Île de Ré – An Active Holiday Guide
With fine sand beaches, winding cycle paths and photogenic fishing villages, the Île de Ré is one of the most delightful places in western France. This little island of sand dunes, salt flats and pine forest gets more hours of sunlight than anywhere on the west coast, and being just 9 km west of the centre of La Rochelle makes a great day trip from the mainland.
Cycling on Île de Ré | © flickr – Victor Grenu
The Île de Ré is a UNESCO world heritage site and the island boasts 70 km of protected coastline including 30 km of sandy beaches. Buy food for a picnic in picturesque Saint Martin de Ré and explore the coastline by bike – the perfect way to rediscover life’s simple pleasures! Water sports enthusiasts rejoice; the Île de Ré’s west coast has some top surfing spots, whilst the mainland facing waters of the east coast are great for kitesurfing, SUP and sea kayaking.
Our guide to Ile de Ré will take you through the area’s outdoor activities, the best places to stay and eat and all the highlights this lovely little island has to offer.
Île de Ré Highlights
A favourite destination for holidaymakers, Ile de Ré is renowned for its slow-paced, friendly atmosphere and glorious sandy beaches. Saint-Martin de Ré, a picturesque fishing village halfway up the island’s eastern side is entirely surrounded by 17th century fortifications and is especially attractive when the bright coastal sun reflects off the white houses and sailboats.
The Île de Ré is separated from La Rochelle by an impressive three-km toll bridge, but although you can drive across, the island is best explored by bike or on horseback, both readily available for hire. Travel north to south using over 100 km of country cycle paths, stopping at many of the island’s quaint white-washed villages to stock up on freshly farmed oysters, wild rosemary and its most famous export, Fleur de Sel (hand-harvested sea salt).
Île de Ré Beaches
The best beaches on the Île de Ré lie east and west of La Couarde along the southern edge of the main part of the island and each side of the headland’s famous lighthouse, Phare des Baleines. There are also sandy beaches along the south coast towards Sainte-Marie de Ré. Stretching north from the mainland facing town of Rivedoux-Plage is Nord de Rivedoux beach, the best freeride kitesurfing spot on the island. Surfers should head to La Plage de la Conche des Baleines on the north-west coast between Phare des Baleines and the town of Les Portes.
La Rochelle – Île de Ré Airport (25 mins)
Pharmacie du Port, 7 Rue de Sully, 17410 Saint-Martin-de-Ré.
La Poste, Place de la République, 17410 Saint-Martin-de-Ré.
ParkingIle de Ré can only be accessed via La Rochelle, crossing the three km impressive toll bridge (€16.50 return). Alternatively, you can leave the car in one of La Rochelle's underground parking bays and take the cheap and cheerful bus leaving from Place de Verdun that stops at all ten towns on the island (€5 return). If you're steadfast in taking the car, Ile de Ré has many small car parks, most of which charge by the hour.
During summer, ditch the car and hire bikes instead. Cycling is an extremely popular way to get around Ile de Ré, which is flat and has a good network of cycle paths. The small historic villages can be accessed by car, but congestion can get pretty crazy from June onwards, if you’re not up for a full ‘tour de Ré’ by bike, you can fall back on the reliable bus service that runs throughout the summer.
Cycling is the easiest way to get around the island. Take your pick from a variety of different bike rental companies offering competitive rates and a wide range of bikes for daily and weekly hire. Tout à Velo, Ile de Ré’s most popular bike rental service has mountain bikes, fat bikes, hybrid bikes, road bikes and kids bikes for hire. With multiple hire shops dotted along the coast, reserve online and pick up in your nearest store.
Île de Ré Activities
Kitesurfing on Rivedoux Plage Nord, Ile de Ré | © ilederekitesurf.com
Kitesurfing at Rivedoux Plage
With winds of up to 60km/h hitting Ile de Ré’s peninsular, kitesurfing is the perfect way to catch the punchy gusts that have made this island synonymous with speed boating and yacht races for generations. Whilst you may not be quite ready to strap in for competitionworthy gales, during summer a calm breeze wafts over Rivedoux beach, gently guiding kite surf beginners along the waist height sand bank. If you’re looking for a quick initiation or to hire equipment, drop in and see Ile de Ré kite surf, with over ten years’ experience, the beachfronted establishment offers competitive rates throughout the season.
Sailing at Plage de la Cible
Home to the famous ‘Blue Wind Cup’ for over 20 years, sailing on Ile de Ré is a large part of Rétois culture. Situated between the white-washed beach huts is the island’s favourite sailing school, Cible Voile. Offering beginner and intermediate lessons in their selection of dinghies and catamarans, families and individuals can set off from the beach, 700m from the harbour of Saint-Martin de Ré and take to the high seas for a two hour group lesson. (Prices start from €35).
Surfing at Bois Plage
Île de Ré has breaks for beginners through to advanced surfers. First timers should head to Bois Plage on the south side of the island where the beach is shallower and the waves more beginner friendly. Grass roots surf club, Ré Surf School provides equipment rental and lessons on the beach of Gros Jonc. With soft, calm rollers perfect for beginners and kids, take advantage of the colourful beach shack’s enthusiastic instructors, helping you perfect your turns, learn tricks, or maybe just learn to stand up! Surfboard rental from €10, lessons from €30.
