France’s faraway islands are the perfect destination in which to enjoy the pleasures of a family holiday, with a range of sporting and leisure activities on offer for children and adults alike, with the same supervision and strict regulations you would find on the French mainland. And for visitors keen to enjoy a restful and tranquil stay, the wonderful, often tropical nature you’ll find on these islands is without the risks you’d find in other far-off destinations.
Best time to visit: from May to November, when the island is hot, albeit with fewer flowers, but when the weather is dry and more stable.
Major attractions: this mountainous island in the Indian Ocean has very little time difference with mainland France, hence the lack of jet-lag, so children can adapt easily to being home when they get back from their holiday!
The beaches on the west coast are renowned for their crystal-clear water and an incredibly vibrant underwater world, sheltered by a small and shallow lagoon. In order to observe exotic species such as banner fish, trumpet fish and clown fish, make sure you have a snorkel and mask, are aware of local weather conditions and are accompanied by a local guide.
Also worth visiting: the aquarium in St-Gilles, the Hermitage underwater trail, and the Kelonia turtle centre in Saint-Leu. Introductory scuba dives are available for adults and children aged 6 and over. Small boats can also be rented from “Capt'ain Marmaille” in the port of Saint-Gilles, the island’s main coastal resort.
The island’s volcanic history is behind Réunion’s spectacular and renowned natural landscapes, including the three cirques of Salazie, Cilaos and Mafate. Mountain rivers and waterfalls provide plenty of opportunity for swimming and river rambling amid lush vegetation, particularly on the island’s eastern slopes, including the Niagara waterfall, Bassin Bœuf, Anse des Cascades, Bassin Bleu etc.
Some of Réunion’s mountainous landscapes have also been designated as a national park. In addition, it is well worth visiting the hugely informative museum on the slopes of the active Piton de la Fournaise: the crater can also be visited as part of a hike (it is essential that you follow the marked path), enabling you to get close to its smoking fumaroles – only when it’s not erupting, of course!
The island is also wonderful to explore on horseback, such as on a trek organised by the Centre Équestre du Maïdo, now back in the hands of its original owners.
The Akoatysaqua park and the Croc Parc crocodile park near the Etang-Salé are also worth visiting.The island is home to a wide diversity of local businesses open to the public. These include the Maison de la Vanille (in Saint-André on the east coast), where you can discover the extraordinary secrets of precious orchids; the Maison du Curcuma in Saint-Joseph, dedicated to turmeric or “false saffron”, a spice widely used in the island’s traditional curry dishes; and the Rivière du Mâtdistillery in Saint-Benoit, where you can learn all about the history of sugar cane and rum on the island.
- The recently renovated Grand Hôtel du Lagon (in Saint-Gilles) is a leading 4-star hotel with a mini-club for children aged 3-12.
- The specialist tour operator Tourinter - Passion des Iles has produced a theme-based brochure entitled “jamais sans ma tribu” (never without my family), which lists relevant hotels and tourist residences.
The islands of Guadeloupe
Best time to visit: mid-February to mid-August. During the period around Lent (the driest time of year), Guadeloupe benefits from the gentle trade winds, which blow from the east.
Major attractions: Grande-Terre and Basse-Terre are connected via an isthmus to form a “butterfly” shape when viewed from the sky. Marie-Galante, La Désirade and Les Saintes (Terre-de-Haut and Terre-de-Bas) combine to create a beautiful mosaic of idyllic tropical islands, each with their own distinct atmosphere.February is also the start of the Creole carnival season, a time of costumed parades and entertainment when locals dance to the rhythms of beguine and zouk music.
At the end of the sugar cane harvest in June, visitors can enjoy the incredible spectacle of “oxen pulling competitions”, a test of strength which sees teams of two harnessed oxen pulling a cart up a hill. This traditional festival pays homage to animals which to this day still transport carts loaded with sugar cane to local distilleries.
Guadeloupe’s national park showcases the landscapes of the Soufrière volcano, while the crystal-clear waters of the island’s protected maritime reserves are the perfect setting in which visitors of all ages can experience scuba-diving and enjoy a range of other water sports.
The Village-Résidence Pierre et Vacances in Sainte-Anne offers a wide choice of facilities and activities, including a Children’s Club.
