Shimmering brilliantly in the sun, the rich turquoise Atlantic Ocean is lapping against a perfect white sand beach. High above the old lighthouse rises from the vineyards to an impossible height until it’s lost within the perfect azure sky. Further inland the blue and white hues of the coast are juxtaposed by the verdant greenery of the vineyards; interrupted only briefly by a narrow cycle path or Spanish Villa style houses with green tile roofs and wooden shutters.
As you walk from the beach onto the island, the soft sounds of the surf are replaced by the steady chirps of the crickets… A gentle breeze washes over the island; cool and refreshing, a wonderful mixture of Atlantic salt and summer sun.
The Île de Ré is located off the West Coast of France in the Bay of Biscay, along France’s aptly named Cote Sauvage. At 30km in length and 5km in width and criss-crossed with cycle paths, the Island is easy to explore… Climb the mighty Phare Des Baleines to be rewarded with a view across the whole island and to La Rochelle on the distant mainland… Wander the narrow streets of Ars-en-Ré and be rewarded with a hidden cafe serving ice cold lemonade and super sweet crepe au nutella… Climb the ramparts of Saint Martin and relax among the many sun-strewn restaurants along the town quay… Or just ride your bike along the many cycle routes until you find a deserted stretch of white sandy beach meeting an impossibly blue ocean.
The Island has a long history and despite only getting a permanent connection to the mainland in 1988, it has been a key cog to the defence or attack of the French west coast. Captured and held for several years by the English and also a favourite for many who choose to rebel against the central French powers; the Island, together with Ile D’Oleron enabled virtual control of the Bay of the Biscay. Today, it’s hard to imagine the Island’s military past as they lie long forgotten in this chilled out paradise.
With a max elevation of 20m, after the lighthouse, it’s the town of Saint Martin de Ré that rises highest from the Atlantic. Feeling more akin to a Riviera town on the Mediterranean, the town has a rustic French charm that enables you to see beyond the flocks of tourists chasing the sun and to visualise the Island for what it is… A gem of the west coast.