During my gap year in France, which I write about here, I visited the Île de Ré for a cycling holiday at the start of summer 2011 with my host family.
I conveniently used the fact that it was a ‘cycling holiday’ as an excuse to eat far too much and sleep in far too late every day. I ended up consuming my body weight in wine, mussels, duck and ice cream, and loved every minute of it.
Here you’ll find a travel guide to the Île de Ré, with information on how to get there, the main attractions on the island and – of course – where to go for the best food and drink 🙂
Where is it? The island’s in the north part of the Pertuis d’Antioche strait, just off France’s Atlantic coast. The nearest big town to the island is La Rochelle in northwestern France.
How to get there? The Île de Ré is connected to mainland France with the Île de Ré bridge, a 1.8 mile (2.9km) bridge which was finished in 1988.
If you’re getting there by car, you can easily get to the island via the bridge. Check here for the latest information on prices for taking your car across from La Rochelle.
Or if you’d like to get to the island by foot or by bike, the bridge is free for pedestrians and cyclists.
Buses are also available to take you across the bridge to the island – you can catch buses all year round from outside the train station in La Rochelle.
If you’re coming in from Paris, a high speed TGV train takes around three hours from Paris Montparnasse station to get to La Rochelle.
When is the best time to go? With a temperate climate and sunny weather throughout the year, the Île de Ré is a great holiday destination in July and August and outside the summer months.
If you can fit in an island minibreak in early autumn, September is an even better time than summer to visit. The summer holidaymakers will have left by then and the island will be a lot less busy.
During my last visit in summer 2011, I stayed in a private house on holiday with my host family near St Martin de Ré. It was good value, and was a lovely homely base to explore the island from.
The rooms and suites in the Hotel de Toiras are spacious and opulently decorated, and there’s also a pool and restaurant onsite.
The décor at the Hôtel le Richelieu is a lovely nod to the local environment, all whitewashed shutters and summery colours, which makes for a pleasant traditional feel.
For a cheaper stay, try out three-star hotel La Galiote. It has a choice of clean and prettily furnished rooms that you can reserve for around 79 euros in the low season.
Food and drink There’s a fantastic choice of restaurants and bars for such a small island. If you’re looking for a special treat, the Côté Jardin in St Martin de Ré is a lovely option for a dinner with delicious and beautifully presented food.
Look out for mains like pork tenderloin, cod loin with chorizo butter or monkfish and bacon skewers with bell pepper sauce, or tempting desserts like their gooey chocolate cake (a French classic!) or mango tiramisu.
If you’d like a more relaxed meal, check out Le Bistrot du Marin, also in St Martin de Ré. The menu has lots of meat and seafood dishes from oysters to beef rib and side of beef. Desserts include lemon meringue pie, crème caramel and rum babas.
Although it’s new on the scene, Le Bistrot du Bar à Quai in Sainte Marie de Ré is definitely one to watch. Owner and master mixologist Nicolas has won several awards in France and abroad for his cocktail making, and you can also catch regular live music evenings at the bar.
Attractions The ruins of the Abbaye Notre-Dame-de-Ré, an abbey in the town of La Flotte that dates back to the twelfth century, is definitely worth a visit. And for another look at the island’s history, have a wander around the port at Saint Martin de Ré.
A great way of getting around the island is by bike or by foot. If you fancy exploring by bike, there are lots of cycle paths to choose from, and helpfully the routes are mainly flat. You can either bring your own bike with you or, if it’s easier, there are lots of bike hire places on the island.
And if you love watersports, the Île de Ré is your spiritual home. In the summer months, the island plays host to the Blue Wind Cup, a sailing competition.
You can also try out sailing and windsurfing, or even sea kayaking, using equipment from watersports centres around the island. For an even bigger adrenaline rush, how about having a go at surfing and windsurfing?
If you’re in need of some post-trip or post-workout refuelling, try out the gorgeous home-made ice cream at La Martinière. I went during my gap year, and it was definitely one of the highlights of the trip for me and my travelling companions!!
You’ll find vanilla, strawberry and chocolate ice cream alongside more unusual – but delicious! – flavours like mango, hazelnut, mojito and salted caramel, which is a local speciality.
Bonnes vacances ! 🙂
If you’ve ever visited the Île de Ré before, what was your favourite part of the trip? And if you’re thinking of going to the island, I’d love to hear from you!