Île de Ré with kids on a budget
A visit to Île de Ré with no planning or expectations
In July we spent a lovely few days on the Île de Ré with our two girls, and we managed to do it without spending a lot of money. It wasn’t intentional. There are so many Île de Ré blog posts listing lovely things to do that all end up costing quite a lot of money, even if it’s just buying fancy ice cream. Consequently, I thought sharing our short family stay on the Île de Ré might be an antidote to those.
No, we didn’t do loads of those Île de Ré ‘bucket list’ things, but we still had a special time there. So here’s our experience of Île de Ré with kids on a budget.
The motorhome aire at Saint-Martin-de-Ré
We arrived on the Île de Ré with few expectations and no prior planning or research. It was a last minute decision to make a detour out to the coast, and our eldest daughter was so excited to be going to the beach. Being beside the sea for a few days was just what we all needed.
There are many campsites on the Île de Ré, but we had read that many were likely to be fully booked as it was the summer holidays. Instead we picked an aire from our CamperContact book at a place called Saint-Martin-de-Ré, and headed there.
There is a toll to drive across the bridge to Île de Ré, I think it was about €16 return. It was a lovely drive across, seeing turquoise sea and sailing boats around the island as we came over the peak of the bridge. It filled us with anticipation and an eagerness to get sand between our toes.
The motorhome aire at Saint-Martin-de-Ré was really pleasant. It cost €15 a night and is on a fairly quiet back street. It was busy with other motorhomes and campervans, but it was peaceful at night, and there was shade from trees. It also felt safe for our little ones pottering around.
Resisting expensive ice cream
We got on our bikes and went in search of the beach. In fact, we didn’t find the beach and instead ended up in the town harbour, with thousands of other people in the peak of the afternoon sun. The biggest queues were for the famous ice cream parlour La Martinière, whose frontage seems to go on and on across the harbour front.
The ice cream looked incredible, the boards advertising the different options were very tempting, and it felt like everyone around us had an ice cream in hand. Do you ever feel like you need something just because everyone else has it? This is what happened to me. Stood in the sun with everyone eating ice creams from this place that had a big buzz about it, I desperately wanted to join in.
Currently living off one small income as we travel, we’re not able to spend lots of money on ‘holiday treats’ as we’re not on holiday. That’s hard when everyone around you is on holiday! Even sharing one ice cream still felt quite costly. Nick helped me see we didn’t really need ice cream, and I realised I had totally been swept up in the ice cream frenzy of this rather glitzy island.
My “money saving tips” for Île de Ré
We had a failed attempt at trying to find somewhere for dinner. Momentarily we thought we’d ordered a plate of oysters when we were trying to figure out the menu – neither of us like oysters and we were rather overwhelmed at the thought of a plate of them and the cost! Also, we never seem to get our timing right with French opening hours. Consequently, a nice sounding creperie we found was in fact closed. Thwarted, we headed back to the van and ate dinner there.
I’m sure people are going to read this and argue I’m not really giving any outstanding tips for how to avoid spending lots of money on Île de Ré. And I’m not. What I guess I’m trying to share, is the reminders I was given, that we don’t have to spend money on eating out to have a lovely time, even if everyone around us is. Why must Île de Ré be seen as a place you can only visit if you have lots of money to spend in nice eateries and shops?
The beach at Saint-Martin-de-Ré
We spent most of our time at the beach, with a picnic (there are two supermarkets on the outskirts of Saint-Martin-de-Ré), and an umbrella for a bit of shade. What more do you really need?
The sea at the beach in Saint-Martin-de-Ré, we discovered, goes out quite far at low tide, and reveals so many treasures. We hunted for shells and colourful pebbles, wandered out to see the oyster beds, and watched people hunting for clams and foraging for seaweed.
An evening walk around Saint-Martin-de-Ré
One evening I went out for a walk alone as the sunset, with my camera. It was such a beautiful time of day. The air was still warm, but cooler than during the day. The streets and harbour were quieter, and the colours and light that bounced off the walls from the setting sun were magical.
My only regret was that we hadn’t gone out as a family. For me, it was the ideal way to explore the town with children, as opposed to earlier in the day. Later into our travels in France, we took this learning, and went for a delightful evening walk with our children in Lagrasse. I think, coming from England where we don’t really have a night culture that is hospitable to children, we forget the joys of going out in the evening. This is something I’ve particularly enjoyed so far in our travels through Europe.
Our Top Tips for Visiting Île de Ré
Saint-Martin-de-Ré Places to Visit
We visited in July 2018.
- Beach: The beach next to the car parks is in two parts – the main bit you wander onto, and then another smaller section off to the right. We went to the section off to the right, which has rocks behind it. The beach is fairly narrow when the tide is in, but it goes out really far. The beach is sandy, with some pebbly bits further down as the sand goes out. If you take a walk when the tide is far out, it becomes muddy.
- Evening walk: Just get out there and go for a wander once the sun starts to sink below the buildings. It’s magical! You don’t even need to go out for dinner, just go and enjoy the scenery and soak up the atmosphere. Evening walks with kids are my new favourite thing.
- Bring your bikes: We biked everywhere once we arrived, as do many people here. If we’d had more time we would have liked to see more of the island by bike. There are cycle lanes everywhere, and also bikes for hire.
Check out our other blog posts on France here.
Saint-Martin-de-Ré Motorhome Aire
We visited in July 2018.
- Address: Rue du Rempart, 17410 Saint-Martin-de-Ré, France.
- Directions: Once you reach the outskirts of Saint-Martin-de-Ré, simply follow the signs for the aire.
- Cost: €15 a night.
- Facilities: Water, grey water dump, and chemical toilet disposal.
- Site: A pleasant graveled car park with approx 25 spots and trees for some shade. The two nights we stayed we found it quiet and peaceful.
- Other: Maximum stay is 3 nights.