For 15 years, my family and I have spent each summer on the French Atlantic coast. More specifically, Ile de Ré, a small island merely a bridge away from La Rochelle.
A regular feature in summertime trendy hotspots, Ile de Ré distinguishes itself by its unique vibe and casual chic nature. Unlike other holiday beach destinations, this island isn’t about partying the night away in clubs, yachts,champagne and private beaches. On the contrary, it’s all about family, cycling, surfing and eating local seafood while wearing stripy sailor tops on near-empty wild beaches.
One of the main components of Ile de Ré’s charm is the uniformity of the island and the way it has been protected by the local authorities. There is no graffiti, no traffic lights, no advertising other than local events, regulated architecture and over 100 km of cycle paths.
The island has not always lived from tourism though and continues to generate income from other activities, with the most notable being salt. Rétais salt marshes produce a high quality regular salt, but also ‘fleur de sel’ (flower of salt), which is the finest most delicate salt of all. The north of the island is filled with active salt marshes and when you cycle by you can see the pyramid-shaped piles of salt between the sections of the marsh.
Local donkeys, ‘baudets du Poitou’ used to work in the marshes and in order to protect their legs from the mosquitos and salt, they wore handcrafted trousers, which can still be seen during donkey rides in the island capital of St Martin. Fishing and oyster farming are also a huge part of the island’s life and the seafood there is truly unparalleled.
It can take almost an hour to cross the entire island, depending on traffic, from the first village in the south to the ‘Phare des Baleines’ (Whale’s Lighthouse) at the northern tip of the island. At the foot of this lighthouse, there is each year a jazz festival that brings together incredible performers such as Earth, Wind & Fire and Jimmy Cliff, who play for a handful of attendees by the Atlantic Ocean. The villages also each hold firework shows for Bastille Day and other occasions, as well as hosting nightly markets and bands, complete with dancing on the port.
I could wax lyrical about this small piece of land for hours and don’t think I’d ever run out of things to say. There truly is something for everyone and now, you need to go and discover it for yourself. If you’re looking for wedding inspiration for your big day, pop over to the La Fête Blog here.
Vincent Brun Hannay Ile de Ré