by Catherine Cooper, The Telegraph, March 19, 2018
Telegraph Travel’s expat mother Catherine Cooper gives an insider's guide to where British parents ought to be taking their children for a real French holiday.
1. Collioure, Languedoc-Roussillon
On the Côte Vermeille, the less glitzy stretch of Med coastline just above the Spanish border which is a charming alternative to the Côte d’Azur, Collioure is a pretty little town of winding streets lined with art galleries, quirky boutiques, a castle, plus shingly beaches and dozens of seafood restaurants.
Head 20 minutes south to Banyuls for a small beach with loungers and pedalos, or to the huge sandy beaches of Canet in the opposite direction. An hour north along the coast at Leucate you can enjoy oysters at simple huts straight from the trawlers, and there’s a €1 bus which goes up and down the coast if you don’t want to drive.
Pierre & Vacances (pierreetvacances.co.uk) offers seven nights at Les Balcons de Collioure from £680 for a family of four travelling Aug 25, accommodation only. Fly to Perpignan.
2. Noirmoutier, Vendée
Famous for its salt marshes and home to beautiful sandy beaches, Noirmoutier is a tranquil island off the Atlantic coast of the Vendée.
Just 12 miles long, the island has 25 miles of sandy beaches – some offer huge expanses of sand, others are little sheltered creeks, and there are plenty where you and your children can join French families collecting live crabs and winkles which wash in with the tide.
On arrival or departure, be sure to fit in a day trip to the spectacular historical theme park Puy du Fou, just over 100 km inland.
Maeva (maeva.com) offers seven nights self-catering in houses for up to six people from around £650 to £1,050, departing July 7. easyJet flies to Nantes, or take Brittany Ferries from Portsmouth to St Malo.
3. St-Jean-de-Luz, Pyrénées-Atlantiques
An Atlantic fishing village right above the Spanish border, St-Jean-de-Luz has traditional half-timbered houses and is a calmer alternative to Biarritz, which sits 20 km north. Its sandy Grande Plage is protected by three sea walls and lifeguards - ideal for younger families - while there are also several wilder (but also supervised) beaches suitable for surfing, sailing, stand-up paddle boarding and jet-skiing for teens.
Head to the daily morning market to buy your supplies for a beach picnic and enjoy some pinxtos (a kind of Basque tapas), or try one of the many excellent seafood restaurants. There are plenty of traffic-free cycle routes in the area as well as golf courses.
If you plan on bringing a crowd, Alternative Aquitaine (alternative-aquitaine.co.uk) offers seven nights at the contemporary Villa Akotz, with pool and sea views, for £1,309 per person per week in August, based on 12 sharing. Fly to Biarritz.
4. Le Grau-du-Roi, Languedoc-Roussillon
On the edge of Languedoc and Petit Camargue, Grau-du-Roi offers miles of natural, sandy beaches and a traditional fishing village. It’s been a popular destination for French holidaymakers since the mid-20th century and yet is still fairly unknown to the British, despite its proximity to popular cities such as Nimes and Montpellier.
The 11-mile long Espiguette Beach starts at the glitzy modern Port Camargue and is one of the wildest beaches in France, backed by dunes and almost entirely unspoilt and uncrowded once you leave town. On the beaches closer to town, you’ll find lifeguards, loungers, boat hire, and plenty of cafés and restaurants.
HomeAway (homeaway.co.uk) has several properties in the area including a self-catering five-bedroom contemporary villa with pool for £3,592 for seven nights arriving August 18. Sleeps 12. Fly to Montpellier.
5. Montchavin La Plagne, Auvergne-Rhône-Alpes
For the French, the mountains aren’t just for winter. Summer in the alps offers a more relaxed pace than in the winter, with plenty going on for kids of all ages and reasonably-priced accommodation.
Montchavin La Plagne, a two-hour drive south-east of Geneva, is based around a real Alpine farming village, with a supervised swimming lake just a few minutes’ drive down the hill.
People from age five can attend a circus school, chair lifts are open for mountain biking and hiking; you can also hire electric mountain bikes. There’s white-water rafting and paragliding – and this year a stage of the Tour de France starts just down in the valley.
Chalet Le Vanoise (snowplacelikehome.co.uk) with hot tub, sauna and kids’ playroom costs from £1600 for one week’s self-catering in July and August. Sleeps 20. Fly to Geneva, Lyon or Chambery with easyJet.