Guide to Ile de Re

Come July and August, irresistible Ile de Ré is where you’ll find half of Paris on their holidays. With absurdly pretty villages, strips of uninterrupted golden fluffy sand and some freshly-caught (but farcically cheap) seafood, this tiny island is laid-back French seaside chic at its best.

Sun, sea, sand, salt and cycles are the five elements that work together to make Ile de Ré so appealing, and even during the annual Parisian invasion, you can still find quiet corners of this exquisite Atlantic outpost if you know where to rummage. Here’s how to get started.

 

Explore the island by bicycle

The first thing you’ll notice on Ile de Ré is that everyone is on a bicycle. As the island’s highest point is only 19 metres high and there’s a 100km network of excellent cycle paths, it makes sense to get around on two wheels. Every village has hire shops where you can find tandems, electric bikes, trailers for kids (or, just as often, for dogs) as well as the classic city bike with baskets for your market shopping.

All of the villages are connected by bike lanes, as are almost all of the beaches. Trails dip in and out of vineyards, glide past fields of wheat and poppies and duck through pine forests. One of the wilder landscapes is the nature reserve at Lilleau des Niges on the north-western end, with its salt pans, marshes and thousands of birds. Ile de Ré is only 30km by 5km, but it can take at least two hours to cycle from one end to another – worth bearing in mind if you’re with small children.

 

Seek out secluded strips of sand

Sandy beaches cover much of the island’s coast, which curls into a fishhook at its western end. And that’s where you want to go to avoid the summertime crowds. Plage de la Conche des Baleines is one long sweep of sand backed by dunes and pine forests, merging into Plage de la Conche and Plage du Lizay. You won’t find ordered rows of rented sun loungers here – just sand and the occasional rollicking surf. Carry on to Les Portes-en-Ré for another collection of beaches, including the sheltered Plage du Trousse Chemise and Plage de la Patache.

The beaches on the southern side are closer to the main villages and, as a result, are more popular. However, outside of the main July-August holiday period (which starts to calm down from the third week of August), the dozen beaches that form an unbroken sandy chain around the island are surprisingly spacious.

Surfers should head to Plage de Gros Jonc near Le Bois Plage-en-Ré for gear rental and lessons. If you’re into kayaking, rent a canoe near the village of Loix for a lazy jaunt through the salt marshland.