Escape the glitz and glam of the French side and retreat to the charming, unostentatious Ile de Ré- A Short Travel Guide
If you’ve had enough of the glitz and glam of ‘La Vie Parisienne’ then Ile de Ré might be your rescue plan, well only if you decide to visit during the low season which is around September. Though during the peak seasons (July-August) hordes of jaded city-dwellers embark on this bucolic-chic island (connected by the iconic 3 km/1.9 miles bridge to the mainland) to find their slice of paradise around France’s Atlantic Coast. What was once a population of about 20,000 people in winter climbs up to about 250,000 people in just a matter of time in summer!
There are many reasons why these out-of-towners come here for their vacation. As you cross the arched bridge the scene changes to a picturesque setting, think of the azure ocean, orange terracotta rooftops, stucco houses, and seagulls whirling across the wide sky. The atmosphere is pretty laid-back, where locals know how to enjoy the simple kind of lifestyle. Here people prefer bicycles over Ferrari and chic Breton sailor top over a Gucci. There’s no room for garish glamour but just the chilled-out island vibe, where vacationers come for the authentic experience, to connect with the culture, and of course, the place as a whole.
Stretched about 30 km/19 miles long and 5 km/3 miles wide, Ile de Ré is made up of 10 communes consisting of (from East to West): Rivedoux-Plage, La Flotte, Sainte-Marie-de-Ré, Saint-Martin-de-Ré, Le Bois-Plage-en-Ré, La Couarde-sur-Mer, Loix, Ars-en-Ré, Saint-Clément-des-Baleines, and Les Portes-en-Ré.
Saint-Martin de Ré- Epicenter of ile de Ré
The oh-so-chic Saint-Martin is the epicenter of the island where you’ll likely find people strolling around the cobblestone streets fringed by boutiques, cafes, bistros, art galleries, and vivid green-shuttered houses on one side and the quaint-looking port on the other. You can instantly understand why this 17th-century harbor town designed by Vauban became part of the UNESCO World Heritage Site in 2008. And when the sun beats down, the streets and leafy squares get back to their peaceful nature. Relaxing moment is thoroughly enjoyed with a hot coffee or a delicious ice cream (the island’s specialty with over 50 flavors available!) at the port while the soothing sea breezes whip on your face.
But the main hallmarks of the capital are Le Clocher Observatoire clock tower dating around 1890 (where you’ll get a 360-degree view over the town), and the Ernest Cognacq Museum featuring some of the rare artifacts, including paintings and a sculpture garden. And don’t be surprised if you encounter donkeys dressed in trousers, which form part of their culture (besides the fact that they wore them for protection against parasites).
The local cuisine of Ile de Ré
Holidaying in Ile de Ré means feasting on an eclectic range of fresh seafood such as oysters, fish, King prawns, and clams. There are various restaurants (from rusting to elegant setting and some have Michelin stars too!) that serve locally produced Cognac wines that can be paired with succulent oysters. No wonder you would always find fresh produce around this place since the inhabitants are active producers of honey, small potatoes, asparagus, tomatoes, salt, and cheese, just to mention a few.
One of the best restaurants in terms of its ambiance and food is La Baleine Bleue decked out with white and blue terrace, and rustic-chic tables overlooking the harbor. You can expect the classic French cuisine with of course many seafood options. It’s a pleasant hang spot for dinner, wines, and dance…And if you are looking for steak-fries and oysters then Le Bistrot du Marin is another restaurant which serves delicious grand-mother’s recipes-no doubt it is so popular among the locals.
What to do in Ile de Ré? Short Travel Guide
Coastal Tour around Ile de Ré
It is pretty easy to spend time on this island where there is so much to explore around. One of the best ways is to take a coastal tour by a bicycle, where you’ll get to see ancient ruins from the Second World War, the quirky markets, rustic landscapes, oysters farms, salt marshes, and not to mention the famous ‘Le Phare de Baleines’ (the lofty red and white lighthouse where you can bask in the incredible view of the Atlantic Ocean).
Unspoiled beaches of Ile de Ré
If you’re a kitesurf or windsurf enthusiast, then Rivedoux is definitely the place to be. While Sainte-Marie and Saint-Clément beaches are for those looking for some intimate and quiet setting. Though, the popular beach is La Conche des Baleines, where it stretches from Phare des Baleines lighthouse to Les Portes village. Golf enthusiasts in the other hand might find a pretty decent golf course located at the very end of the island close to the Banc du Bûcheron sandbank.