Brittany has always been about simple pleasures — and Dinard, with its striped beach tents and Belle Epoque villas, is no exception. Blowy coastal walks, croissants and crustaceans, invigorating swimming and interesting people-watching are all guaranteed.
Last time I travelled here, I was nine. I still remember the stomach churning eight-hour ferry ride from Portsmouth to Saint Malo, which is probably why it’s taken me 33 years to come back.
The good news is that these days, getting here is a doddle, thanks to a direct flight with Ryanair from Stansted.
Holy island: Mont Saint-Michel, setwhere Brittany and Normandy merge, is fun for children
Heavenly: Castelbrac hotel is an elegant newcomer that sits staggered down the side of a cliff
A place for slumber: Olivia stayed at the Castelbrac hotel with her husband and two children
Dinard airport is a tiny terminal in the middle of a field, with no crowds or queues and it’s just a ten-minute drive from the centre of town.
My husband and I have brought our children, Grace, five, and Georgia Mae, four, and we are staying at the Castelbrac hotel, an elegant newcomer staggered down the side of a cliff.
It was previously a marine research centre used as a base by Arctic explorer Jean-Baptiste Charcot, forerunner to Jacques Cousteau.
We settle in with drinks in the jaunty bar, located in the old aquarium. It gives a nod to its nautical past with fish-scale motif cocktail tables and porthole windows. The crowd is windswept and rosy-cheeked from pottering around on kayaks and catamarans.
One excited guest tells me that Salma Hayek has been in for cocktails with her husband, fashion titan Francois-Henri Pinault. Our accommodation is impressive. We have two ensuite bedrooms connected via a private corridor so our children can maraud without disturbing anyone else.
Star quality: Salma Hayek has visited the Castelbrac hotel for cocktails with her husband
Short hop: A visit to Brittany is affordable for families with flights from Stansted with Ryanair
Dream destination: Olivia was impressed with the Castelbrac’s accommodation
The bar at Castelbrac features mesmerising port-hole windows – with views to the harbour
The Castelbrac’s restaurant, where guests can gaze out to sea as they dine
I’m loving the graphic coral print wallpaper and mosaic bathrooms, but worried about the cream carpet, which soon gets christened by an upended plate of spaghetti.
This is the ultimate litmus test of a hotel’s tolerance for les enfants terribles and Castelbrac passes with flying colours: ‘Pas de problem.’
Dominick, the twinkly-eyed general manager, takes guests to the local market to browse stalls selling striped Breton tops and eat galette-saucisse (Brittany’s version of a hot dog) at his nephew’s bar.
With an appetite for adventure, we chase the tide across the causeway at Mont Saint-Michel, just in Normandy, eat Poseidon-sized platters of oysters in the village of Cancale and hop on the hotel’s vintage launch for a sunset cruise.
Nicolas, our captain, serves drinks and points out all the sights: the spectacular fortress of Harbour Island once owned by Alain Delon (he sold up when they told him he couldn’t build a heliport) and a glimpse of rare fou de bassan, the birds whose long beaks inspired the design of Concorde.
When rain puts a dampener on beach life, we discover there’s still fun to be had at the Saint-Malo Aquarium.
With its wraparound shark tanks and submarine rides, Grace thinks it makes London Aquarium look like a bit of a damp squib.
Afterwards we splash around in the hotel’s cliff-side pool. There is also a hamman, which offers body scrubs and massages, ideal for warming up after a brisk Atlantic dip.
This small, friendly hotel is a tonic for all generations, so bring your brood or escape with your soulmate.
Travel Facts: Plan your own family escape to Brittany
Ryanair (ryanair.com, 0871 246 0000) Stansted to Dinard from £25 return. Seaview room at Castelbrac (castelbrac.com, 00 33 299 803000) from £294 B&B a night.