Cycle along the coast
Cycling coast to coast is the best way to explore the beautiful landscape of Ile de Ré. A natural paradise made up of rich salt flats, oyster farms and historical 17
from the fortressed centre of SaintMartin de Ré, heading out into the countryside using the rural cycle paths. Follow the uninterrupted skyline of quaint meadows and beach cottages to Ars en Ré, stopping off at rustic oyster huts to savour the local delicacies and local wines.
Horseriding on the beach and in the forest
A majestic way to discover the raw landscape of the region’s pine forests and beaches. Saddle up and head out for a coastal hack on one of the island’s mighty steeds. Local equestrian centre, Moulin Moreau, offer a range of field trips through the dense forest and across Ile de Ré’s long beaches. Available for gymkhana pros and novice riders alike, the centre offers introduction lessons for adults and pony clubs for little ones. Prices vary depending on experience and age range.
Where to stay
L’hôtel de Toiras is well located at the entrance to the port in Saint-Martin de Ré
Here’s a selection of our favourite places to stay on Ile de Ré.
Hôtel La Jetée – Saint-Martin-de-Ré
From 89 € per night
Expect a friendly welcome at this superbly located hotel in Saint-Martin-de-Ré. The bright and modern interior contrasts with the old port outside. Rooms are spacious and comfortable and set around a Mediterranean courtyard. A good breakfast of fresh bread, jams, cheeses, eggs, local honey and fruit will set you up for an active day on the island. Guests of Hôtel La Jetée can rent bicycles and enjoy hiking nearby. The long beaches along the south coast are just a 10 minute drive away and there’s a good choice of restaurants within a short walk.Check availability | Go >
Hôtel de Toiras – Saint-Martin-de-Ré
From 220 € per night
Ever popular, the five-star Hôtel de Toiras is a beautifully restored 17th century villa offering enormous, romantic suites with views over the harbour. An old merchant’s house, themed bedrooms are luxuriously furnished in French Baroque elegance, combining the traditions of Charente Maritime with the comfort of a luxury hotel. Located at the entrance to the port of Saint-Martin de Ré, guests are free to lay by the stylish pool, sip tea in their themed tea room or head out into the centre and potter around the town’s shops and restaurants.Check availability | Go >
Hôtel Le Galion – Saint-Martin-de-Ré
From 95 € per night
A peaceful hotel located just off the busy main quay, Le Galion is a smart three-star hotel found in Saint-Martin de Ré. Cheerfully decorated, bedrooms in this traditional harbourside town house are a comfortable mix of mod-cons and simple pleasures. Extending a warm, Rétois welcome to families and couples, Le Galion is the perfect mix of value for money and first class hospitality. Overlooking the sea, guests can promenade along the historical sea front, relax in their small spa or take an apéro at sunset on their panoramic rooftop.Check availability | Go >
Hotel L’Océan – Le Bois-Plage-en-Ré
From 85 € per night
Hôtel L’Ocean may say 3-star, but walking through the rustic lobby out to the decked pool and terrace, we wouldn’t blame you for thinking this lovely boutique hotel deserves an extra star or two. White-washed rooms are a simple fusion of beachy style furnishings and little touches of luxury, with suites looking out onto the olive garden and patio restaurant. Set a short walk from Le Bois beach which is popular with surfers, guests are invited to dine in their traditional fish restaurant and relax at their on site hammam spa.Check availability | Go >
Camping Le Phare – Les-Ports-en-Ré
From 126 € (2 night minimum stay)
Located 3 minutes walk from a calm beach at the top end of Ile de Ré, Camping Le Phare has 2 heated pools, table tennis and mini-golf. Rent bikes on site and explore the island’s cycle paths. Mobile home and chalet accommodation includes a terrace, a seating and a dining area. There’s also a kitchen and a bathroom with a shower unit. If you fancy a break from self-catering, there’s a very good restaurant on-site and a couple of good fish restaurants within walking distance such as Le Chasse Marée.Check availability | Go >
Camping Les Fougères – Rivedoux
From 68 € per night
Camping Les Fougères has an enviable location in Rivedoux-Plage at the entrance to the island. There’s a good swimming pool and you can hire bikes from reception and explore the cycle paths to La Flotte. Ile de Ré Kitesurf is close by offering kitesurfing courses and instruction. Mobile home accommodation is modern and comfortable with a terrace and a seating area. There’s also a fully equipped kitchenette and shower room. If you want to eat out, it’s a short walk down to the seafront. For seafood, try Les Viviers en Ré.Check availability | Go >
Where to eat
Restaurant l'Avant Port in Saint-Martin-de-Ré | © flickr - Thierry Llansades
