Few regions match the unspoiled natural beauty and architectural splendor of France’s mid-Atlantic coast. From the nonchalant glamour of Ile de Ré, where fashionable Parisians retreat to white-washed holiday cottages along sandy beaches, pristine salt marshes, and picturesque ports – to the elegant neo-classical harbor of La Rochelle, France’s historic “Gateway to the West” and Rochefort - where Louis XIV established his magnificent naval capital. We will sample the freshest seafood, regional cuisine, and wine at top-rated bistros and discover fabulous markets, chic boutiques, and exceptional artisans.
Here's a day-by-day itinerary of the trip
Fly to Paris (we can help you organize a few days in the City of Light before or after the trip) and take the TGV train from Gare Montparnasse to La Rochelle. We can help with arrangements. It’s a beautiful 3-hour train ride through the French countryside. We’ll meet you at the train station and head off on the scenic ride across the iconic 3km bridge connecting the mainland to Île de Ré. We’ll begin our 3-day immersion in sun, sea, and sand with lunch on the beach at Le Cible.
After lunch, we’ll settle in at La Baronnie Hotel and Spa, our privileged oasis in the heart of St Martin, Ré’s capital … before an afternoon tour of key St Martin monuments, including Vauban’s UNESCO World Heritage Citadel and the church bell tower with a panoramic view of the island. We’ll stroll back to the hotel along the quay, stopping at an insider selection of boutiques.
The hotel’s elegant bar is our RDV point for a welcome drink before dinner in town.
After an al fresco breakfast in the hotel garden, we visit the lively market in La Flotte. After exploring the market we will stop for lunch at Les Pieds dans l'Eau.
After lunch, you'll have free time to shop and explore the chic boutiques. We will stop for a treat at la Martinière for arguably the best ice cream cone outside of Paris. Anyone for caramel fleur de sel?
Early evening we'll embark on a catamaran excursion along the coast. Our captain will share his knowledge of the island and stop at one of the finest beaches for a refreshing swim before docking in Saint Martin.
Dinner tonight is at Neo Bistrot le Serghi.
We begin our last day on the island in Ars, another “Plus Beaux Village,” where galleries, cafes, and whimsical boutiques beckon along its charming, cobbled streets. Our tour begins at St. Etienne’s church with its Romanesque portal and graphic, black-tipped steeple that serves as a beacon to mariners.
Flat topography, beautiful scenery, and 150 km of bike trails make cycling the ideal way to travel around the island. We’ll set off on electric bikes for the “Marais salants. We will e-bike through the salt marshes with a stop at a saunier production site. Casey will explain to us the history of the marshes and the production process. Afterwards we will bike to our fun restaurant destination La Cabane L'huitre du Saunier. It's a converted oysterman’s cabin overlooking the beds.
After lunch we will continue on with our e-bike advendure. The return trail takes us through a pristine nature preserve, home to 230 wildlife species. (We'll drive those who prefer not to cycle to the various destinations.)
Early evening we will enjoy a tasting of wine and pineau de Charante at the impressive new wine cooperative and distillerie.
Dinner is on your own tonight. We'll provide a range of recommendations for a memorable meal.
Message or spa treatments
We return to historic La Rochelle, the splendid port that has inspired more French painters than any other – most famously Corot and Signac. Our visit includes 3 iconic towers guarding the harbor – one of which is France’s oldest lighthouse, a Cathedral dedicated to French monarch St. Louis, and the neoclassical town center with mansions built by merchants enriched through early international trade.
Lunch is at Yole de Chris, overlooking the waterfront, the bistro of La Rochelle’s 3-star Michelin chef. After lunch we will tour the New World Museum following a visit to the Crillos Artisan Chocolatier.
Back at the historic port, we will check into Maison des Ambassadeurs where we'll spend the next three nights.
Dinner is at the bistronomic restaurant, featuring fresh local-sourced ingredients.
