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How Ile de Re always works its magic on lively children

There were moments during what was supposed to be a gentle family bike ride around Ile de Re where we felt that, just maybe, we’d bitten off more than we could chew.

One was when I managed to wedge the bright blue trailer carrying our toddler girls between a wooden fence and a thick hedge.

The next was when my husband forgot about our four-year-old on the back of his bike as he jumped off to help.

Divine: The Daily Mail’s Caroline Gammell went on a bike ride while in sunny Ile de Re with her family, they later cooled off by the seaside

But the real highlight came when we misread the ridiculously simple map, and instead of taking our four children on a leisurely tour of the area, we were on a 16-mile bike ride in 30-degree heat.

You try telling a five-year-old, determinedly pedalling in second gear all day, that he’s only got another five miles to go.

But the sun was shining, the roses and wild flowers were in full bloom and every few minutes we were greeted with uninterrupted views of the ocean as we huffed and puffed.

Ile de Re is beautiful. Much favoured by the good and the great — from Princess Caroline of Monaco to Vanessa Paradis and Johnny Depp (in happier times) — it basks in its moniker of the St Tropez of the Atlantic.

Easy-going charm: The harbour at Saint-Martin-de-Re is a joy for cyclists and sailors

Easy-going charm: The harbour at Saint-Martin-de-Re is a joy for cyclists and sailors

At just 19 miles long and connected by a sweeping bridge to the mainland at La Rochelle, it claims as many sunshine hours as the south coast of France.

The island was chosen as the backdrop for Joan Collins’s latest film, The Time Of Their Lives, a road trip movie co-starring the original Shirley Valentine, Pauline Collins, and Dame Joan as a jaded Hollywood siren, who makes a beeline for the place.

We were a little more hesitant. Was a family holiday with our son, aged five, his four-year-old brother and 23-month-old twin girls doable and, more importantly, enjoyable in such a glamorous part of France?

The island was chosen as the backdrop for Joan Collins¿s latest film, The Time Of Their Lives 

The island was chosen as the backdrop for Joan Collins’s latest film, The Time Of Their Lives 

Well, an overnight ferry from Portsmouth to St Malo — girls in one cabin, boys in the other — was surprisingly easy before the three-hour drive south.

Our week revolved around a simple, happy mix of digging up beaches, eating, drinking, making the most of the long, sunny days and, of course, cycling.

With 64 miles of routes criss-crossing the almost entirely flat terrain, you can’t go there and expect not to embrace a bicycle. 

Kitted out with a trailer for our twins (who sat nattering like a couple of octogenarians), a child seat on the other adult bike and a separate bike for the eldest, we were sorted.

Pretty much every trail on the island leads straight to a beach. 

There seemed to be almost as many cycle shops as boulangeries — and the locals welcomed us with open arms, the butcher grunting in approval as he handed a free packet of island salted crisps to my delighted son. 

(Ile de Re is proud of its hand-hewn salt and the marshes in which it is brushed, dried and bagged are dotted across the island.)

Home for the trip was two comfortable family rooms in the serene La Maison Douce — made slightly less serene by our arrival — in the immaculately preserved fortified town of Saint-Martin-de-Re, where we strolled down to the waterfront for dinner each night.

It was here, with a glass of wine, children tucking into steak hache, sun dropping behind the marina and church bells tolling that we started to relax and began to feel that a civilised family holiday was finally within reach.

As for our unexpectedly epic bike ride, it was our proudest moment — arriving back weary, weather-beaten, but entirely triumphant.


Brittany Ferries ( sails overnight from Portsmouth to St Malo from £215 per family in a car. 

Family rooms at La Maison Douce ( from £163 per night. The Time of Their Lives is on DVD and Blu-ray from July 31.


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