The enchanting and relaxed Île de Ré is one of the Atlantic Coast’s most popular destinations, boasting as many hours of sunshine as the south of France. This pretty island escape is awash with picture-perfect villages filled with leafy squares, white-washed walls, terracotta roofs and gates, and shutters all painted in dreamy greens, turquoises, and blues.
Famous for salt-harvesting (traditionally done by donkeys); donkeys in colorful ‘pants’; Fleur de Sel: a key ingredient in delicious local dishes; tasty, freshly caught mussels; and scrumptious tiny potatoes that sell for as much as €18 EUR in Paris, it really is a playground for rich Parisians, holiday-makers from Versailles and the occasional famous celebrity in-the-know. Often referred to as the ‘Hamptons’ for Parisians, this peaceful, low-key and chic remedy to Paris city life features working fishing boats instead of superyachts, bikes instead of Porsches and numerous long and undeveloped beaches, delicious food markets and villages to explore, making it indisputably one of France’s loveliest seaside escapes.
This exclusive tiny island of 30km by 5km, that’s just 15 meters wide at the smallest part, is joined to the mainland by a long, arching, slender bridge. Its countryside is a mixture of marshes, salt pans, fern-filled hedgerows, fields of poppies, pine forests and pretty little vineyards, which offer a stark contrast to the white, sandy, unspoiled beaches that surround the island. Conche des Baleines, in the west, is perhaps the best beach: a vast arc of golden sand backed by high dunes and pine trees (ideal for a seaside picnic). On the end of the island’s north-western hook, the less-visited and more protected beach of Bois de Trousse-Chemise is also lovely, with a large ribbon of wet sand at low tide. Sandy beaches run continuously along much of the south coast and at Plage de Gros Jonc, the beach is vast, and the waves are often great for bodyboarding. Tip: at high tide, all the beaches on the island shrink to thin and sometimes overcrowded strips, so better to go at lower tide times.
This beautiful island has managed to retain a certain charm and innocence and feels like the France of yesteryear. The stunning island capital of St-Martin-de-Ré, a World Heritage site, features a pretty little harbor surrounded by café’s, bars, restaurants (and some of the best ice cream you’ll try in France at La Martinière on the quay – try the Rhum Raisin!). Behind the sophisticated maritime waterfront, you find tranquil, cobbled backstreets with quirky little shops full of object d’art, seaside chic souvenirs, antiques, and fashion items. The nearby village of La Flotte is smaller but equally pretty. Here you can wander amongst the town’s art galleries and stylish shops, and the food market, off Rue de la Marché, is arguably one of the best on the island with a plentiful choice of tarts, fruits, cheeses, pâtés and freshly baked crusty French bread, ideal to grab for a picnic on a bench on the esplanade.
Wherever you decide to stay, Île de Ré, or elsewhere, we reveal the secret to getting the best deal at luxury hotels including Four Seasons, InterContinental, Ritz Carlton, Hyatt and more separately.
The default form of transport on the island is on two wheels, with mile upon mile of cycle lanes covering the whole island. Tip: for a great cycle map and ideas of places to visit, visit the excellent tourist office website: Destination Ile de Ré. Whether it’s a tandem, a bicycle with additional seat and wheel attached for a child or towing 2 children behind in the comfort of a canvas carriage, anyone, and everyone travels by bike! It makes exploring great fun, though hectic in popular destinations in the height of summer. The island terrain is ideal for this pastime, being flat as far as the eye can see and trips between nearby villages, towns and beaches are rarely more than a few miles, so cycling is truly ideal.
There are numerous bike rental outlets on all the islands, including at many at campsites. Tip: In high season, bikes can get booked out, so reserve ahead. Taking your own bikes will save you around £40 GBP a week per adult bike in rental fees. However, if you want to take it easy and try something a little different grab a Ré TukTuk, this truly unique experience will take you through the salt marshes, into pretty picturesque villages, and anywhere you fancy, whilst enjoying an informative and friendly narration from the lovely Christophe himself. Tip: taxis are notoriously scarce and unreliable on the island, so often Christophe’s TukTuk makes a much better alternative to visit locals bars and restaurants on a warm sunny evening to indulge in local delicacies and beverages!
