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Your guide to Île de Ré
All About Île de Ré
Île de Ré is a tiny, scenic island off the west coast of France that has been a popular summer getaway for Parisians for generations. The coast is scattered with shacks selling just-harvested oysters and mussels, and bustling cafes frame the small harbour at La Flotte.
Despite its size — it measures just 30 kilometres by 5 kilometres — Île de Ré boasts a wealth of varied landscapes, from pine forests and marshes to moors, harbours, and vast sandy beaches. Ten villages dot its coastline, each with narrow back alleys leading to historic whitewashed buildings with traditional wooden shutters. The largest village is Saint-Martin-de-Ré, a UNESCO World Heritage Site with fortifications dating back to the 17th century. Traditional industries are still active on Île de Ré today — salt marshes are used to produce salt from the sea, as they have been for hundreds of years, and the island retains some of its large, historic fishing locks, impressive stone structures stretching out into the Atlantic.
The best time to stay in a holiday rental in Île de Ré
In July and August, many visitors make the most of the fast train from Paris to La Rochelle to head over to the island on vacation or take day trips to Île de Ré. The weather is at its hottest at this time of year, meaning more hours of sunshine for beach-goers and more occupied seats at pavement cafes. September brings the start of cooler temperatures and the Fête du Coquillage, a celebration of seafood on the waterfront in Saint-Martin-de-Ré. If you decide to book accommodation on Île de Ré in the winter, when the weather is cooler and wetter, bear in mind that some of the shops, cafes, and restaurants will be closed, but you’ll have the swathes of pristine shoreline almost to yourself.
Top things to do in Île de Ré
Phare des Baleines Lighthouse
The highest point on the island is the 19th-century Phare des Baleines (Lighthouse of the Whales). Climb the 257 steps up 57 metres and you’ll be rewarded with views across the entire island and out to sea. The on-site museum, the Musée des Baleines, provides an insight into the structure’s place in local history with historical maps and maritime artefacts.
Standing on the island’s eastern side just outside the village of La Flotte, the ruins of Châteliers Abbey date back to the 12th century. Once a vast complex, it was built by the Cistercian monks, who started cultivating the salt marshes in the area and planted the island’s first grapevines. Head back into La Flotte to stop in at the Musée du Platin to see archaeological finds from the abbey, including ornate sculptures.
Ars-en-Ré is a small harbour community at the northernmost part of the island. their secluded alleyways and traditional houses border the salt marshes. The most unique building in the village is its 15th-century church with a striking black-and-white steeple — the Clocher d’Ars — which sailors used as a landmark to help them navigate at sea.