At La Redoute, we offer Parisian style with a little touch of England. So, when the time comes to take a break from busy city life, what better way than to take a leaf out of the chic Parisian’s book and jet off to the little-known Isle of Île de Ré, a place so romantic, so beautiful, and so pretty, it feels like something from a film!
We stayed in St Martin de Re, one of ten small towns dotted around the island. St Martin offers the perfect opportunity to sit back, relax and watch the (very stylish) world go by Strolling around the creamy cobbled streets, you will see that the beautiful old houses all have gorgeous shutters and wooden doors, painted in a strict palette of one of three soft shades of blue, grey and green to match the landscape. No neon signs are allowed, and there are no chain restaurants or stores to spoil the view, so the overall impression is of a dreamy, pastel idyll where time slows down and the world becomes an Insta-friendly gem.
While you won’t find any major chains on the island, there is still plenty to tempt your purse, from pricey but original antiques (brocantes) shops to fresh open air markets where you will find an incredible array of foods from fresh cheeses to olives, wine and fruit. Artisan stores offer beautiful linens for the home and individually made jewellery. Clothing stores tend to be pricy, and in high summer offer sparkling white linens that perfectly match the island dress code.
Ile De Ré wasn’t even on my radar, it wasn’t a place I’d ever heard of. Which is crazy because it’s basically like France’s version of The Hamptons – the swish and super chic place the Parisians swan off to in the height of summer to enjoy life at a slightly lazier pace.
At the beginning of the month I travelled to what can only be described as the most photogenic island on earth. OK, so there may well be others – but if you’re a shutters / sophisticated paint colour/marina/ice cream kind of a girl, then the Île de Ré is the very place for you.
The whole island is cycling-crazy,and you will see both young and old out on bikes of all shapes and sizes, meandering merrily along the 60 miles of specially-designated cycle lanes that circle the island. You can hire your own bike for the week, or by the day, and it really is the best way to see it all, from sun-kissed beaches - Le Bois Plage on the South coast of the island is best for sand and sea - to the salt filled marshes on the north side and the pretty harbour at the island’s capital, St Martin de Re.
Eating and drinking well is practically a state instruction, and there is no shortage of mouth-watering restaurants, bars and cafes serving deliciously prepared delicacies. However, you will want to explore, and the best way to get around is by bike.
Eating out is an art form in Île de Ré, and proper food and drink is taken seriously here. Lunch is served after 12, and never before, and the pavement cafes and restaurants have designated areas for dining, woe betide you if you try to sit in the “wrong” seats for just a drink! It’s certainly not all three-course-meals, although you may be tempted to indulge in the delicious fare, and snacks are available – try delicious sweet and savoury crepes or sea-fresh whitebait with garlicky mayonnaise. Fresh fish is abundant, with menus changing daily, and red meat is also a staple.
Mornings are for fresh croissants and aromatic café au lait, and an absolute must is a visit to La Martinière, in St Martin or La Flotte, this celebrated ice-cream parlour stocks irresistible homemade ice-creams, sorbets and waffles in an array of flavours. Visit the café for superb cakes, and the shop for take home gifts of macarons, candles and pastries.
We experienced fine dining at La Coccinelle, In the centre of St Martin, the casual Le Bistrot Du Marin is situated on the edge of the harbour, and the menu here is traditionally French,with fresh Moules Mariniere and frites, simple fish dishes and hearty red meats. No bookings are taken and expect a queue – this place is very popular!
Le Baleine Bleue holds a prime position on the harbour in St Martin, and is always busy. Again, fresh fish is a speciality and it serves all day, from pastries at breakfast to light lunches and three-course dinners. Expect to pay a premium for the stunning views, it is the perfect place to watch the sun go down.
As a tourist destination, Île de Ré offers plenty of choice when it comes to places to stay,from sprawling villas with their own pools, to cosy hotels and le camping. We stayed at the charming LaMaison Douce, 25 Rue Merindot, in the heart of St Martin De Re. Each room in this tranquil space is individually decorated in soft greys and white, with antique French furnishings, a charming courtyard garden, and a serene conservatory where a buffet breakfast is served.
Île de Ré is easily reached by the modern toll bridge from La Rochelle airport, a teeny tiny airport where check-in is a one man (or rather girl) operation and there’s no duty free to speak of. We flew from Southampton with Flybe, and by the time you fasten your seatbelt and sip on some chilled prosecco, you are practically in to your descent! You can hire a car to take you over to the island or take a bus.