Know you want to go to the Ile de Ré but unsure which village to stay in? Read on!
We share our views on the island’s best villages as well as top tips on where to ride and stay.
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Our top three Ile de Ré villages
While the island is small and the villages are charming, some are better than others for cyclists - and the accommodation options, restaurant and beach options are variable too. So here’s our pick of the best.
Ars en Ré
From a purely cycling perspective, we think this is the best village to stay in. It's in the quieter southwest of the island and you're in prime position to access our favourite bike paths, which wind their way through vibrant marshland, salt beds and oyster fields. For routes, check out the rides section in our ultimate guide to the Ile de Ré for cyclists.
About the village:
Ars en Ré is a gorgeous village, with twisting lanes flanked by whitewashed, green shuttered houses. The central square has restaurants with seating spilling out onto the cobbled square. The square itself is dominated by an immense stone church, complete with iconic black and white spire (which also has a practical purpose: it's a nautical day mark and can be seen from afar).
The side streets leading off the main square are home to a number of little boutique galleries, home furnishing shops, flower shops and boulangeries.
It's a short stroll from the main square to the small port. It feels a touch more modern and it is smaller than the ports at La Flotte and Saint Martin, but still very pretty.
Ars en Ré is one of the two villages on the island that are on the official list of France’s prettiest villages.
Where to stay:
We’d stay at the Hotel Le Senechal (or in one of the houses and apartments they run): boutique hotel standard decor and a charming position in the centre of Ars en Ré.
Saint Martin de Ré
If you’re based in Saint Martin, you’ll be on the north coast in roughly the centre of the island so you have lots of cycling options. An attractive bike path leads west along the coast towards Loix, past oyster farms where you can stop and sample the fayre.
Paths also take you inland through vines and poppy fields and onward to the wild south coast beaches. Or you can head east to lovely La Flotte. For more information on routes, take a look at the rides section in our ultimate guide to the Ile de Ré for cyclists.
About the village:
Firstly, Saint Martin de Ré is not really a village. For some reason everyone calls it that, but actually it’s a decent size town and certainly the biggest community on the island. If you're after lots of shops to browse and restaurants and cafes to relax in, this is the place for you. It's the historical and commercial centre of Ile de Ré, dating from 1005. It is centred around a big marina that's surrounded by three and four storey buildings that house clothing boutiques, antique shops, restaurants and cafes.
There's also a covered market selling all sorts of delicious local produce. Narrow, winding lanes lead up the hill, past fine houses, to the magnificent, partly ruined church.
Near the marina is the attractive Parc de La Barbette with magnificent trees, red and white lighthouse, playground and donkey rides.
There's a small beach, La Cible, just outside village with a nice little restaurant. We visited at low tide and while the huge area of exposed sand was great, it was a long way to the water, via significant quantities of mud! It was interesting to see the locals out looking for oysters and shellfish, as well as the professionals accessing their oyster beds.
The village is surrounded by an impressive star shaped set of fortifications. They're a UNESCO World Heritage site and so historically interesting but also a great place for a stroll.
Where to stay:
Most of the Ile de Ré’s hotels are found in Saint Martin de Ré. This is also where you find most of the luxury hotels. Check the accommodation section of our ultimate guide to the Ile de Ré for cyclists for all of our suggestions - but our favourite is Hotel de Toiras (opulent, located on the marina, impeccable service) or, if we were travelling with the kids, we’d go for Le Clos Saint-Martin (modern chic, two pools, excellent spa).
La Flotte is about 4km east of Saint Martin de Ré. There’s no coast path but there is a cycle path that follows the main road between the two villages. The prettiest cycle paths on Ile de Ré are in the west of the island, so if you base yourself in La Flotte, you find yourself cycling via Saint Martin de Ré quite a bit. That said, 4km is not exactly a significant distance and for many, the more laidback, quieter vibe of La Flotte is worth it. The rides section of our ultimate guide to the Ile de Ré for cyclists has lots more information.
