I have always loved visiting France, ever since my ‘Tante Lizzie’ introduced me to her Parisian home in the late eighties. She was French correspondent for the BBC and was the first person to tell me about Ile de Ré – many, many people have told me about it since. It has taken me this long to finally visit it, but it was well worth the wait.
We decided to take the car on the Stenaline ferry (from Rosslare), as we’d heard too many horror stories of holidays ruined by the recurring French Air Traffic Controllers’ summertime strikes (more than 50 times in the past 7 years!). Also, I feel guilty leaving the dogs and they are welcome in practically every hotel and restaurant in France.
The whole experience was smooth in more ways than one. We boarded in the late afternoon, had dinner, watched a film, went to bed, slept very well and woke up sailing along the northern coast of France.
Ile de Ré is a small island off the French Atlantic coast and it took us a little over five hours to drive from Cherbourg. The roads were busy (August is the worst month for traffic congestion) but I have to say that the on-board navigation system in the Renault Kadjar saved us hours! It was able to detect traffic jams and redirect us – genius!
The approach to the island is spectacular – we drove across a 3km long bridge onto the island which has been described as The Hamptons for Parisians. Once on the island, most people park their cars for the duration of their stay and rent bikes.
The island is only 30km long and 5km wide so it’s easy to access all the pretty fishing villages dotted along the cycle paths (even if you’re a novice).
We stayed in the beautiful Fleur de Ré boutique hotel in the village of Loix on the north coast, which was a perfect place to access all this paradise island has to offer. We had two excellent local restaurants – La Route du Sel and the very casual roadside shack (serving excellent shellfish) La Cabane du Fenneau. The village market, which opened daily, was always busy, providing locals and visitors with an incredible selection of fresh fruit, veg, meat, fish and freshly baked treats.
One of the prettiest villages on the island is Saint Martin de Ré. This place is so stylish, you can only paint your shutters one of 16 shades : eight blue and eight green. The entire town is a UNESCO heritage site and council don’t allow any new buildings or overhead cables. Restaurant tables are set out on the cobbled streets around the port and we loved Le Bistrot du Marin for dinner and La Martiniere ice cream shop for dessert!
There are so many beaches to choose from – we cycled through the salt beds to the quieter northwest part of the island and spent a day at La Plage de la Conche.
We spent an afternoon and evening in another picturesque harbour town called La Flotte. Again we were spoilt for choice with an abundance of waterside cafes and restaurants as well as an antique market in the heart of the port. The restaurant L’Écailler is a real treat if you love seafood (especially oysters and mussels!).
One week wasn’t nearly long enough in Ile de Ré and we were very sad leaving the surroundings and the incredibly friendly staff of the Fleur de Ré hotel. But we did promise to make a return visit which I hope will be outside of the peak summer months when it’s less busy and I can continue to explore the island at a more leisurely pace, if that’s possible!