10 Days on Île de Ré

Île de Ré s a smallish island off the west coast of France in the Charante-Maritime Department. It is close to La Rochelle, with a modern toll bridge connecting the island to the mainland. Île de Ré is one of several islands around La Rochelle, with the other main island, Île de Ôléron being to the south and visible from parts of Ré on clear days.

Ré is a popular tourist spot with the French, as it is a viable weekend destination from Paris and other large cities such as Bordeaux. La Rochelle is connected to Paris by a regular TGV railway service and has an airport with regular flights to Paris; Easyjet also serve La Rochelle from several UK airports and hence the area remains popular with British tourists. Ré has some great beaches, with wide expanses of sand and generally safe swimming.

We have been staying in the pretty harbour town of La Flotte, which is the largest town on the island; La Flotte is also close to the fortified harbour town of Saint-Martin. Saint-Martin de Ré is probably the more popular and attractive town, and also the more expensive in terms of accommodation and restaurant prices. The town’s fortifications are by the famed French engineer Vauban and part of the old fortress is still used as a prison. Saint-Martin is a World Heritage site.

Another pretty harbour is to be found at Ars en Ré, which has a prominent church steeple painted in black and white to serve as a navigation aid for boats entering the harbour.

There are some fantastic beaches on Ré, many of which still have German WW2 concrete bunkers that were built to protect key military assets, including large guns protecting the U-boat pens in La Rochelle from naval attack, although these bunkers have been slowly slipping down the dunes onto the beach in the past few decades. A small number of these bunkers have even been converted into holiday homes. Beaches on the island were used in the filming of the classic WW2 film The Longest Day.

Another notable feature of the island is the preponderance of hollyhocks. These distinctive flowers are all over the island and a feature of many quiet alleyways and streets across the island.

A holiday on the island is very relaxing and is great for cycling. Cyclists abound wherever you look. It is a popular yachting destination and has been a favourite destination of celebrities, including Johnny Depp. For seafood lovers, the area is a perfect location to visit as the island has a thriving fishing fleet. For wine lovers, Ré’s wine is a local speciality and bottles of eminently quaffable wine can be had from supermarkets for around €3. Pineau, a fortified wine, is another speciality – Cognac eau-de-vie mixed with lightly fermented grape juice.

As this is my second visit to the region (we had a 5 day holiday on nearby Ôléron in 2014), I have become as fond of the area as my brother and his family. Sadly, this year, weather has been quite mixed (as it has across Europe this summer), however it is normally dependably hot and sunny in July & August.

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