We love France and have been several times in the last decade. Not many British people have heard of the "islands" but we discovered them last year after a last minute summer holiday booking. We were hooked and knew we just had to return.
We decided to stay on the island of Ile de Re this year, and had a beautiful apartment on a small complex in St Marie de Re which has the facilities of a hotel (cleaned every day, reception, bar, free wifi) with the luxury of having a large suite - perfect for a family of 5!
After leaving Les Pierres Couchees we drove for about 2 hours and arrived in La Rochelle to pick up some supplies. HAW is a huge foodie, and was quite literally salivating at the thought of the food market which we experienced last year. We are bringing the children up with the food philosophy of "try everything once" and they will quite happily eat moules/frites or langoustines and even chicken livers which I think is pretty awesome. We don't believe in putting our tastes onto them, as of course, everyone has a different palate and beliefs (eg HAW won't eat swimming fish, but encourages the children to try and make their own minds up rather than his).
After stocking up on langoustines, fruit and vegetables, we paid our toll money and headed over to the island which can only be reached by a 2km bridge. We quickly settled into a routine of swimming before breakfast, then going off to explore the villages of Re afterwards (the island is only 12km long with just 10 villages, each with their own identity and daily market and the best way to experience this is by bike. If you don't want to take your own bikes, there are several bike hire shops and this will cost you around 100E per week for a family of 5) before heading home for another swim and lunch. Afternoons were spent visiting the the numerous beaches that surround the island and all are beautiful. We visited in August and there was plenty of room for everyone, in fact our favourite beach was the busiest one, which was by the old fort in St Martin de Re. It was set in a beautiful alcove with calm seas and a diving platform which all the kids loved swimming out too and jumping off. It also has a basketball court and a kids activity station which was ideal for families as well as a beach bar.
The great thing though about Re though, is the "frenchness" of it. We heard very few English voices and loved the fact that all the restaurants didn't have tourist menus (you know, the plastic backed ones that serve chips with everything) and served the same food for children as adults. I speak french pretty well and took great delight in haggling with the producers in the market daily.
Here's some photos to illustrate our highlights:
Ile de Re is an island crying out to be explored, there are lots of little shops hidden away up deserted side streets and you will stumble upon artisan boulangeries, antique shops and galleries in all of the villages. It is tranquil and unspoilt and if you are looking for a relaxing family holiday with good food, wine and excellent beaches then we can't recommend it enough!
Peace and Love