Things to do, Île de Ré
Although Ile de Re is a small island, there are many beautiful things to see and do. Most activities are nature-based; there’s a lot to learn about the environment, as well as the heritage.
Three days is the perfect amount of time to see everything. However, beautiful sunshine, relaxation, and a traditional French atmosphere could keep you here for longer!
1. SUP Through the Marshes
Stand-up paddleboarding is a really great way to enjoy the nature of Ile de Re. Once you’ve mastered standing up, you can glide through the water of the beautiful marshes, see secret spots, and learn about the wildlife and plants that live in this ecologically diverse part of the island. The marshes are well known as the home of salt-making, and a guided SUP tour is a great way to learn more about the history of this process and the people that are a part of it. Tours normally last about 2 hours.
Visit the charming village of Ars-en-Re, one of the island’s 10 villages, known for its iconic church spire that can be seen across the island. Ars-en-Re is one of the most beautiful villages in France, and it’s no surprise why, with its cobbled streets, colorful shutters, and climbing flowers.
Spend a morning here wandering its streets, drinking coffee, and enjoying a freshly baked baguette. Alternatively, for more action, there are plenty of cycling paths that lead away from the port. Its flat landscape makes it perfect for cycling and it’s the best way to see the surrounding forests, salt marshes, and windmills.
For something different, hire ‘fat bikes’: bikes with huge tyres which are great for off-roading.
Another must-see village on your trip to Ile de Re is the stunning southern village of Sainte-Marie-de-Re, set on the coast and surrounded by vineyards. The ocean is the heart of this village, and people come from all over the island to enjoy surfing, fishing, and coastal walks along the cliffs. When you’re done enjoying the salty sea air, head into town to check out the church and the fantastic markets.
At the opposite end of the island, discover the ancient village of Saint-Martin-de-Re. The most impressive characteristic of this beautiful place is the fact that it sits within a star-shaped fort. Its history and preservation are so unique that it was awarded UNESCO Heritage status in 2008.
Seeing the fort is one of the top things to do on Ile de Re, however, the village itself is great too! Stroll through the old streets with its narrow alleys, charming cottages, and traditional wells, stopping off at one of the many fantastic cafes and bistros. Don’t forget to climb to the top of the bell tower for panoramic views out across the village and surrounding nature.
Spend a few hours at an organic winery like Domaine Arica, run by friendly and passionate owners Marie and Simon. Here, you can try the wine, learn about grape varieties, and even discover tasting techniques and get one of their very nicely designed bottles. It’s worth visiting just for the stunning location of the estate, right at the ocean’s edge.
4. See the Salt Marshes
Buy salt in France, and chances are that it came from Ile de Re! The island is home to spectacular salt marshes, and salt has been harvested here since the middle ages. Even better, they still farm salt using traditional methods.
We highly recommend visiting ‘Pick Sel’, a marsh run by salt-maker Romain. He still uses artisanal methods to harvest the salt and is one of 100 Sauniers (saltmakers) left on the island. Back in the 19th century, there used to be over 1000! He’s passionate about his craft and will teach you everything about salt production, the differences between coarse salt and Fleur de Sel, and how the salt marsh works in time with nature. Visiting the salt marshes is easily one of the top things to do in Ile de Re!
5. Visit an Oyster Farm
France is famous worldwide for oysters: a luxury aphrodisiac that people either love or hate! Whether you want to eat them or not, learning about how they are harvested is a top thing to do on Ile de Re. To do so, visit an Oyster farm, like the one belonging to the Bouyer family, where you will learn about the three-year journey from breeding to the plate!
6. Nature Reserve: The Maison du Fier
Nature and wildlife are really important to everyone on the Ile de Re. One of the best places to see birds in their natural habitat is the Nature Reserve of Lilleau des Niges. It is located in the north of the island, in the center of luscious salt marshes that are a popular place for birds to migrate to.
It’s managed by the Birds Protection League, and in order to make it as peaceful an environment as possible, visitors aren’t allowed to walk at the center of the reserve. However, plenty of walking paths and cycle paths skirt the edge of the reserve, which is still a great way to see them!
Getting to Ile de Re
Ile de Re is situated just across the water from La Rochelle (on the western coast of France) and can be accessed by a bridge. Fast trains link from Paris to La Rochelle in just 3 hours. From here, it’s possible to take a bus or taxi across the bridge onto the island. The journey can take up to 1 hour.
Note: if you’re driving to Ile de Re, be aware that you’ll need to pay to cross the bridge. This can cost up to 16 EUR in the high season, but 80% of this money is an eco-tax that goes towards preserving the island’s natural beauty. Well worth paying!
Where to Stay (Campsites)
The natural wonders of Ile de Re have made it a firm favorite for campers. Because of this, there are campsites all over the island, which are the most popular and cheapest places to stay.
You don’t have to bring your sleeping bag and tent, though: there are also slightly more comfortable options. For example, the wooden cabins at Campsite Huttopia, Ile de Re. Here you can enjoy nature from your cabin in an amazing location between the ocean, vineyards, and forests.
Best Places to Eat, Ile de Re
France is famous for its delicious cuisine! Ile de Re is no exception, and you can find delicious bistros, cafes, and bakeries all over the island. It’s also a hub for markets, where you can buy locally-made fresh produce. Everything listed below has vegetarian options available.
- Les Q Salés
- La Cabine de Bain (incredible food!)
- Cafe de la Plage
- A Cote de Chez Fred
- La Plaga (on the beach)