Dining & food
The island is foodie heaven, just about every village has a mouth-watering food market every morning in the peak summer months, with stalls selling delicious local produce, from oysters to Fleur de Sel (salt) and scrummy potatoes to strawberries. The biggest food market, spreading through much of the village, is at Le Bois-Plage-en-Ré, but the most scenic is at La Flotte where it occupies a medieval courtyard. Stopping off on a bike ride at a cabane to eat oysters at a picnic table is another incredibly fun island experience. The best restaurants can be found in St-Martin-de-Ré and nearby La Flotte, though there are many fabulous boutique restaurants dotted throughout all the little villages across the island. For those self-catering, there are lots of supermarkets like Intermarché and E.Leclerc which offer everything you need and in the mornings, why not hop on your bike to one of the markets for freshly baked baguettes and local treats?
When to go
The time to visit this exquisite corner of France’s Atlantic coast is just before the summer season commences (late May) or just after it ends (mid to late September), when you will be able to get that restaurant booking, pools and beaches will be a little emptier and the whole island breathes a sigh of relief and returns to its tranquil, calmer self.
Île de Ré is around 5 hours’ drive from most Normandy and Brittany ports served by Brittany Ferries, or you can fly to La Rochelle with easyJet from Gatwick and occasionally from Bristol, Ryanair from Stansted, Flybe from Southampton, Manchester and Birmingham, and Jet2 from Leeds Bradford. From La Rochelle Airport it’s just a short taxi ride to the Île de Ré after which you can cycle everywhere.
Where to stay
Most British visitors to the island tend to camp in one of the over fifty campsites, so here are my top 5 most luxurious campsites:
1. Sunêlia Interlude
Rediscover the wonder of simple pleasures at Sunêlia Interlude, the only 5-star campsite on the île de Ré. This wonderfully modern campsite borders the beautiful Plage de Gros Jonc beach and lies just a couple of minutes’ drive or a short bike ride from the pretty village of St-Martin-de-Ré. The campsite spreads over an impressive 7 hectares, offering very luxurious wooden lodges hidden in the trees, a huge variety of mobile homes right through to simple tent pitches. Here you will find indoor and outdoor pools, an expansive and luxurious 200m2 spa, friendly bar, excellent restaurant, grocery shop that also sells hot food and beach accessories, children’s entertainment programs, day time and evening entertainment, sports activities and so much more. Its central position on the southwest coast of the island means it’s ideal for enjoying the sea and the many attractions of the island and the incredibly friendly staff really do make your stay something special.
Wellbeing is key at Sunêlia Interlude with its indoor balneotherapy center and luxurious Spa offering hydromassage baths, sauna, hammam, and Jacuzzi. Choose from beauty treatments, wraps, scrubs and body sculpting massages from brands including Carita, La Sultane de Saba, and OPI all offered by expert therapists who are ready to ease away all your stresses and aches. I thoroughly recommend a Suédois (Swedish) Massage with the amazing Chris, which was truly something else and so relaxing!
It’s not just your wellbeing that’s looked after as dining is a key priority too with the excellent “La Grillérade” restaurant which opens out onto the dunes. It serves delicious local cuisine made with the freshest local produce and a range of regional specialties. Tip: try the swordfish with potato petals washed down with a delicious glass of Sancerre! Campsite guests can also enjoy a varied daily breakfast with everything from eggs, croissants and pain au chocolat, to cereals, fresh fruit and juices all washed down with delicious coffees served by the ever-friendly and lovely Anouk.
Offering an on-site bicycle rental service for all the family, Sunêlia Interlude is the perfect place from which to set off on an adventure to explore the 80km of cycle paths on the island. Children can enjoy the excellent and very clean “Baby Sunny” nursery and really fun “Fort Sunny” playground, while adults visit the spa, go out on a catamaran or simply have a glass of something chilled at the bar.
