Cycle, stroll, admire
We couldn’t wait to wander around the spectacular countryside and charming little villages at our own pace. While holidaying for a few days on Île de Ré, a friend and I decided to explore the island by bike. We’re not exactly sporty. However, we’d been told that the island’s 100 kilometres (!) of cycle paths were perfectly accessible to everyone. And yes, Île de Ré is fairly flat!
We couldn’t wait to wander around the spectacular countryside and charming little villages at our own pace. So, armed with a map of the cycle paths from the Tourist Office, we were off on our attempt to tour Île de Ré in two days.
The north of Île de Ré by bike
The sun was shining on the morning we set out from Saint-Martin-de-Ré, our base on Île de Ré. We headed to the north of the island for the first day of our bike trip.
We saddled up and set off for La Couarde-sur-Mer for our first planned stop. The scenery was already changing as we pedalled through the first few miles. We were now cycling past lush green vines. On our arrival at La Couarde-sur-Mer, we discovered a pretty seaside resort with a cute town centre dominated by a 19th-century bandstand. Next, we headed to the white-sand beaches, tempted by the chance to relax in the sun for a while.
Once we got back on track, we headed towards Fier d’Ars, where a totally different environment awaited us. We found ourselves in the midst of a marshland checkerboard. The sun was glinting off the salt and fresh water marshes, making each plot glisten. In the distance, salt farmers were harvesting their famous product. It was truly impressive to see these people still using an age-old technique to harvest such a unique product from the sea.
We passed through Ars-en-Ré, winner of the title of France’s prettiest village. It’s easy to fall in love with this charming village, with its iconic black and white tower and pretty marina. Foodies through and through, we gave in to temptation and enjoyed some plain oysters, served simply in an excellent local restaurant (so fresh!)
The last stop of the day on our bike tour of Île de Ré was Saint-Clément-des-Baleines, where we’d decided to spend the night. But before that, we squeezed in a short trip to the famous Baleines Lighthouse.
There, we learnt the origins of its name (“baleine” is French for “whale”, and it had been built to stop sailors running aground on the rocks of Pointe de Baleines, so called because of the many whales beached there). More importantly, we discovered the most beautiful view of the island. Our calves already well warmed up from the miles we’d covered on our bikes around Île de Ré, we made short work of the steps to the summit. And it really was worth it, given the view over Île de Ré and the ocean that awaited us.
Windswept, we came back down and set off on a stroll around the authentic village of Saint-Clément-des-Baleines, before having a well-earnt rest.
The south of Île de Ré by bike
That morning, we decided against heading to the village of Portes-en-Ré, renowned for having the prettiest beaches on the island. Our bike tour quickly headed towards the south of the island to explore Le Bois-Plage-en-Ré. Here, we reached after 15 truly wonderful kilometres through vineyards and poppy fields. We didn’t want to miss the famous Bois-Plage market, because we were keen to stock up on fresh local products for lunch. We certainly treated ourselves!
That afternoon we arrived at Sainte-Marie-de-Ré, sheltered almost all the while by pine forests. We enjoyed a stroll around its maze of flower-filled alleyways. The little white houses with green shutters were a gorgeous sight, especially with the flowering hollyhocks which festooned the houses.
At the very east of the island, we reached Rivedoux-Plage, just across the bridge from La Rochelle. We took to the fine sand for a rest and to admire the little Chauveau Lighthouse, standing all alone out at sea.
On the final leg towards Saint-Martin-de-Ré, we cycled along the pretty marina at La Flotte. It was previously a fishing village. Today, the old boats bump up against café terraces, creating a friendly atmosphere that we just loved.
A light bit of pedalling separated us from our start and end point in Saint-Martin-de-Ré. We’d amassed so many memories of the salt marshes, the pretty sandy beaches and the typical island village. Likewise, we have the real joy of having pedalled at our own pace to explore the island!