L’Avant PortDebatably the best shrimp you'll ever taste, both locals and returning tourists pack out the sun-kissed terrace overlooking the marina. A combination of 18th century chic and industrial salvage style, both décor and cuisine reflect the overall fusion of tradition and creativity promoted by chef extraordinaire, Jérôme La Porte. Serving up delectable, freshly caught produce in a swish, modern environment, L'Avant Porte is a must for inquisitive foodies. Pop in during lunch and order a plate of 'crevettes impériales' and a pint of islandbrewed beer for a taste of authentic Ile de Ré gastronomy. 8 Quai Daniel Rivaille, 17410 Saint-Martin de Ré. Tel +33 (0)5 46 68 06 68
Cabane du FeneauCycling along the wide coastal salt flats and oyster farms works up an appetite, what better excuse for a little midafternoon snack than stopping at one of the island's traditional oyster shacks for a taste of the region's finest seafood. A simple affair, take your seat outside Cabane du Feneau and tuck into a dozen oysters washed down with locally sourced white wine. This little unassuming hut is a family affair run by the charismatic Feneau brothers, who will happily shoot the breeze with passersby, pulling up a chair and topping up your wine until you can barely cycle back! Route de la passe, 17670 La Couarde sur Mer. Tel +33 (0)5 46 30 43 68
Bistrot du MarinA firm favourite for homecooked dishes and old favourites like steakfrites and moules mariniere. Popular with residents thanks to its jolly atmosphere and reasonable prices, dinner at the nautically themed fish restaurant offers up a slice of island cooking, using regionally sourced produce and seafood from the peninsula's best fishermen. The perfect place to while away the hours with a classic, three course – three hour dinner, watch the fishing boats tug by at sunset whilst you enjoy a slap up meal with the locals. 10 Quai Nicolas Baudin, 17410 Saint-Martin de Ré. Tel +33 (0)5 46 68 74 66
La Cabane du FierA fabulous rest stop overlooking the salt marshes on the other side of the island, La Cabane du Fier in Ars en Ré is a beautiful little outpost that embraces the natural wonders of Ile de Ré. Using only produce found on the island and cooking dishes over a wood fire, chef Christophe Frigiere offers up a bistro style cuisine set in an original oyster hut. Contradicting the rugged landscape with refined cuisine, dinner at La Cabane du Fier is a sumptuous combination of remarkable gastronomy and unforgettable views. Le Martray, 17590 Arsen-Ré. Tel +33 (0)5 46 29 64 84
Where to party
Enjoying an evening drink on the harbour at La Baleine Bleue | © baleinebleue.com
Restaurant La Baleine Bleue
20 years young, La Baleine Bleue is THE place to be come on a Friday night. A local hotspot filled with fun loving trendsetters sipping cognac on the cobbled terrace, weekends at this unmissable location buzz with life from sunset until the early hours. An upmarket restaurantcumbar on the harbour, nights start with a glass of champagne and finish with a punchy cocktail masterfully mixed by their friendly barman, Loic. Boasting three sunkissed terraces, take your seat at one of the many linendraped tables cloistering the port and lookout onto the busy marina ahead.
4 Quai Launay Razilly, 17410 Saint-Martin de Ré. Tel +33 (0)5 46 09 03 30
A vintage inspired wine bar filled with collectable antique oddities, Le 20 draws in clientele from all over the island for a taste of the region’s most palatable wines. A young, relaxed vibe inside, Wednesday nights play host to a selection of talented bands and artists that turn the ambience up to the max. Filled with the aroma of uncorked bottles and the clinking of glasses, the quirky brica-brac bar is a veritable curiosity closet for budding sommeliers and inquisitive travellers looking to get even further off the tourist trail.
9 Route de Saint-Clément, 17590 Arsen Ré. Tel +33 (0)5 46 29 69 52
An original Ile de Ré watering hole, Le Boucquingam has been catering for the late night masses since 1970. Newly refurbished, the jazz and soul club opens its doors from midnight to throngs of party goers looking to dance the night away to live saxophone/dj duets, contemporary acid jazz ensembles and favourite 70s funk anthems spun by their inhouse music maestro. Open until 5am, Le Boucquingam is the last stop on the buzzing Ile de Ré bar scene, boasting a huge terrace with comfy couches, night owls are invited to stop by for a quick night cap – or keep the party going till sunrise, you decide!
3 Venelle de la Fosse Bray, 17410 SaintMartin de Ré. Tel 05 46 09 01 20
When you’ve tasted enough wine to know your Bordeaux from your Bourgogne, change up the pace at the island’s only rum bar. An upbeat atmosphere filled with souvenirs of Castro’s favourite stronghold, Cubana Café transports punters back to the sunny Caribbean capital of Havana with their range of imported rum cocktails, AfroCuban jazz bands and themed nights. A lively spot for after dinner drinks, try their fruity mojito’s and crushed ice cocktails.
12 Venelle de la Fosse Bray, 17410 Saint-Martin-de-Ré. +33 (0)5 46 09 93 49
Please leave a comment below if you need specific advice for your trip to the Île de Ré, or if you have any recommendations to help us improve this guide. Happy holidays!
About the author
Self-confessed foodie and outdoor sports aficionado, Aimée Whistler has been scoping out hidden gems across France for over five years. From shredding backcountry powder to savouring the finest backyard cuisine, get first-hand suggestions from Active Azur’s most committed Francophile.