you might save money. Accommodation tends to be slightly cheaper at the end of the summer as many French holidaymakers have left the island.

Île de Ré in August is filled with people of all ages – it’s a destination which appeals to the more mature traveller as well as families. Unlike UK holiday hotspots, you’ll find plenty of older holidaymakers choosing to visit the island during August, despite the increased prices and the crowds. It’s a popular multi-generational destination with lots of grandparents holidaying with little ones.

If you’re visiting Île de Ré with a toddler, make the most of the cooler shoulder season and visit in June or September – prices and availability should be more appealing then too and it will be much quieter.

Where to stay on the Île de Ré with children

Our holiday on Île de Ré was a fairly last minute decision so the only reasonably priced accommodation was in the eastern village of Rivedoux-Plage. This meant that it was a bit of a cycle to get to other parts of the island. I’d recommend staying somewhere central in order to have easy access on two wheels to the whole island. 

If you’re planning to explore by car, it’s still a good idea to be central as the roads can get quite slow with traffic in August and parking can be tricky sometimes. However, the island is small so wherever you end up, over the course of a week you’ll be able to explore the whole island.

Our favourite village was La Flotte on the eastern north coast. It’s very similar to St Martin (the main town) but smaller. Both towns have really pretty harbours lined with whitewashed buildings and plenty of restaurants. La Flotte has a good seafront play area, an evening tourist market on an attractive tree-lined avenue and a food market in a medieval marketplace by day.

La Flotte harbour ile de re
La Flotte harbour

La Flotte doesn’t have the best beaches on its doorstep (although they are just a short cycle away). If you want to be close to a town and a beach, I’d recommend Le Bois Plage or La Couarde-sur-Mer. Both on the southern coast in the centre of the island, they have amazing swathes of sand ideal for families. La Couarde is the more charming of the two with a pretty centre while Le Bois feels more purpose-built for tourism. Le Bois has a large daily market.

What is there to do on the Île de Ré for families?

The beaches of the Île de Ré are the key draw for families. The long stretch of sand on the southern coast at La Couarde-sur-Mer is stunning. Backed by sand dunes, it’s safe for little ones with its gently shelving beach.

sandy beach on Île de Ré
Beach near La Couarde-sur-Mer

If you’re after water sports, Plage de Gros Jonc near Le Bois is a popular choice. There’s a surf school and bodyboards for rent. It’s also perfect for simple sandcastle building.

For teens after that perfect Instagram-able beach, head to Plage de la Conche des Baleines in the far west of the island. Teens can take snaps of the sunset and the iconic lighthouse.

On the far east of the island, less scenic with a view of the bridge (unless you’re an engineering fan) but fun nonetheless is the beach at Rivedoux-Plage. We loved watching the skilful kite surfers – the way they navigated the waves was mesmerising. As the tide went out a little pool was revealed – perfect for little ones to splash in.

Rivedoux-Plage beach ile de re
The beach at Rivedoux-Plage

Each town has a play area or small funfair to occupy kids. The little fair at St Martin – with dodgems and a merry-go-round – is in a small park with a couple of cafes to grab lunch or dinner. So as not to distract families from their meals, the fair wasn’t open until 2pm and then it also closed in the evening reopening at 9pm – giving everyone time to digest meals in a civilised fashion.

In La Flotte, there’s a brilliant play area on the waterfront and it also had trampolines set up when we visited. There’s a mobile café next to the play area – ideal for a quick coffee while the kids play.

Cycling was a real hit with our kids – they loved the flat, safe cycle paths and they were eager to hop on their bikes each day despite the heatwave. I was impressed by the really tiny tots who were out on their bikes – it really is a very democratic place for cyclists. There’s so many people on bikes that cars have no choice but to give way.

Cyling on Île de Ré
Cycling past vineyards Île de Ré

We stayed on a campsite with a pool so we found the combination of a day trip out to the beach and a village combined with time at the pool worked well. 

There are lots of water sports available on Île de Ré – kayaking, bodyboarding and stand up paddle boarding are all available. There are surf schools and kite surfing lessons are also available if you fancy something more challenging.

How long to spend on the Île de Ré with kids

We decided to break our journey to the south of France with three nights on the Île de Ré. As it’s so small the island works quite well for a short stay but it’s so lovely that we were really sorry to be leaving so soon.

If you’re keen to do plenty of cycling I think May half term would be a great time to visit when the temperatures are a little lower. The sea may still be a little chilly then though. 

Otherwise, a one or two week summer holiday on Île de Ré would be perfect. If you fancy a two centre holiday – exploring a couple of different areas of France – the island works well combined with Brittany, the Loire Valley or more southerly destinations like the Dordogne.

Hiring a bike on the Île de Ré

Most of the bikes for hire on the Île de Ré are the city bike type – sturdy, with a basket strapped to the front or back (handy if you don’t fancy carrying a sweaty backpack). Bikes come with a lock too and there are plenty of bike parking areas at each village and at the beaches.

Even if your children are too young to cycle, there are trailers to hire with your bikes or tagalongs if tots want a taste of pedalling. While bikes do not need to be pre-booked, it’s worth arranging the trailers and tagalongs in advance.