Accommodation ranges from the very new and luxurious Sunêlia Luxe TAOS Suites for up to 6 people with a large spacious private deck surrounded by bedrooms and indoor living space with fully equipped kitchen, TV’s sitting areas and more; to more affordable yet still very deluxe mobile homes in their prestige and comfort ranges right through to simple pitches to put up your own tent. All suites and mobile homes seem to have been cleverly positioned to give you a little privacy and the very best of the morning or evening sunshine on your private deck, meaning alfresco dining is a must! With bathrooms and an onsite laundrette, as well as a stage for evening shows and morning work-outs, there is something for every taste and budget. They are likely to be putting in more top-end suites due to their popularity over the coming year which will please British and French guests alike. I think Sunêlia Interlude is truly unbeatable for couples and families, especially those with young children with its great location and an excellent selection of facilities and services, plus it does offer the very best and most luxurious campsite accommodation and hospitality on the island.
2. Camping L’Océan
The 4-star Camping L’Océan campsite lies in the charming village of La Couarde Sur Mer set between the sea and salt marshes of the Île de Ré. It offers a good range of luxury facilities including the 420m² water park featuring two large swimming pools, one heated and a paddling pool to the delight of the smallest children. Lying just 50m from the sea and at the edge of a seawater pond and salt marsh, this luxury campsite offers a restaurant, bar, grocery store, nursery, bike rental service and evening entertainment along with a seawater pond ideal for paddleboard lessons, multi-sports ground and a playground for children. For those looking for a little relaxation, there is the wellness center: “le Spa Océan” with hammam, sauna and hydro massage bath. In terms of accommodation, you can choose between comfortable 3 bedroom mobile homes, fun safari tents and spacious lawned tent pitches, which all make a great base from which to discover this beautiful island.
3. Camping La Bonne Etoile
La Bonne Etoile is a great 4 star campsite in Le Bois Plage en Ré set amongst several hectares of green pine forest and lying only 1.5km (just a minute in the car) from the Gros Joncs beach, one of the most beautiful and wild beaches on the island. It’s most amazing feature is the fully heated, aquatic park with an indoor swimming pool, a paddling pool and several water slides, ideal for slighter older thrill-seeking children and adults (the paddling pool also has a Vipère water slide designed for children under 6, which is entirely safe). In addition, the campsite also boasts La Bonne Etoile grocery, bread stand, restaurant, bar, launderette, entertainment program, the Carabouille playground for children, as well as a games room and a television room. In terms of accommodation, guests can choose from furnished tents and gypsy caravans right through to luxurious mobile homes with up to 5 bedrooms, kitchen, bathrooms, air conditioning, flat-screen television, and furnished terrace. This campsite gets top marks for its aquatic park, making it a good site for older and adventurous, water-loving children and adults.
4. Les Grenettes
Les Grenettes which has recently become a 4 star campsite, is surrounded by 7 hectares of pine woods and sand dunes, and lies just 200m from Les Grenettes beach. The campsite boasts 2 swimming pools (heated in high season), a water slide and a paddling pool, tennis courts, a restaurant open throughout the year, takeaway service, automatic launderette, ping pong, playgrounds, and shops. The accommodation comes in modern and luxury holiday cottages and lodges right through to furnished canvas tents and simple tent pitches. Situated on the south-east coast of the island, the site lies 4km from the town center of Sainte Marie de Ré, 6 km from the tourist resort of La Flotte and 8 km from the old fortified town of Saint Martin de Ré, meaning it’s a decent cycle ride or drive to many of the more popular villages, but if you don’t mind this then it’s a great place from which to explore the island.
5. Camping des Baleines
You can get back to nature at this 3-star campsite on the western-most tip of the Île de Ré. Located by the lighthouse and opening directly on to La Conche beach and a wild stretch of coast, this 4.6 hectare des Baleines campsite offers quality accommodations ranging from 100m2 pitches for tents right by the sea to caravans, mobile homes, and chic safari lodges, right the way up to 100% local wooden cabins. Instead of a loud and chlorinated swimming pool, you will enjoy birds singing in the trees and the ocean right down the path and this remote setting is great for simple pleasures such as beachcombing, walking, and birdwatching. Camping Les Baleines has been Ecolabel certified since 2013 and is a member of the 1% for the planet organization since 2018. As well as the opportunity to re-connect with nature, couples and families can enjoy the volleyball court, pétanque court, ping-pong table, playground and a mini-club for children. Nearby guests can also take part in nautical sports, golf, horse-riding, tennis, etc. for an additional fee. This property is ideal to get back to basics and reconnect with loved ones and nature.
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