Introducing Île de Ré

Hideaway coves, quaint streets lined with green-shuttered houses and traditional craft shops that rub shoulders with designer boutiques. It’s little wonder Île de Ré has long been a summertime playground for the Parisian in-crowd. While the secret may be out, this Atlantic coast getaway hasn’t lost its authentic charm. With cycle paths curving around sand dunes, salt pans, pine forests and oyster beds, the ‘White Island’ is an idyllic French escape.

Things to do

Île de Ré’s main town is St-Martin-de-Ré. This heavenly harbour and its citadel are enclosed by 17th-century walls, designed by Vauban after the English attempted an invasion. Walk the star-shaped ramparts and you’ll be rewarded with lovely views. Then, for an extra hit of history, visit Musée Ernest Cognacq. To go even further back in time, take a guided tour around the 12th-century Cistercian Abbaye des Châteliers ruins in La Flotte.

Sunbathing on fine, bright sands or rockpooling and oyster-spotting? Whatever a day on the beach means to you, Île de Ré has something to suit. To the south are long stretches to relax on. The golden north coast at La Flotte – counted among ‘Les Plus Beaux Villages de France’ – is a cycle ride from St-Martin-de-Ré. If you have a day to spare, venture to the island’s western tip where a lighthouse marks the quiet beach at Phare des Baleines.

Feasting on freshly shucked oysters as you gaze out to sea is an unforgettable experience. Follow with locally crafted beer and salted caramel ice cream, made from the island’s celebrated salt crystals. Cyclists can stock up on provisions at morning markets. Most towns and villages have stalls brimming with the freshest produce. Finish up in St-Martin-de-Ré and discover a dazzling collection of gourmet restaurants, many serving straight-from-the-harbour seafood.

Top Tip from SLH

Join the locals and explore the Île de Ré hill-free coastline and countryside by bicycle – preferably one with a picnic-sized basket.