About the village:
La Flotte could be described as Saint Martin’s little sister. There’s certainly a strong family likeness between the two, they’re both centred around beautiful marinas lined with old buildings contains restaurants and bars whose tables sprawl across the harbourside. They both also have winding cobbled streets and charming shops, restaurants and markets. The real difference is size; La Flotte is much smaller than Saint Martin, and perhaps a bit less self-conscious.
Tucked away just behind the port is a medieval courtyard where an excellent daily market is held. Don’t miss the delicatessen stall with a wide range of pre-prepared food, from salads to beef bourguignon. There are also a couple of narrow pedestrianised streets with shops, bike hire places and more cafes and restaurants.
A few hundred metres to the east of the port is a sandy beach. It’s gently shelving so a good spot for children.
The 17th Century Fort la Pree is about 3km to the east of the village, and is one of the most worthwhile sights on the island. Read more, in our guide to the Ile de Ré.
La Flotte is one of the “plus beaux villages de France”, the most beautiful villages in France. It’s easy to see why.
Where to stay:
We stayed in this wonderful 5 bedroom villa with pool. For additional recommendations read the accommodation section of our ultimate guide to the Ile de Ré.
The rest of the Ile de Ré's villages
Saint Martin de Ré, La Flotte and Ars en Ré have the most options for places to stay. There is also plenty of accommodation in Le Bois en Plage and Rivedoux Plage (particularly self-catered villas and camping). It's more limited in the Ile de Ré’s other villages.
Here are our impressions of the Ile de Ré's smaller villages.
This is the first village you come to after you cross the bridge. It feels quite different to the others since a number of the buildings seem modern and the centre has had an obvious facelift in recent memory. It overlooks the bridge and while its beaches are sandy and extensive, views out to the heavy industry of La Rochelle park may not be as appealing to all.
Sainte Marie de Ré
On the south coast, a few kilometres from Rivedoux is Sainte Marie de Ré. It’s a charming village in a quiet, slightly faded way. It’s full of whitewashed old houses and has an impressive church. The beautiful village square is also worth a look. Just below the village, there’s a lovely bike path from Sainte Marie de Ré that winds along behind the sand dunes. It’s signposted from the map in the church square.
Le Bois en Plage
8km west from Sainte Marie you come to Le Bois en Plage. It’s a pretty village with a big daily market. There’s no harbour but it has 6km of beautiful sandy beaches and is home to lots of campsites and water sports.
Couarde sur Mer
3km on from Le Boise Plage en Ré is La Courarde sur Mer, another small, pretty village. It sits in the narrow part of the island and is the lynchpin point between east and west. We’re told its wonderful beach is popular in summer, particularly with the island’s young people.
5km north of La Courarde sur Mer is Loix. When you look at the map, you realise that this little village is so cut off by water that it is almost an island within an island. It's a quiet, sleepy village, with a nice (if not outstanding) village square and church. The boulangerie impressed, with a still warm pain au chocolate.
It’s a fun approach by bike - the path winds it way through the salt marshes and along a bridge over the water mill to the small harbour. Since it’s out of the way, it feels a bit more authentic than some of the more popular, well visited villages.
Portes en Ré
At the far west end of the island, this village has a particularly pretty pedestrianised square with a couple of art galleries, wine shop and cafes. The beaches of Patache and Blanc du Bucheron have fine sand and are amongst the best on the island. It's a wonderful ride from Ars en Ré to Portes en Ré (or the other way around). You traverse the marshes and Lilleau des Niges nature reserve, spending some time on decking above the water.
Saint Clement des Baleines
5km from Les Portes en Ré and at the opposite end of the island to the bridge, Saint Clement-des-Baleines is most famous for its beautiful lighthouse. The village is pretty, but small and much less memorable than the lighthouse. There’s also a small market and a fabulous boulangerie...try the pain suisse, it was to die for!
Where to stay
We hope you now feel clued up on the Ile de Ré’s villages and what they have to offer. Now you just need to find your perfect place to stay - we hope our accommodation suggestions might help.
Also don’t miss our views on the Ile de Ré’s best restaurants.
Got a question? Do get in touch, we’d love to help.