Île de Ré is that island in western France where all Parisians find refuge in the summer. With their casual chic resort clothes, striped t-shirts and straw hats. They cycle the island and they experience the sea on a sailing boat.
In the Middle Ages the monks settled on this island, planting vines and extracting salt, a precious salt called 'white gold'. In addition to wine and salt, important quantities of seafood are bred, from oysters to clams, but also shellfish.
WHAT TO DO
First you rent a bicycle in L'Île de Ré (there are 110 km of easy cycle paths). Let's start to discover the island, passing through small villages, salt marshes, hares and swans. With the wind in your face, and the wicker basket full of baguettes, croissants, vegetables and fresh fruit.
In the morning there is the low tide, let's collect clams. The hulls of the boats rest on land. The markets are crowded. In the afternoon let's go sailing. And then a tour of the cobbled streets and refined boutiques of Saint-Martin-de-Ré, defined as a World Heritage Site by UNESCO, with its red roofs, whitewashed walls and green and blue shutters. In the evening, let's watch the sunset from La Cabane du Feneau (famous for its seafood!). Here the '30s music makes the mind travel to atmospheres of other times. Refined 'Ambiance' in La Table d’Olivia: a restaurant in a historic 17th century building, with precious tapestries and antique furniture.
Le Sénéchal hotel, in the quieter Ars-en-Ré, is the perfect place to sleep. Designed by the architect Christophe Ducharme, the interior design combines vintage crystal chandeliers with waxed concrete. But also wooden fireplaces and coconut floors. From here, take the bicycle and go towards the Lillea nature reserve, to the Bois-de Trousse Chemise. Going back you pass by Le phare des Baleines (bicycles can be rented from Les Cycles N, a stone's throw from the hotel). Visit the PickSel saltworks to discover the ancestral profession of a local producer.
Hôtel de Toiras: this heavenly boutique hotel is housed in a 17th-century building, at the entrance of the port of Saint-Martin-de-Ré. Designed by Pierre-Yves Rochon, the interior decoration reveals enchanting atmospheres, antiques furniture and refined fabrics from the most prestigious French Maison such as Pierre Frey, Canovas and Brunschwig (www.hotel-de-toiras.com).
Le Corps de Guarde: the emerald green of the harbor water, the blue of the Atlantic ocean. An oasis of calm at the entrance to the port of Saint-Martin-de-Ré. This refined maison d'hôtes welcomes five rooms with a view of the Atlantic in an ancient 17th century residence (www.lecorpsdegarde.com).
Hôtel le Sénéchal: in the heart of Ars-en-Ré, a particular hotel with an informal design that enhances the authenticity of raw materials such as wood and waxed concrete, in contrast with the preciousness of crystal chandeliers. In the courtyard, there is a small heated swimming pool and a breakfast area: the 80's bistro cups are from the Flora by Apilco line, still in production today (www.hotel-le-senechal.com).
La Table d’Olivia, Saint-Martin-de-Ré: a veranda restaurant overlooking a lush garden. Refined dishes are flanked by Manuel Canova's tapestry Bragance, a floral riot of blue Portuguese vases and rhododendrons (www.hotel-de-toiras.com).
Le Balaou, La Couarde-sur-Mer: an informal restaurant and quality food. Here I discovered the 'mouclade charentaise au curry': mussels seasoned in a curry sauce (excellent with a glass of white wine!).
La Cabane du Feneau, La Couarde-sur-Mer: an ancient ocean view hut that raises seafood. The romanticism of 1930s songs as a background. Do not miss the Grande Assiette de Mer with oysters, clams, prawns, crab, scampi and sea snails - the fat ones, the bulots (www.lacabanedufeneau.fr).
La Tour du Sénéchal, Ars-en-Ré: a pleasant address for breakfast or lunch. It is located in the square, right in front of the Saint-Étienne church characterized by a white and black spire.
La Cabane au Fier, Ars-en-Ré: a restaurant grill de la mer overlooking the bay of Fier d’Ars. Try the 'chaudrée à la charantaise', a fish soup, accompanied by a good glass of fresh wine. Le Pain Perdu Brioché and l'Oeuf à la neige are delicious (www.lacabanedufier.com).