Something magical happens when we leave the mainland for an island. There’s a transformation in our surroundings and ourselves. Living is simpler, focused on the essential.
Nature commands our attention as our senses are sharpened by the sea breeze, rhythmic mantra of the waves, sand massaging our feet, and the harmony of an infinite horizon, where sea meets sky.
Enchanting Ile de Ré, the pearl of France’s Atlantic coast, embodies casual elegance. Happily, refined Gallic simplicity leaves nothing to chance!
After all, Ré is a summer retreat for chic Parisians, who came for its natural beauty and stayed for the allure of the picturesque villages and elegant ports brimming with cafés, bistros, and boutiques. Add to that a gastronomic bounty of regional produce - from prized terroir potatoes, flaky fleur-de-sel and oysters - to refreshing wines and cognac-laced Pineau des Charentes aperitif.
My 10 Ré Coups de Coeur
1. Protected Beaches
All 10 villages have lovely beaches. The most beautiful along the south and west coasts are edged by dunes or woods. No long access trails or glitzy beach clubs pumping party music!
Bicycles are the means of getting around. Ideal for exploring the sparkling salt marshes and nature reserve or peddling to an outdoor morning market. 150km of dedicated bike paths, a flat landscape, and rental shops in every village make it easy.
3. Plus Beaux Villages
Of the 168 villages classed “most beautiful” in France, just 4 are coastal. Two – La Flotte and Ars-en-Ré – are located on Ile de Ré. Their charm is characterized by cobbled streets of white-washed cottages fronted with sage green shutters and a riot of hollyhocks.
4. Outdoor Markets
My favorites in La Flotte, Ars, Les Portes & Couarde. It’s where the village convenes to shop, converse, and pause before lunch for a café or” petit ballon” de vin. The vibrant displays of regional produce, fresh fish, charcuterie, gourmet tapenade, olives, spices, flowers, home goods, and clothing are hard to resist.
The island’s cultural hub is a gracious port ringed with, cafes, restaurants, and chic boutiques. The grandeur of its monuments and stone townhouses testify to a golden age in the late 17th C when Louis XIV’s brilliant engineer Vauban built fortifications large enough to shelter the population. Today they are classed Unesco World Heritage site.
6. Fresh Oysters
Relax at an oyster shack where local producers serve their briny delicacy along with other seafood options. Savor a sunset view over the salt marshes, sipping a chilled local sauvignon.
7. Marais Salants
Salt put Ré on the map when medieval monks drained the marshy land to cultivate precious “white gold”. 70 Sauniers perpetuate traditional artisanal methods. Their inventive range of gourmet salt, condiments, and sweets are sold at the Cooperative in Ars.
8. Artisanal Ice Cream
After a vigorous swim, I’m ready for a reward. La Matinière in the port of St Martin serves the best crème glacée outside Paris. Dreaming of caramel fleur de sel…who doesn’t love ice cream.
9. Domaine Arica Vineyard
How many vineyards are planted overlooking a gorgeous beach? Passionate winegrowers Marine and Simon produce a range of 4 whites, 1 rose and 1 red that sell out as fast as they are bottled. Recommend the informative scheduled tasting.
10. La Rochelle
This stately port is the gateway to Ile de Ré. Since 1988, a streamlined 3km bridge connects them. Coming or going, La Rochelle merits a day to explore the former Protestant stronghold and departure point for colonial exploration, whose beauty inspired painters Corot and Signac. Gorgeous neo-classical architecture, fascinating museums, and the country’s oldest lighthouse are among the highlights.
Note: Casey Obrien Blondes is one of the most knowledgeabe guides we have. She has lived in France for decades and is excited to show you her secret island paradise. She leads our trip to Ile de Ré and La Rochelle in September.