If I told you we had to leave two restaurants in Ile de Ré because the waitresses were so rude, I wouldn’t be selling the idea of a trip there very well, right? The good thing is that I am not here to sell anything! The other good thing is that I won’t let these experiences define our otherwise wonderful stay in Île de Ré. To their credit, they might simply be protecting the island from an influx of annoying and invading tourists … After Like an habitué in Cap Ferret, here comes Like an habitué in Ile de Ré … and it rhymes *_*
We had a very relaxing time on this charming island: resting, biking, discovering pretty beaches and hanging around in the little town of Ars en Ré. We went for 5 days just before the peak months of summer, early June.
If you have never heard of Île de Re, it’s a rather small island off the French Atlantic coast, about 1h30 north of Bordeaux, 3h by fast train from Paris. You can go from one end to another in less than 1h by car, or even better, by bicycle. It was recently connected by a few low cost airlines to London and a bridge between La Rochelle city and the island was built about ten years ago, making it an easy destination for a short stay. Locals feared that both connections would spoil their peace and quiet, and truth is, the population increases ten fold every summer in July and August, especially with Parisians owning secondary homes (and bringing in their chic + bad moods …). Outside peak season, it remains very low key and picture perfect, ideal with children because it’s very mellow and outdoorsy.
Île de Re’s biggest appeal is its flat terrain with bike lanes all around. It makes it a particularly ideal destination with babies and young children. Biking to the market, to the beach, to sailing classes, to the pine tree forests… quality bike rentals can be found all over, with carriages for the youngest ones, child seats etc..
We based ourselves at the prettier than pretty beach house of Milk Magazine owners Isis and Karel. They rent it by word of mouth so ask me for their contact details if interested. It is located in the heart of Ars en Ré, which, together with Les Portes En Ré, turned out to be my two favorite villages on the island.
Ars en Ré has a lively market every morning, and the advantage of not just one but two pretty merry-go-rounds. Les Portes en Ré, on the other hand, is at the tip of the island and feels quieter, right by the long sandy beaches.
The main town on the island is Saint Martin de Ré, with a five star hotel, and its less chichi little sister property Villa Clarisse and lots of restaurants around the harbour. However, it felt a bit overdone and less relaxed maybe.
If you prefer a hotel to a house rental, Le Senechal seems stylish, and well placed (but beware, the restaurant is where we got treated quite poorly! … when you ask something to the waitress who then answers back with an annoyed expression “did you read the menu“.. yes I did!!). And this is a house rental that I came across and looks very well located and beautiful. Lots of outdoor / camping places listed here.
Everybody’s favourite activity: spending time at the beach of course.
The best ones are La Conche, a long sandy beach accessed from anywhere between the Phare des Baleines (the lighthouse) and Portes En Re. It’s easier to get there by car with young children, because it is about 8km from Ars en Ré.
There is a small beach right by the restaurant Les freres de la Cote ( beware, this is the place with bad service number 2!) if you want to walk / leisurely bike from town and then there’s a beautiful boardwalk along the water, accessible with the bikes.
There is also a quiet beach called la Plage des enfants near Les Portes, which literally means the beach for the children..
Sailing lessons: the children took a few with the sailing club of Ars en Ré. They have their own enclosed water pond fed with sea water, ideal for beginners. You’ll have to arrange (pricey) private classes outside of school holidays.
You could also rent surf boards from Re Surf and go kite surfing, there are lots of schools for that.
Horse riding and donkey riding with Les Anes en Culotte in high season. During the peak months, there is a quality circus school that organizes workshops, they seem really good.
And Marie-Ange Frey will come to you for some storytelling or will take you around for walk in the woods or among the salt flats, although we could not coordinate our times so I never met her! She mentioned that she speaks english..tbc.
There are many places to rent bikes but we really enjoyed dealing with the team at Les Cycles in Ars en Ré, nice big bikes stable and comfortable, with all sorts of gadgets to carry the children effortlessly.
Ourebest meal (and most pleasant service!) was at La Maison A lovely little garden where children can run around, vintage furniture ecclecticly put together and a refined menu served in an easy going way. Simple, Voilà.
La Martiniere serves the absolutely best ice creams and waffles in the whole island and lucky for us, they recently opened an outpost near the lighthouse of the whales (phare des baleines).
Le Taxi Brousse in La Couarde area is the talk of the island but it seems to open randomly, or perhaps only in the summer months.
Le Chasse Maree looked particularly elegant with its little terrace and pretty flowers all around.
You could also go to a farm and get your own cheeses, oysters and others delicacies. This island is a paradise for oyster-lovers (not for me, thank you!)
Several inspiring antique dealers, especially Côté Jardin in Ars en Ré, near the merry go round, and Chez Laurent Mhon (next to the Cafe du Commerce), and also Marie and Benoit Rue du Havre.
Saint Martin en Ré has a lot more choice of shops although many are touristy and of poor quality. Little Casba carries an original selection of items for babies and childrens, toys accessories and gifts. There is also a well stocked Tintin shop on the harbour, fun to visit, with tons of past editions, posters and memorabilia.
Marcelo has been talking about the value of my old Tintin books ever since .. I think he wants to sell them!!
A good read: 36 Hours en Ile de Ré