To paraphrase that famous 19th British fairy tale “Goldilocks and the Three Bears”, one of the things vacationers and seasonal residents on the Ile de Ré enjoy most is a climate that’s “not too hot, not too cold, but just right.”
Connected by a 2.9km bridge from the city of La Rochelle, Ile de Ré is located on the Atlantic Coast, approximately midway between the beaches of Normandy and Biarritz. The Island, comprised of ten villages, has about the same number of sunshine hours as the South of France but enjoys a constant, gentle Atlantic breeze. Summer temperatures usually range between 20-28C, so think of the Island as a slightly warmer version of Brittany. However, just as the residents of Brittany like to say (euphemistically), the weather on the Ile de Ré can also be “beautiful several times a day”, meaning that a sudden change in the wind direction can bring intermittent clouds and rain part of the day, just enough to cool the skin from the summer sun.
The temperate weather and salty island air are only one of many attractions.
Beaches, beaches and more beaches
The Island is home to countless fine sand beaches, each with its own name and characteristics. If the wind is blowing too strong on one beach, a 10–15-minute bike road will lead to a beach protected by the wind. Just ask one of the lifeguards for directions. There are beaches with gentle waves and transparent waters for small children, such as Le Gros Jonc or La Loge, as well as beaches for body-and board-surfers such as Au Petit Bec, all of which are found in the village Les Portes en Ré. For those seeking peace and quiet, try Les Grenettes or Les Sauzes in the village Bois-Plage. Despite being a very popular tourist destination for the French, the plethora and diversity of its beaches means that no one beach is too crowded. Surprisingly for the Atlantic coast, it is not uncommon to find beaches with partly green-coloured water. The ocean temperatures are about 21-23C in August, not too warm, not too cold, but just right under the summer sun.
Laid back vibe
Who likes to drive in stressful, crowded traffic, especially on holiday? Given that the Island enjoys a network of cycle tracks, bikes are the preferred method of transport on the island. In fact, most vacationers and residents rarely use their cars. Beaches, supermarkets, restaurants and shops are all within comfortable biking distance. Ile de Ré, unlike some coastal areas in the South of France, is dress-wise casual and low key. Take your favourite polo shirt, shorts or summer dress and leave the jewellery and high fashion at home.
The Food scene
Ile de Ré is great for foodies. If you like seafood, especially oysters, clams, mussels and other shellfish, try one of the Ostréiculteurs (oyster farms), often owned by local families for generations. These shellfish are harvested fresh daily from each farm’s private bay. Plastic tables and chairs and reasonable prices (some out of the way places charge only a few euros for a dozen oysters) mean you can show up in your beach attire and feast after a hard day on the beach. There are also plenty of local markets. And, there are several restaurants in each village, from pizza, to cafés, brasseries and haute cuisine.
The local wine, the Pineau des Charentes is made from local dehydrated grapes. It’s blended with cognac to form a sweet, aperitif-type wine, though it’s not to everyone’s taste with it’s distinctive flavour.
Spending the whole time on a beach isn’t for everyone. Ile de Ré offers golf, tennis (both in Les Portes en Ré), sailing, boating, fishing, and all forms of surfing. Biking and walking trails abound. If you’re feeling ambitious but don’t want to break a sweat, go to the local market or antique shops and haggle!
Two of Ile de Ré’s ten villages are included among the 147 classified “most beautiful villages in France”, namely, Ars en Ré and La Flotte en Ré. That’s quite an achievement for an island of only 85kms, especially given the competition from more historic parts of France. The local architecture is uniformly quaint and simple. Predominantly white stucco bungalow or one-storey houses, red clay tiled roofs and brightly coloured window shutters, line narrow, winding streets. A profusion of flowers and plants decorate the streets and gardens all over the island. Everywhere modest but beautiful hollyhocks grow wild. A bike ride will reveal unspoiled dunes, seacoasts and salt marshes.
If you like the Atlantic coast, Ile de Ré’s temperate nature might be just perfect for you…
Marc Andrews is a former American, naturalised German citizen and lifelong Francophile who lives in a beautiful village in Normandy.