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Ask a roomful of Parisians, and at least one is likely to have
a house on the Ile de Ré, or a friend with a house, or an
aunt… A green dot o the Atlantic coast of France, part
of the Poitou-Charentes region, it is at, uncluttered
and accessible, with the gentried bucket-and-spade,
pre-industrial appeal of our own North Norfolk or West
Wittering, and a charmed microclimate. Though the island is
crammed in high summer, Rhétais life is largely hidden behind villa
walls. So discreet is it, especially in the west of the island, that lm
stars and racing drivers can holiday entirely undisturbed.
Locals will tell you that the bridge linking the island to the continent
brought Ile de Ré its upper-crust fan base. Yet it was always smarter
than neighbouring Ile d'Oléron, for example, and its low-key chic and
yachty style are the antithesis of St Tropez. Cars are permitted on the
island, but the level terrain and 60-mile network of cycle tracks means
that two wheels are the best mode of transport.
From St-Martin-de-Ré, the postcard-pretty shing harbour that is the
'capital' of Ile de Ré, you can pedal o for a morning or a whole day, with
nothing much more than cash, sun block and a hankie in your pocket.
A map is optional, since the cycle tracks are signposted; getting lost isn't
a disaster, anyway, with no more than 20 miles by three miles of island to
meander around. The pistes cyclables are more like country lanes, taking
you among salt marshes, oyster beds, protected nature reserves and
vineyards as you explore the island's 10 villages and miles of beaches.
Each village is charming - with barely a single advertising hoarding
to blight the pretty, narrow streets - all hollyhocks and green-painted
shutters. While in La Couarde, stop for an ice cream from the kiosk on
La Rue Grande, or a glass of something cold and biodynamic at La Part
des Anges wine bar. Take a look around the covered market on Avenue
du Mail, which has plenty to oer (bread, olives, cheese, meats) if
you're thinking about a picnic on the sandy beach. At La Terrasse,
just over the road, they cook Limousin beef over an open re.
Chic yet low key, and with an enviable climate,
the Ile de Ré o the west coast of France makes
a charming and relaxing holiday destination
WORDS SOPHIE DENING
THE WEST COAST IS LINED WITH PINE
FORESTS, SAND DUNES AND A LONG SANDY
BEACH FANTASTIC FOR BRACING WALKS,
SUNSET GAZING AND SURFING