I had no expectations about the Île de Ré. All I knew was that it was an island to the west of La Rochelle, and to bring my bathers because there would be a beach. As the bus drove across the causeway that links the island to mainland France, the scenery changed. Gone were the quaint villages, green fields and endless forests. Now we were driving past campgrounds perched on the water’s edge, by salt marshes and through seaside towns as the bus made its way towards Saint-Martin-de-Ré.
The French come to the Île de Ré for summer holidays, and there is everything from large camping grounds to fancy hotels to accommodate the holiday-makers. In Saint-Martin, restaurants are clustered together along the harbour, while behind them the laneways lined with souvenir stores, clothes shops and antique sellers lead up the hill to the ruins and bell tower of Église Saint-Martin de Saint-Martin-de-Ré.
The Église Saint-Martin de Saint-Martin-de-Ré stands at the top of the hill and looks over the town. Visitors to the church can climb the belfry for a better look over the citadel and fortifications of Saint-Martin-de-Ré (part of the Fortifications of Vauban, a UNESCO World Heritage Site).
A stroll back down the hill through narrow laneways that shield you from the hot sun brings you back to the water’s edge, where you can walk along the fortifications of Saint-Martin-de-Ré, or make your way back to the harbour.
If you find yourself down in the Parc de la Barbette, you might come across a sight unique to the Île de Ré: donkeys who look like they’re wearing striped pyjama bottoms. While now a tourist attraction, the donkeys were originally dressed in trousers to help protect them from mosquito and other insect bites while they were put to work harvesting salt.
The laid-back atmosphere of Saint-Martin-de-Ré lets you unwind and have a holiday away from your hurried sightseeing of your mainland ventures. Breathe in the salty air, find yourself a spot to gaze at the view and enjoy letting go.
- The bus to the Île de Ré leaves from the Place de Verdun in La Rochelle. The bus schedule is posted at the bus stop. Tickets can be purchased from the driver.
- Visit the Saint-Martin-de-Re tourism information office for more information about Saint-Martin-de-Ré