Exploring The Exclusive Vendée Islands Part II: Île de Ré

L’île de Ré, nicknamed “The French Hamptons.”

More “exclusive” than Noirmoutier, l’île de Ré, is often compared to the Hamptons: a summer destination for the wealthy. Generations come together every summer in the family home, catching up, organizing dinners, and enjoying aperitifs in front of the sunset. More than an island, for some, l’île de Ré is a French tradition.

Here are a few fun facts about the history of this island! Originally, l’île de Ré was not an island, but rather an archipelago combining four little isles: Saint Martin, Loix, Les Portes-en-Ré, and Ars. Over the course of time, the four isles connected which gave birth to the island we all know today. Possessing a rich and cultivable land, the French, English, and German fought over the island. But, the wars greatly impacted the commercial exchanges which disabled l’île de Ré’s economy, fortunately, tourism took over as the island’s main source of income. Today, you can visit the monuments that are witnesses to Ré’s interesting history.

HOW TO GET THERE

The island of Ré lies between Nantes and Bordeaux, and is connected to the continent by an impressive bridge. From Paris, it is approximately a 5-hour drive and from Bordeaux, two hours. By train, La Rochelle is the closest train station, and from there a bus serves the whole island.

SEE

This island is an 85 km jewel and has so much to offer. L’ile de Ré attracts vacationers through its charm, bright-colored towns, and landscapes.

Le Phare des Baleines

155 Allée du Phare, 17590 Saint-Clément-des-Baleines

Located at the tip of the island, le Phare des Baleines is a must-see. More than 50 feet high, the lighthouse offers a full panoramic view of the island and its surroundings. Built in 1849 by the architect Reynaud, le Phare des Baleines is considered to be one of the highest lighthouses in France.  Its name – The Whale Lighthouse – was inspired by the fact that numerous whales washed up on the coasts before construction. In 2012, the lighthouse was publicly declared a historical monument. Aside from visiting it, you can take a stroll in the garden, and who knows, even go for a swim.

A view of the Phare des Baleines ile de re
A view of the Phare des Baleines. FACEBOOK Le phare des Baleines
The famous straircase of the lighthouse ile de re
The famous staircase of the lighthouse. FACEBOOK Le phare des Baleines

Visiting the island’s towns

L’île de Ré is home to 10 colorful, and charming towns. From Rivedoux to Les Portes-en-Ré, discover all these wonderful, yet different villages, scattered along the coastline. Much like Noirmoutier, l’île de Ré is a great destination for cycling enthusiasts. The island is covered with bicycle lanes, which lets you explore easily, and without danger. If you wish to discover the island’s history, Saint Martin is the best choice as it is the most historical town. For the best beaches, we suggest going to Rivedoux, and le Bois-Plage as the swim is pleasant at both high and low tide, and the beaches are incredible. For night owls, La Couarde and Saint Martin are your best bets. Animation roams the streets at night, as well as a great ambiance! The lively towns also hold some great open-air markets!

The town of Saint Martin ile de re
The town of Saint Martin. FACEBOOK Sortir à Saint Martin de Ré
The weekly market in La Couarde ile de re
The weekly market in La Couarde. FACEBOOK Les marchés et commerces de La Couarde sur mer)

LET'S EAT

Whether you prefer a seaside restaurant, or a festive bar, l’île de Ré encompasses everything. Here are our top choices.

La Cabane des huîtres de Trousse-Chemise

Route de la Levée Verte, 17880 Les Portes-en-Ré

This little seaside bar is worth the detour. Set in a bucolic scenery, the oyster bar is the perfect destination if you wish to be in complete harmony with nature. As you first step into Frank Moreau’s bar, its eco-friendly nature will astonish you. Everything is made from recycled materials, as the owner has a no-plastic policy. At lunch or dinner, enjoy seafood dishes, such as: oysters, shrimps, bulots…etc. Feet in the sand, overlooking beautiful wildlife, and magical sunsets; doesn’t it sound like a dream? If you wish to dine in a local, and festive seafood bar, this is the spot!

The oyster bar ile de re
The oyster bar. FACEBOOK Les Huitres de Trousse Chemise

La Sarrasine

4 Quai Nicolas Baudin, 17410 Saint-Martin-de-Ré

Established more than 35 years ago in Saint Martin, La Sarrasine is known as the family-friendly place around the corner. Its grand reputation is reason enough to dine there. Enjoy a delicious sweet or salty crêpe on their terrace, overlooking Saint Martin’s famous harbor. The price points are very reasonable, and the personnel is detail-oriented to ensure the best service possible. Mainly crêpes are displayed on the menu, as well as: andouillette, grilled entrecôte…etc. The best part? Dessert, and a la carte: sweet crepes only filled with local products (salted caramel, artisanal jam, and even home-made spread.)