There are three French islands that have not yet been completely discovered and that are my top tips for a great holiday in France.
Everyone knows about Paris and the Riviera and maybe the Alps, but there are many other places to discover in France. I’m going to share with you three islands that have really been the highlights of my childhood, where I spent a lot of holidays, and a few tips on what you should do there and where you can stay.
The first island is Noirmoutier. On the west coast of France, it is not far from Nantes – you can actually fly to Nantes and then from there it’s about a 1 ½ hour drive.
Noirmoutier is a very family-oriented island, and you will find lots of people with young children. It’s very low-key, very relaxed, not posh and that’s what I really like about it. It still has kept a lot of the charm it had when I was a child and there are very few big buildings and big resorts.
It’s all low houses, white walls, blue shelters, very quiet, narrow passages and alleyways, all leading up to the beach. The beach is very sandy. It’s beautiful and there are different beaches – one that is a bit more for families, and some that are a bit more secluded, but they’re all really very nice.
Choose how to arrive
The beauty of Noirmoutier is the arrival. You have two ways to get to the island – the first one is through a big bridge, that was actually built when I was a child, and then the other way, the traditional way, is the Passage du Gois.
The Passage du Gois is a path in the ocean which gets covered by the water at high tide and so you really have to time your arrival very precisely!
I remember when I was a child and we were going to Fromentine, which is the city where you leave from, and being too early or too late for the tide and waiting in the car for the right time to cross, because at that time the bridge didn’t exist. There are people who have been caught on the Gois and therefore you will see all along the path these refuge shelters where you can climb up and wait for the tide to recede and then go back home.
Which village to choose in Noirmoutier
Noirmoutier has a lovely set of little villages, and my recommendation is to go to the top of the island and to stay in a village called Le Vieil.
A lot of people stay at the camping areas that are at the entrance of the island, but as I said try to go to the top.
Go to Noirmoutier-en-l’Ile and then if you want something a bit more posh, Bois de la Chaize, which is a lovely wooden area with some houses which leads to a beach called La Plage des Dames which still has its old-fashioned beach huts from the 20s and 30s and there’s actually a famous French movie that was shot there.
Where to stay in Noirmoutier
I posted before about a few hotels so make sure to check the blog post below for all the details and tips. Click on the box below.
The second island, which is a bit unknown, is Ile d’Yeu. Ile d’Yeu is a proper island as in the only way to get to it is by getting on a boat or by helicopter!
A helicopter takes about 20 minutes to fly to Ile d’Yeu, but it’s obviously more expensive, or you can take a boat from Fromentine and it takes one hour. On board it can be choppy waters sometimes so if you’re prone to seasick make sure you take your medication beforehand.
A Natural Beauty
Ile d’Yeu is very protected – the coast is very rugged and wild and beautiful, and you’ve got little coves where you can go and swim. That’s one other thing to bear in mind, is that because it’s in the middle of the ocean the water can be pretty cold, but it’s part of a charm as well.
Ile d’Yeu is wonderful in the spring. As a child, we always went to Ile d’Yeu in May. I have fond memories of cycling all around the island, seeing the fields with flowers, stopping at the old castle, going for a little bit of a walk around there and having of course some nice fish in restaurants or on the port.
So, an absolutely delightful place to go to, not many people know it, and you should really try to discover it.
You can easily cycle around the island very quickly, so it can be a day trip, but really if you want to enjoy the island life and get a sense of a true charm of Ile d’Yeu, you need to stay for a week.
Where to stay in Ile d’Yeu
There are not that many hotels, so I would suggest that you rent a house. Big news though for 2022, the Domaines de Fontenille have purchased Le Caillou Blanc, a hotel with pool I had spotted before, and will re open it in April after refurbishment. It will be called “Les Hautes Mers”. They also have plans to open a spa with an indoor pool a few years later.
Ile de Ré
The third island is Ile De Ré. You may have heard of Ile De Ré already, it’s more popular, especially with Parisians, but not yet completely discovered by British people – so you could be one of the first amongst your friends!