Saison privilégiée : c'est la même période de Carême qui magnifie le climat antillais.
Atout "culturel" : une nature montagnarde exotique se révèle notamment propice à la randonnée douce, à pied ou à vélo, sur les versants des pitons Carbet, du volcan de la Montagne Pelée et autres pics (qu'on appelle des Mornes). Et les torrents à la température moins frisquette que dans nos montagnes européennes promettent aussi de nombreuses et faciles descentes de canyon (toujours avec un encadrement qualifié !).
Mais le tourisme culturel ouvre ses portes aussi pour les enfants
Plusieurs forts rappellent que l'île fut convoitée par les marines anglaise ou hollandaise et autres corsaires. Et le fameux rocher du Diamant, îlot de roche volcanique de 175 m de haut, incrusté dans une jolie baie servait de base audacieuse pour d'âpres batailles navales au XVIII ème siècle.
Mais ce sont la saga coloniale et les affres de l'esclavagisme, le patrimoine créole et le rôle essentiel de la canne à sucre qui se racontent au fil des paysages et des lieux historiques. Sans oublier qu'à l'époque pré-colombienne, les îles antillaises étaient en fait peuplées par les amérindiens Caraïbes.
La légende veut que les chefs de tribus vaincus par les premiers conquistadors se jetèrent dans le vide du haut d'une falaise, dite "tombeau des Caraïbes", près de Saint-Pierre (on y voit encore des roches gravées).
Il faut aussi se souvenir du drame de 1902, où l'éruption de la Montagne Pelée détruisit la ville de Saint-Pierre et fit 26 000 victimes. La chronique retient seulement trois survivants, dont un prisonnier protégé par son solide cachot !
Les ruines du château Dubuc, au coeur de la presqu'île et réserve naturelle de la Caravelle, près de Trinité, évoquent l'époque du sordide commerce "triangulaire" entre les Antilles, l'Europe et l'Afrique : esclaves contre marchandises.
Pour sa part, le moulin à canne, tenu par la famille Jouan, au Morne Bois (près de Lorrain), reste le dernier du genre sur l'île. On y fabrique encore artisanalement le sirop de batterie. Le Quartier La Ferme, dans les champs de Trois-Ilets, raconte la Martinique d’antan : des cases (habitations traditionnelles) "comme en 1900" sont présentées dans un parc de 2 hectares. Une mare fait admirer également ses nombreuses fleurs tropicales : bec de perroquet, rose de porcelaine, halpinia, etc. Quant aux jardins, cultivés dans la tradition, au naturel, ils présentent les fruits et légumes locaux (igname, patate douce, manioc, piment, goyave, banane) et des plantes médicinales. Même démarche au Quartier de Morne Carrière (entre Vauclin et Le François), reconstituant la Martinique d'autrefois, avec ses “cases paysannes”, son moulin à manioc et son arborétum.
Le village-résidence Pierre et Vacances de Sainte-Lucedispose de son Club-Enfants, mais profite aussi (comme celui de Guadeloupe) d'une offre promotionnelle, en partenariat avec la compagnie aérienne Corsairfly : 50% de réduction sur les billets enfants et franchise "bagage" étendue à 40 kg par personne !
Saint-Martin, a very different family destination in the Caribbean
Away from the idyllic beaches and the elegance of the villas in the “capital”, Marigot, younger visitors can enjoy a whole host of fun places and activities, such as the Ferme aux Papillons (Butterfly Farm) and the adventure park and tree-top trails at Lottery Farm.
Best time to visit: from July to March, when it is less wet.
Major attractions: the striking contrasts between the “high-tech” Kourou space centre and its dramatic surrounding landscapes. The Amazon forest can be easily explored here, navigating along rivers and overnighting in typical “carbets” (tented camps or huts). Here, the jungle is a fascinating world where visitors can benefit from an eco-tourism experience which is safe, enjoyable and far from arduous! As for bugs and creepy crawlies, spiders and snakes keep their distance, and mosquitoes are much less troublesome than you would think (although you’ll need to take the necessary precautions in the evening).
