île de Ré, always in season!
Île de Ré is France’s favourite holiday island – a 30km-long flat strip of land with photogenic villages, old ports and sandy beaches – is small enough to cycle round, or to explore on horseback. Long the holiday haven of affluent Parisiens, this dreamy, golden hued island can be found a half-hour drive from La Rochelle. Perfect if you’re looking to rediscover life’s simple pleasures.
CYCLING The island has been cunningly criss-crossed with cycling paths and most of the roads are quiet. Hire bikes and glide between the harbours and beaches, past vineyards and old forts, ruined abbeys, and down lanes toppling with roses, honeysuckle and bright hollyhocks.
There are several bike rental outlets in Saint Martin, all with similar prices. Get a cycle map from the tourist information centre in Saint Martin and pedal out through the fortifications towards Le Bois Plage on the south coast, a cheerful little town with a lively atmosphere and the best all-purpose beach on the island.
Wander through Le Bois Plage’s vast morning market, with stalls selling everything from beach bags and espadrilles to cooking pots and china. There’s also a superb indoor food market.
Cycle down to the beach at Plage des Gollandières. Set up camp here for a couple of hours, or, if you don’t like sand in your baguette, have lunch at l’Océan, a stylish hotel in Le Bois Plage, with a good fish restaurant.
Follow cycle paths among salt pans, fields and marshes towards Loix and the north coast. For holiday cyclists, it’s a long haul to Loix itself, so turn right when you reach the north coast, and follow the coast, past oyster beds and salt marshes, back to Saint Martin.
SWIMMING The island has beautiful sandy beaches, with super-calm, super-blue water. Visit La Flotte, on the south-east coast and Conche des Baleines, on the north-west coast.
WALKING To the east of the harbour at Saint Martin, you can walk along the almost perfectly preserved fortifications, redesigned by Vauban in the late 17th century, to the citadel, long used as a prison.
There is also fishing, horseriding, sailing, kitesurfing, boat trips, and there are two golf courses on the island.
MARKETS An authentic atmosphere not to be missed! Of course, the market is the place to do your shopping, but also to stroll around the coloured stalls, to meet people, and to have a drink in one of the cafés. You can buy local oysters and other shellfish, fish, salt, wines, fruit and vegetables, clothes, jewellery, homewares, beach items… it is possible to find real bargains here. The food market at La Flotte (off Rue de la Marché) is perhaps the best on the island. Buy tarts, fruit, cheese and pâté, plus bread from the excellent bakery.
Eating and drinking
Seafood and fish are local specialities. Each year, on Île de Ré, oyster-farmers produce between 6,000 and 8,000 tons of oysters. For the peckish there’s: crêpes, pizzas, mussels and chips… and those who have a sweet tooth, will enjoy eating an ice-cream at any time of the day, stop at La Martinière on the quay at Saint Martin – then stroll around Saint Martin’s shops. You’ll find any amount of French seaside chic: antiques, homeware, paintings, as well as clothes ranging from hippy muslin to Max Mara.
Our favourite restaurants on Saint Martin are Le Bistrot du Marin for its laid back, charming atmosphere and sensational côte de bœuf. Head to Tout du Cru for simple, delicious seafood, Cote Jardin for fantastic service and a diverse menu that always surprises and Les Embruns for pricey but totally-worth-it seafood.
ÎLE DE RÉ WINES A perfect accompaniment to your holiday. The 650-ha vines were mainly planted in the south of the island, and now produce some 2 million bottles per year. Half of this surface area consists of black and white grape varieties – merlot, cabernet franc, cabernet sauvignon, négrette, chardonnay, sauvignon – and the other half consists of Ugni Blanc, a particular grape variety for Cognac production.