Just off the coast of La Rochelle, France, in the bay of Biscay lies the Ile de Re, Connected to La Rochelle by a 2.9km bridge, this island is popular to visitors for its fantastic views of the bay and excellent Atlantic beaches. It is also known for its sport, both on land and at sea. Cycling and hiking are popular with many travellers and locals alike. The Atlantic ocean waves also attract many sailors and surfers to the isle. You can also find some really fantastic accommodation around these parts.
Self-Catering Villas and Apartments
As the island of Il de Re is so small - spanning a distance of only 30km - it does not have a perceived centre, so location is not quite so important a factor. Traditional French villas and cottages are the most common form of accommodation on Ile de Re, peppering the villages with their green shutters, white-washed walls and tiled roofs. But accommodation on the island can be hard to get your paws on, especially in the high season. Holiday apartments are available too, for those looking something a bit more modern, or larger houses, if you’re visiting the isalnd with more people.
- The high point of Ile de Re reaches 20 meters and is 30km long.
- During the Roman times, Ile de Re existed as a cluster of 3 separate islands. The sea between the islands was then filled with salt fields produced by human activity in the area.
- It wasn’t until 1987 that Ile de Re was connected to the French mainland with the construction of a 3km bridge.
- The Ile de Re has approximately the same number of hours of sunshine as the South of France, which is considered to be the hotter holiday destination.
- The island became English when Alienor d’Aquitaine married Henry Plantagenet in 1154 and became queen of England. It reverted to French again when Henry III returned it to Saint Louis in 1243 as part of a treaty.
What Can You See and Do?
Beaches around the island
Looking for golden sand, great surf and unspoilt natural beauty? Then you’ve come to the right place. There are several excellent beaches on Il de Re. The Bay of Biscay enjoys the same turbulent weather as the English coastline on the Atlantic - some fantastic days of sunshine, but on the whole, choppy and unpredictable. But this means the beaches around the area particularly beautiful and not over populated with sun seeking tourists. The beaches here are better known for their water sports.
Wind surfing, kayaking, water skiing, surfing. These are just some of the many watersports and activities available on the Ile de Re. You can even try your hand at stand up paddle boating. The high level of wind the island receives makes it a great place to indulge in outdoor beach sport. Plage Des Grenettes is a particular good beach for surfing. There is a big surf culture on the island and the Atlantic sea brings some of the best waves in Europe. But don’t forget to bring a spare change of clothes as the journey back to your villa can be particularly cold in a wet suit!
Phare des Baleines
The Phare des Baleines, a lighthouse on the island’s northern tip, is the highest point on the island and with 257 steps to the top, makes for a great viewing point. From here you can see out over the ocean and over most of the island with a view of white villas speckled among the greenery and waterways.
Historic and Religious Sites
The island is steeped in history having changed hands between the British and French throughout the middle-ages. Reminders of both countries can be found upon the island, but are perhaps more interestingly preserved over the bridge in La Rochelle. The island still has remnants of the Nazi occupation and many bunkers, built to withstand a seaward invasion stand to this day. If you are interested in French politics though you may find it interesting to visit the Fortifications de St, Martin de Re, the strategically built wall surrounding the centre of the island, to protect it from attack. If you’re wondering what the main attractions are on the island in terms of sights, then you may be a little disappointed. The main sites here are mostly just understated (fragments of) historic buildings, places without mass tourist appeal as such. But like most of the historic buildings in France, they have a real charm and authenticity about them that perhaps many over commercialised tourist sites lack. Besides, the views from some of the bell tower churches are truly magical. It is the same in fact with the accommodation here, which is one of the main appeals of the island.
Ferry trips off the island
Ile de Re run cruises and ferry trips from the island to Fort Boyard and La Rochelle. You can choose to stopover or just take a day trip. If you already have your accommodation sorted back on the island, then you may prefer just to take a day trip and make the most of coming home to your authentic little villa for the night.
There aren’t many museums on the island, but one you might want to visit is the Maison de la Dune, a former forest house built as shelter and accommodation for the French forestry commission employees. It is not a museum as such but hosts several information boards about the surrounding landscape and dune and the lives of the people who lived around the area. You also get amazing views from the shelter out over the coast. There is also a museum to accompany the Fortifications de St, Martin de Re and the Maison du Plaitin, a museum devoted to the history and traditions of the people of Ile de Re.
For food lovers, locally sourced fish and oysters are ever present on the menu and are particular delicacies of the island. It is a tradition that fishermen sell a small part of their catch straight from the quay when they have returned from sea, so if you’ve opted for self-catering accommodation then make the most of your kitchen facilities but picking up some fresh fish and taking it back with you to knock up your own traditional French dinner.
By far the best way to get around the island is by bike, as the island is very flat and caters well for riders with a network of well maintained cycle paths. You can even pick up a cycle map in tourist shops and in the summer bikes are available like flies on fruit.