Ile De Ré is another one of those beautiful Atlantic islands, with flat land and amazing beaches. The Atlantic beaches with soft sand and waves that you can jump in, and with little villages with small houses with white walls, blue shelters and rose tremiere which are kind of like pink flowers that you can find in all the streets of Ile De Ré.
Taking the bridge to Ile de Ré
Ile De Ré is off La Rochelle, so it’s a bit further south from Nourmoutier and Ile D’Yeu, which are in Vendée, my native region. To go to Ile De Ré you fly to La Rochelle, and then from La Rochelle it’s an easy 30-40 minutes’ drive.
My main tip to get to Ile de Ré is really to look at when you’re going to cross the bridge, because although it’s an easy ride from the airport it can be really, really busy and you can be caught in huge traffic jams, especially in the summer. Try to get there either very early in the morning, very late at night, or outside of the weekend.
There is a handy website with live webcams that can give you an idea of how busy the bridge is before setting off. If it’s packed, really stay around La Rochelle and have a walk it’s a lovely city. Staying on the bridge for 3hours is really not fun.
Where is best to stay in Ile de Re?
There are several villages that you can stay at and I would recommend that you progress a little bit further into the island, not the first ones just after the bridge, but go towards le Bois-Plage, La Flotte or Saint Martin.
Saint Martin and La Flotte
Saint Martin is the main village – it’s more of a little town really and can be more expensive but it has a lovely nightlife on the harbour where you can walk around. You’ve got shops and restaurants and you can stop for an ice cream etc so it’s really lovely.
We stayed before in La Flotte and really liked it as it does have the classic charm of the island but is slightly less busy than St Martin. And you can always easily cycle to St Martin from there. It’s also the closest to the biggest supermarket in the island, handy for your big family food shopping !
Le Bois-Plage and Ars-en-Ré
Le Bois-plage is really close to the nice family beaches and has a busy market most days of the summer. When you start going up you’ve got Ars-en-Re which is a village in the centre of the island, so a good base to explore the north of the south.
Les Portes en Ré and Loix
Further up it’s a bit more of a posh village in the sense that you have a lot of houses owned by celebrities for instance.
Loix is a little bit to the side, and an undiscovered gem, so you may want to explore that.
Book your bikes in advance
The beauty of Ile De Ré is that you can do everything by bike, so once you’ve crossed the bridge and arrive at your house or your hotel, then make sure that you have bikes. That would be my key tip when you book your hotel or your rental house – ask the hotel or the landlord whether there will be bikes provided, because if not you should really make sure that you book them in advance with rental shops.
Once you have a bike you can go everywhere. They have lots of things for little children as well – you can have little trolleys at the back, you can have giant seats, lots of options. It is the best way to really go around the island because there’s not many roads and you could be caught in traffic, especially coming back from the beach at the end of the afternoon.
Living like the French in Ile de Re
Ile De Ré is about living life like the French, the same as Ile d’Yeu and Noirmoutier. It’s about basing yourself somewhere, going to the market in the morning, buying some good food and some fresh fish, cooking that, going to the beach, in the afternoon cycling etc, it’s just really lovely.
It’s probably not the best island for nightlife for older children and young people, but again I haven’t discovered that – it might be that there are some nightclubs that are quite fun.
The best boutique hotels in Ile de Ré
There are several luxury hotels in Ile De Ré. Hotel de Toiras is the most luxurious one – which is a chateau in Saint-Martin.
The one that I would really recommend is Le Senechal in Ars-en-Re, because it has a lot of charm and I think it’s got a bit more of a sense of design – they also have a little pool inside. You can read my full review.
Here is also a previous list of hotels at different budget.
But if you really want to enjoy life there, I recommend that you rent a house. Do that really early, as in like a year before your intended dates, as it gets very popular. The best website for this is a website called https://www.ilederelocation.com
Discover those French islands in my video
I really hope that I helped you discover a new place in France and that when travel reopens you can really enjoy discovering these areas!