Nowadays, the forest also benefits from the double protection provided by a national park and a regional nature park. Guiana’s coastline is also home to several important sights of great interest.An example of a “forest adventure and coastal discovery” package: enjoy a 2-3 day stay in the forest on the banks of the Kourou, Approuague or Inini rivers.
Hsaving travelled to the area by road or air, you’ll then board a dugout canoe to get to your “hotel beneath the stars” deep in the heart of the forest, where you can choose between sleeping in a bed or a hammock! Your itinerary will include walks along a botanical path, a lesson in using a bow and arrow and even some swimming! Returning via the coast, you’ll then explore the Îles du Salut (infamous as the site of a former penal colony), a giant turtle reserve and the incredible show provided by flocks of flame-red ibis as they fly across the marshland close to the nearby Sinnamary river.
This recently opened zoo spread across 65 hectares is home to around 70 endemic species of animals living in their natural habitat, where adults and children alike will delight in observing 450 animals, from the tiny Tamarin monkey to the impressively-sized tapir.
Floating eco-lodge, in the heart of the Kaw swampland
A typical “carbet” (wooden hut) built on a large boat enables visitors to stay in the middle of this beautiful nature reserve surrounded by lakes and rainforest – an “authentic” experience but one which is both completely safe and offers all the necessary creature comforts. A unique and respectful introduction to the nature of the Amazon which can be enjoyed by all the family.
There’s much more to New Caledonia than the delightful Grande Terre, with its scenic contrasts from north to south. Why not visit the Île des Pins, off the coast of Nouméa, or the Loyalty Islands (Ouvéa, Mahé, Lifou), all of which showcase the myriad attractions of this faraway destination.
Best time to visit: April to December, when you’ll enjoy the best of the sunshine.
Major attractions: its pristine nature, including the world’s second largest lagoon (formed by 1,600km of coral reef), which is also a UNESCO World Heritage Site. This rich reservoir of coral is a key component in the life of the ocean but is nowadays in a very fragile state. Around the main and outlying islands, sailing and scuba-diving (both of which are strictly regulated) enable visitors to get close up to these natural treasures, while respecting their scenic beauty. Safe and unspoilt mooring sites are perfect for experiencing eco-tourism on the water with all the family.
New Caledonia is renowned as a paradise for scuba-diving and snorkelling... both of which are suitable activities for children. A mask and snorkel are all you’ll need to swim on the surface, from where you can observe some of the 2,000 species of fish, including those that shelter in the reef, sometimes no more than 2m from the surface. Several “underwater trails” are also available in some areas, as you travel from one cove to the next.
Best time to visit: from mid-April to mid-October, when the gentle trade winds blow here.
Major attractions : experience the “magic of the Pacific”, ranging from the “windward” isles (such as Moorea and Tahiti) to the “leeward” isles (such as Bora Bora); from lofty islands (impressive volcanic landscapes covered with forest) such as Tahaa to atolls (old craters rising just above the ocean) such as Manuae; and from the Society Islands archipelago to the Tuamotu archipelago. French Polynesia is home to myriad islands each with their own idyllic atmosphere, and with a total surface area similar to Europe in the middle of the Pacific!
None of these destinations are the exclusive preserve of “honeymooners” – children will also be in their element here, with a range of water sports providing a pretext to discover the incredible diversity of Polynesia’s marine landscapes.
Hôtel Les Tipaniers, on the island of Moorea.An alternative to the island’s luxury hotels, this friendly property right on the beach is the perfect place for a sports-focused family holiday on Moorea, the closest island to Tahiti and one of the most popular in Polynesia.
- France’s overseas destinations are particularly safe and do not present any major health risks for visitors – they are malaria-free, do not require any specific vaccinations (with the exception of Guiana, where a yellow fever vaccination is compulsory), and any poisonous species here are very timid (there are none at all on Réunion). In addition, the prevalence of diseases such as dengue fever and chikengunya, carried by some types of mosquito, is very limited thanks to effective precautionary measures.
- Levels of comfort and standards of hygiene in hotels and club resorts are the same as those in mainland France (tap water is drinkable, for example).
- In terms of climate, the best time of year to visit is when the heat is tempered by sea breezes and when there is less rainfall! In summary, all the delights of an exotic destination without any of the hassles!Author: Philippe Bardiau
Author : Philippe Bardiau