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Île de Ré: What to see and do. Fine sandy beaches, charming ports, oyster farms and beautiful cycle routes
December 4, 2015 | By: High50
il de re tourismWhy go

When you arrive in Île de Ré from the broad sweep of a road bridge from the French mainland and La Rochelle, you know you’re somewhere special. A crescent of land arches away from you, broaching into the Atlantic and hugging the west coast of France. On the ocean side of the crescent are long sandy beaches backed by sand dunes, in the lee between island and mainland are fertile oyster farms and salt plains, providing a bounty for delicious local cuisine.

It’s an island of low-key and oh-so-chic tranquility, adored by the many Parisians who flock here at the peak of summer to ride horses along the beaches, pedal bikes along the miles of gentle cycle paths and linger over long lunches at the pretty harbour-side villages.

But it’s also ideal for families looking for a simple holiday, couples wanting a romantic getaway and foodies looking to taste some of the freshest ingredients France has to offer.

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What to do
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Watching the boats go by in tranquil Île de Ré

Do as the locals do and get on a bike. At just over 18 miles long, and very flat, it’s feasible to cycle the whole island in a day. But don’t overdo it – plan your route to take in a morning market, stop by the beach, meander through the salt plains and finish in a waterfront brasserie for sundowners.

Where to stay

St Martin de Ré is the island’s capital and a good base from which to explore the rest of the island. And Hotel de Toiras, an indulgent five-star Relais & Chateaux grande dame is one of the finest hotels going. For something more laidback and in keeping with the saltiness of the island, L’Ocean Hotel in Le Bois Plage is a haven of serenity among an olive tree-filled garden, just 500m from the beach.

Where to eat

Seafood is fresh and in abundance throughout the island, and there are a great number of bustling waterfront restaurants in the harbours and ports.

La Baleine Bleue is one of the islands most glamorous spots, located in St Martin de Ré it offers a good-value set lunch menu starting from €28, while Les Tilleuls, in St Marie de Ré is stylish but with a reassuringly classic menu.

And of course, for something a lot more rustic, drop by one of the many oyster farms – Cabanajam is a particularly charming oyster shack-cum-restaurant.

Getting around

If you’re arriving in La Rochelle by plane or train, we wouldn’t bother hiring a car. Regular public buses head to the island, and in a taxi it’s about 20 minutes over the road bridge to St Martin de Ré. Once on the island, hire a bike and use the 62 miles of cycle paths to explore.

When to go

Along with the Cote d’Azur, Île de Ré lays claim to being one of France’s sunniest regions, and the locals profess it benefits from its own micro-climate of warmth and sun. June through to the end of September are good picks. Very little rain falls on the island because it is so low-lying, and even in winter, temperatures rarely fall much below 7ºC.

Three things we like
The port Saint-Martin de Re Saint-martin tourism office

The port of Saint-Martin de Ré

  1. The entire town of St Martin de Ré is a UNESCO World Heritage Site.
  2. Bicycles are the easiest way to get around, and everyone and everything seems calmer and happier for it.
  3. Browsing the island’s many art galleries and studios for captivating paintings and sculptures.

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Something we don’t like

It’s hard to find fault but it can get a bit busy in July and August. Really, that’s about as bad as it gets.

Don’t miss
il de re flickr Guillaume Gautreau

Walk up the Phare des Baleines, Île de Ré’s tallest lighthouse

Taking a climb up to the top of the Phare des Baleines, the island’s tallest lighthouse. The views stretch out to sea and down the length of the whole island.

Eating oysters as fresh as they come. Head to one of the many shacks on the east coast of the island – La Retaise near La Courade is a particularly good choice.

One of the three thalassotherapy centres on the island offering a variety of treatments created from seaweed, seawater and marine muds and designed to improve the complexion.

High50 insider tips
il de re tourism

Relax on one of the sandy beaches

  • If you want a change from travelling on two wheels, head out for a horse ride along the beaches.
  • After buying a picnic lunch of local delicacies fit for a king from the daily markets, cycle to Plage des Prises near Couarde and bag one of the picnic tables on top of the dunes for lunch with a view.
  • Often overlooked for its more exotic cousins, the humble potato is highly sought-after on Île de Ré, especially the new spring potatoes with their sweet delicate flavour.
Travelling with family?

Île de Ré has a certain innocence to it and suits families brilliantly. The cycle paths are largely segregated from roads (there’s not much traffic anyway) and the beaches, especially those to the south of the island, are sandy and shallow.

Need to know
  • Flying time from London to La Rochelle is 1hr 30mins
  • From the airport, it’s a 20-30 minute taxi ride to the island, or public buses go every hour.
  • Two-pin European plugs are standard
  • It’s GMT + 1 (+2 in summer)
  • Currency is the euro