Bike and flowers
Pretty Île de Ré

Cycling on the Île de Ré is safe – cars slowed down and gave way to us at junctions and roundabouts as well as when we were crossing roads. We mostly stuck to the cycle paths – well maintained routes through pine forests, past the salt marshes, along the seafront and across the island’s scrubby interior.

Cycling past salt marshes on Île de Ré
Cycling past salt marshes on Île de Ré

Handily for cyclists and sports fans, there’s a branch of Decathlon on Île de Ré, just outside Saint-Martin.

Places to stay on Île de Ré for families

There are lots of great campsites on Île de Ré. Some are modest affairs while others have every facility a family could need. Campsites these days don’t just mean sleeping in a tent. Quite a few do not even have tent pitches. Most have a mix of static caravans (or “lodges”) and traditional pitches.

Camping Les Fougères, Île de Ré
Camping Les Fougères

Quality at the campsites varies so it’s worth doing a bit of research and comparing the various accommodation options. Air conditioning is starting to creep in to some of the units while others remain rather aged. If you’re tall or you have big teens, you might find some of the static caravans a bit on the snug side. They’re definitely designed for outdoor living – ensure you find one with a shady terrace.

Campsites are brilliant for lots of reasons – many have a swimming pool, a shop, a snack bar. Kids clubs are often free of charge at campsites and larger properties will have some sort of evening entertainment. Our kids love the independence a campsite gives them – being able to wander to the shop in the morning to buy fresh croissants and baguettes. Campsites are also really sociable – plenty of other children for yours to befriend.

If you prefer a bit more space – in your accommodation and between you and your neighbours – there are plenty of holiday homes on Île de Ré. However, the best ones do get booked up very quickly. As well as individual properties, there are also “residences” – collections of apartments or houses which share facilities such as a garden or swimming pool.

The French tend to holiday during the first couple of weeks of August. You might find prices reduce towards the end of August for some properties – worth checking if you’re flexible with dates.

We loved our holiday to Île de Ré so much that we’re already considering a return trip. So here are a few family-friendly places to stay on Île de Ré which I like the look of so far along with a review of where we stayed in 2022:

Camping Les Fougères, Rivedoux-Plage

Île de Ré was a fairly last minute decision for us. I was looking for somewhere to break the journey between St Malo and our main destination near Bordeaux. I had planned to book somewhere near Nantes but then realised Île de Ré wasn’t much further off our route.

As everywhere gets booked up far in advance on Île de Ré, there was very limited availability – we had a choice of expensive hotels or Les Fougères on the edge of Rivedoux-Plage. We really liked the property – it’s very small, quiet and shaded and it has a lovely swimming pool and a great little snack bar. The swimming pool was never busy. We arrived during the 40 degree heatwave so we were pleasantly surprised to discover our accommodation – a two bedroom lodge – had air conditioning.

However, the one drawback of Les Fougères is its location. It’s right at the far eastern end of the island so it’s too far to cycle to the other side of Île de Ré if you’re with children. It is perfect if you want a short stay or a last minute stay – its awkward location means it doesn’t fill up as fast as other places.

Find out more about Les Fougères

Sunelia Interlude, near Le Bois Plage

This property offers the best of both worlds – really good swimming pools and also close proximity to a sandy beach. There’s a wide range of mobile homes to choose from as well as camping pitches. Le Bois Plage isn’t as charming as some of the other villages but it’s only 15 minutes by bike to St Martin.

Find out more about Sunelia Interlude

Camping Le Suroit, near Le Bois Plage

This looks like another good option for children who love swimming pools – there are water slides (for little ones) and also an indoor pool. This site is a little further back from the beach than Sunelia, five minutes by bike rather than five minutes on foot!

Find out more about Camping Le Suroit

Camping Eden Villages L’Océan & Spa, near

Midway between Ars and La Couarde-sur-Mer, this campsite is right in the centre of the island so it’s perfect if you want to explore by bike. Camping Eden Villages L’Océan is quite big but with this comes great facilities – two swimming pools (plus a paddling pool), lots of different sports, a spa and plenty more. The site is across the road from a sandy beach and has direct access to cycle paths.

Find out more about Camping Eden Villages L’Océan & Spa

La Grainetière, near La Flotte

La Grainetière is another fairly large site but again it has good facilities for families. The swimming pool is partly covered which is great for cooler weather or for burning hot weather when you fancy some shade. This site isn’t quite as centrally located as L’Océan – it’s further east near La Flotte. However, La Flotte is such a charming little place, I’d happily consider this location.

Find out more about La Grainetière

Camping Le Cormoran, near Ars-en-Re

This campsite gets very good reviews. It’s in a great location too, within walking distance of pretty Ars-en-Re. There’s no shop on site but breakfast pastries can be ordered the day before. It sounds a bit quieter than some of the other campsites on the island and it has a good swimming pool and a decent play area.

Find out more about Camping Le Cormoran

Minutias Village, La Couarde-sur-Mer

This collection of holiday apartments share a garden and are situated in La Couarde-sur-Mer. There’s no swimming pool but you’re within walking distance of the beach (10 minutes) and the charming centre of La Couarde is a short stroll away. There’s a play room with ping-pong and board games.

Find out more about Minutias Village

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Have you visited Île de Ré with kids? Let me know your thoughts in the comments below.

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