Noreen Barr was a guest of Siblu’s four-star Le Bois Dormant holiday village in the Vendee. A seven-night stay from May 28, 2016 starts from £476, for up to six people sharing a two-bedroom holiday home with terrace. To book and for late deals this summer, go to www.siblu.com or call 0871 911 2288.
My son, Max, loves cycling and my little girl, Eve, has enviously pointed out other toddlers perched on the back of their parents’ bikes.
“We’re all going on a cycling holiday,” I announce to two delighted squeals of glee. “In France,” I add brightly, at which Max’s grin instantly freezes and vanishes.
A few weeks later, we are whizzing along a shady forest path in Saint-Jean-de-Monts. Max’s legs are a spinning blur as he forges ahead, randomly deciding the route and doing his best to get us all excitingly lost.
Enthroned on the back of her dad’s bike, Eve is giggling happily and urging him to go, “Faster, faster!”
Saint-Jean-de-Monts is in the almost flat region of the Vendee. There are no cars to fear because the coastal town has 26 glorious kilometres of safe, designated cycle paths.
Suddenly I remember what it felt like to be 11-years-old, growing up in remote countryside, cycling free. And I feel overjoyed that my urban children can experience that fun too.
When we reach the esplanade, we pop our bikes into a handily placed rack beside a children’s climbing zone. Over the grassy sand dunes, we catch our first glimpse of the beach, a great swathe of fine, golden sand, eight kilometres long. To our right, a long wooden pier stretches prettily out into the sea.
The beach slopes gently here and the Atlantic Ocean is inviting and shallow-edged. Eve and Max tear off towards the water, screaming like seagulls.
Later, with Eve’s sea-drenched clothes and sodden shoes stuffed inside my bicycle basket, we peddle further along the esplanade’s clearly marked cycleway.
We cover miles but have no chance of reaching the path’s end. Theoretically, we could continue 33km north to Noirmoutier, a long island with marshes and saltpans, quaint villages that seem left behind in time and sandy beaches, now linked to the mainland by a bridge.
Or if we were a mega-fit family, we could keep going south 46km, all the way to another seaside town, Les Sables-d’Olonne.
Instead, we stop off at a seafront cafe and a giant inflatable obstacle course that delights both children, before finally turning for home.
That night, my leg muscles ping pleasantly as Mark and I sip some well-earned red wine on the terrace outside our comfortable mobile home at the Siblu holiday parc Le Bois Dormant.
The parc, on the edge of Saint-Jean-de-Monts, is peaceful and spacious. Max can cycle off alone to check out the table tennis and make new friends, buy snacks at the cafe or just zoom around.
The heated outdoor pool gets the thumbs up too, as it has a water slide scary and speedy enough for Max and a fun chute in the toddler pool that’s just right for his thrill-seeking little sister.
Soon we discover another favourite activity. Cycling through the woods in another direction, we reach the local market in the town square. There, we fill our bicycle baskets to overflowing with fruit and veg, olives, baguettes and - on a whim - fresh cockles from the amazing fish stalls.
Back in our well-equipped kitchen, I cook up the cockles with garlic and a dash of white wine and serve them up in a giant bowl with pasta. Miraculously, both kids love them. France, Max is starting to agree, isn’t too bad after all.