This is an unforgettable loop with unusual, striking scenery. It takes in all of the island’s major highlights. It’s a particularly delightful cycle route because it’s nearly all on good quality cycle paths. You’ll see Atlantic coast oyster beds, peaceful salt marshes with incredible birdlife, the impressive Phare des Baleines lighthouse, wild empty beaches and the beautiful towns of Saint Martin de Ré and Ars en Ré. There’s also the opportunity to detour through the less well known, but superb villages of Les Portes en Ré and La Couarde sur Mer.
Route map and profile
Distance: 58.5 km
Elevation Gain: + 218 / - 218 m
Max Grade: 3.5 %
Avg. Grade: - 0.0 %
Our favourite part of the ride is when the path opens out at Le Martray and there are spectacular salt beds and watery vistas as far as the eye can see. The bird life is incredible and in the distance you can see the impressive and distinctive spire of the church at Ars en Ré.
It's also a pleasure to visit some of the island's quieter and prettiest towns.
1. La Flotte to Ars en Ré: 0-18.5km
You leave the beautiful port of La Flotte behind you and take a slightly uninspiring cycle path up the (very slight) hill to Saint Martin de Ré. 3.5km later, you pass through the UNESCO World Heritage fortifications and head down to the impressive port. Hopefully you’re there early in the morning and can whizz through without needing to weave through the masses that arrive later in the day.
Once out of Saint Martin, a gorgeous path takes you north along the coast, past flat mud beds that are home to many oyster farms, some of which have attached restaurants with great views out to sea. Turning inland at Le Martray, the views open out across fields of water, home to the island’s famous salt production. It’s a really striking and unique environment. Across the fields the black and white spire of Ars en Ré’s church comes slowly closer and soon you’re at the town’s lovely marina. If you fancy it, it's only a few hundred metres inland from the marina to the main square.
2. Ars en Ré loop: 18.5km-39.5km
A meandering path takes you through vines, poppy fields and marshland for 3km until you turn east towards Les Portes en Ré. The landscape becomes really distinctive as you take a path that winds 3km through spectacular salt fields.
You’re then soon at Les Portes en Ré, a gem of a town with winding streets full of whitewashed, green shuttered homes, enticing art galleries, excellent boulangeries and a lovely peaceful atmosphere.
6km later, you find Phare des Baleines, an impressive structure, 57 metres tall. You can climb the 257 steps to the top if you have sufficient energy: the views are spectacular.
3. Ars en Ré to La Flotte: 39.5-59 km
From Ars en Ré, you take the same path back through Le Martray but then head south to La Couarde Sur Mer. This is a lovely town, smaller and quieter than its more famous siblings but with a nice town square, a range of shops and a couple of nice art galleries too.
The beaches 500 metres south of La Couarde are fabulous, wide, immense affairs. Here, or any of the beaches just to the south near Le Bois Plage, would make a good spot for an end of ride paddle or swim. We can recommend a beachside drink at Eau p’tit bois at Plage des Gollandières too!
All of the towns en route offer good coffee stop options, but a word of warning that nothing opens particularly early in the morning: we arrived at Portes en Ré at 9:30 one Friday morning in June looking for breakfast. At 10am we were still waiting for a cafe to open. Places we've tried:
La Case a Vent:
8 Place de la Liberté, Portes en Ré
One of the cafes on the main pedestrian area. We had a grand petit dejeuner which comprised bread, butter, jam, freshly squeezed orange juice and coffee. Nice enough but expensive and not worth making a special effort for.
14 Place Carnot, Ars-en-Ré
In a good location, opposite the church in the main square. Brightly coloured chairs give a modern feel. It was doing a roaring trade on a Friday lunchtime. Food was fresh and plentiful. A particular stand out was an enormous cesar salad that didn't scrimp on the nice bits. Service was relatively prompt and thoughtful (highchairs arrived without us having to ask and they asked for the children's food order first to ensure they weren't left waiting).
Not right for you?
Take a look at more of our accommodation recommendations in our ultimate guide to the Ile de Ré for cyclists.
Alternatively, our best towns for cyclists article should help you narrow down the best town for you. Since this is a loop ride, you could easily stay somewhere other than La Flotte and start the ride from there.
our tips on where to eat