Market day in La Rochelle is not to be missed. We will start the day marveling at the tempting produce displayed in the bustling food hall and surrounding street market stalls. Next, we will drive inland across the graceful Charentais countryside to the magnificent Chateau and Gardens of La Roche Courbon. A medieval fortress after the 100 Years' War in the 17th Century, the building was converted into a pleasure palace surrounded by formal French gardens. It was neglected from the 19th century until the current owner's grandfather started a restoration campaign. The splendid gardens have been acknowledged with the "Remarkable Garden" award.
Our next destination is the historic town of Rochefort, where the Sun King and his minister Colbert established the national arsenal in 1666. We will stop for lunch at The Marydiane, whose menu features regional specialties made with seasonal produce from the finest local suppliers.
Our afternoon visit is to the Begonia d’Or atelier, whose director is France’s only Maître d’art of golden embroidery. The artisans create custom pieces for top Parisian couture, luxury accessory, and interior design brands, restore period furnishings and clothing, transmit their knowledge through workshops, and design their own embroidered items sold in the boutique. Rochefort’s legacy of gold embroidery traces back to the embellishment of military uniforms.
Before returning to La Rochelle, we'll stroll through the park and garden that leads to the old naval port on the Charente River, where the famous frigate Hermione is docked next to the former Corderie Royale.
Dinner in La Rochelle is at the cozy Bistro, La Kase.
Sunday morning, when the streets are quiet, is the ideal time for our private walking tour. A local guide will share insider knowledge of the town's rich history as a launching point for global exploration, a Protestant stronghold, and a prosperous commercial hub through the centuries.
Lunch today is on your own, followed by a free afternoon to explore, shop, and relax.
We'll reconvene for a celebratory farewell dinner at the chic eatery Les Flots to savor shared memories and new friendships!
Following breakfast, our drivers will return us to the TGV station in Rochelle (35-minute drive) to catch a return train to Paris.
This trip is being led by one of our favorite guides, Casey O’Brien Blondes –Casey is a trip leader extraordinaire. She leads not only our trips to the Loire Valley (her home) but also to Normandy & Brittany, Paris, Ile de Re and destinations abroad, like Morocco and Crete. She left New York for Paris in 1988 intending to stay a year and has yet to move back. Now a dual national, Casey lives between the Loire Valley and Paris. She knows the history and vibrant culture of France intimately. You're going to love spending time with her!
Take me to the ocean
The Atlantic coast is largely made up of long sandy beaches. Coastal towns and villages, such as La Rochelle, Les Sables d'Olonne, and Rochefort, have spread along the shoreline, but in many parts, the beaches are backed by a band of pine forests and can be remarkably uncrowded even in summer.
Everything stated in itinerary above including all meals (except where otherwise noted) plus beer or wine with dinner
Beautiful, unique hotel stays
An english-speaking trip host and facilitator
Museum or other entry fees
All transport after arrival in Rochelle
Roundtrip airfare to France, and TGV train to/from Rochelle
Additional wine, beer, or spirits beyond what is offered at dinner or included in an activity
All personal souvenir purchases
Travel and Medical Insurance (required)
Fly into Charles De Gaulle airport in Paris.
The trip officially starts on the morning of September 19th, but if you are traveling across an ocean to get to Paris, consider arriving a day early so you have time to relax and adjust to the local time zone. If you do decide to arrive early, please let us know and we will take care of booking your room to ensure that you stay in the same room as you are in at the start of the trip.
We will have a zoom call about 6 weeks before the trip starts to discuss all that information and give you a packing list. Here is a great website that we love that will help you with packing and travel trips.
In September the temperatures are generally very high with maximum daytime temperatures around 89F and minimum nighttime temperatures of 77F.
This trip is being led by one of our favorite guides, Casey O’Brien Blondes – a Loire Valley resident, where she and her artist husband raised their children. Author of two books on France by Rizzoli, tour planner and guide, plus writing coach and editor – Casey is passionate about French history and knows the region intimately.