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travel There's a working marina and a terri c market to explore at
Ars-en-Ré, a village said to attract politicos, while the media folk
holiday in La Couarde. As you cycle through the salt ats that open
out into big-sky views north of Loix, you'll see the landmark black-andwhite
church tower. In Les Portes, browse the little boutiques,
stop for a co ee at La Bazenne café-restaurant, and take a walk
at La Patache, a wild and pretty little strand. From here back to
St-Clément des Baleines, the west coast is lined with pine forests and
sand dunes, and the long sandy beach of La Conche des Baleines
unfurls, a fantastic place for bracing walks, sunset gazing and sur ng.
The beach at Rivedoux, the rst you pass after arriving from the
mainland, is dedicated to kitesur ng. For safe family beaches, the south
coast is best, between La Couarde and Ste-Marie de Ré. However the
most reliable all-round beach fun is to be had at Le Bois Plage and
Gollandières; Les Grenettes is the place to surf.
There are plenty of deluxe rentals around the island. SJ Villas has
three new properties on its books, including the colourful and stylish
La Maison des Prises, which sleeps up to 10 people, has a pool,
terrace and gleaming, well-equipped kitchen.
Among all the hotels, chambres d'hôtes and villages de vacances
(small resorts), not to mention the campsites, the Hôtel de Toiras in
St-Martin is a high-end favourite among British visitors. It is plush and
historic, yet cosy and small-scale, with 29 rooms - nine in its airy,
more contemporary annexe, Villa Clarisse.
Occupying a merchant's house dating from the 15th century, the Toiras
is family owned, with interiors designed by proprietor Olivia Le Calvez.
The Pierre Loti suite, named after the globetrotting writer and naval
o¤ cer, is a luxurious mix of French antiques and orientalist art. Rooms
are themed on a writer, painter or historical gure with local connections,
such as the 17th-century letter-writing aristocrat Madame de Sévigné
and George Washington (who was descended from a Rhétais, apparently).
The small team are brilliant at securing dinner reservations, arranging
bicycle hire and suggesting horse-riding or birdwatching excursions.
There's a pool, courtyard and secluded garden at Villa Clarisse, which
is more languid and glamorous, set back from the harbourside.
If you came to Ile de Ré and never left St-Martin, with its handsome
Vauban forti cations, commissioned by the unwarlike Louis XIV and
now UNESCO-listed, you'd still be won over. It's walkable, thronged in
summer, idyllic out of season, and has a dozen good restaurants and
bistrots. At the gastronomic end, the Toiras' own Table d'Olivia allows
guests to select their own catch from the market. Les Embruns is lovely
for top-drawer seafood, and the friendly owners ply diners with rum
at the end of the evening. For fruits de mer or apéritifs, served on the
terrace or in the pubby interior, the Bistrot du Marin is popular among
yachties and locals. Skipper, a cheerful seafood brasserie with 200 seats
overlooking the harbour, is a good choice for families: the seafood is
excellent and the sta are patient and helpful. A little removed from the
hurly burly, L'Avant-Port is discreet, with a quieter terrasse nearer the
Bureau du Port and the Yacht Club HQ.
These days, the Parisian crowd is more international, and Bentleys are a
common sight on the main roads but, whether you rent a house, stay in
style at the Toiras or rely on the hospitality of that Parisian aunt, Ile de Ré
has a way of making you feel part of something very small and special.
Standard-class return train fares from London to
La Rochelle start at £109; uk.voyages-sncf.com, 0844 848 5848
Brittany Ferries and P�O both run regular crossings
to and from the French Channel ports;
easyJet flies to La Rochelle from London Gatwick and
Hire a bicycle at Yoo Too, St-Martin-de-Ré,
Le Bois Plage and La Flotte; cycles-yootoo.com
WHEN TO GO
High season, from June to August, is very busy,
especially on the eastern side of the island, but
the weather is great and there are terrific fireworks on
14 July. April/May or September/October can be
more relaxing and less expensive.
WHERE TO STAY
Hôtel de Toiras (pictured right) and Villa Clarisse,
St-Martin-de-Ré, doubles from about £180;
La Maison de Prise, La Couarde sur Mer, from £1,050pp
per week in high season, based on 10 sharing; sjvillas.co.uk
WHERE TO EAT
L'Avant-Port, St-Martin-de-Ré; lavantport.com
La Bazenne, Les Portes; +33 5 46 55 39 43
La Part des Anges, La Couarde sur Mer; +33 5 46 29 83 62
La Terrasse, La Couarde sur Mer; +33 5 46 29 86 53
Le Bistrot du Marin, St-Martin-de-Ré; +33 5 46 68 74 66
Les Embruns, St-Martin-de-Ré; +33 5 46 66 46 31
Skipper, St-Martin-de-Ré; leskipper.fr
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