The Ile de Re is one of those places that once you’ve visited once, you keep returning to, drawn back by the memories of browsing markets, bike rides, beach trips and ice cream concoctions. I’ve been coming to this island since I was 6 and although it has become a lot more upmarket in recent years, happily the island hasn’t lost it’s very special charm; it remains the place where the French go to holiday, and although you’re expected to at least try to speak French, tourists are welcomed, (n.b. selfie sticks couldn’t be more out of place here.)
Once you’ve crossed over the bridge that connects the island to the main land, La Rochelle, you notice that time here goes more slowly. The streets are filled not with aggressive cars, but bicycles, the streets filled not with glassy eyed, power walking individuals but people meandering from port to port. There are a string of villages dotted around the island, all of which have their own identity, their own best beach, their own best market and their own best coffee and ice cream parlour. Wherever you end up staying, you’re in for a treat but being biased, I would recommend La Flotte.
House goals, La Flotte stlye
One of my favourite places in the world is a cobbled, enclosed, chaotic square. La Flotte’s food market, is something truly special. Each stall proudly showcases the best the island has to offer in the way of fresh fruit, vegetables, cheeses, jams, wines, soaps and trinkets.
Will you brie mine?
The noise when you enter the square escalates with vendors enticing people over with cries of ‘try me, freshly picked today, freeeeeee testers…'(N.b. you can spot the British who are the ones hogging the sample bowls.)
There’s nothing better than loading up your bicycle and heading to one of the nearby beaches for a picnic, but should you want to avoid a sandy bum, then La Flotte has plenty of restaurant options. For lunch, I’d head to Les Pieds dans l’Eau. Situated on the water’s edge, the tables outside are the ones to nab.
The menu is short and simple with lots of raw fish/salads/loaded flatbreads – dishes which all, rather too conveniently, pair beautifully with a carafe of the local rose.
In the evenings, the port in La Flotte is awash, literally with rose. People spill out onto the cobbled streets, drinks and aftersun in hand. A local jazz band strikes up around 7pm and families, couples and a few well groomed dogs amble from bar to bar.
I would head to a bar that frames the port, have a drink whilst watching the sun set and then walk along the harbour to La Croisette.
Open for lunch as well as restaurant, this is a popular spot so worth booking and requesting an outside table. They do a great two course deal, with dishes arriving perfectly instagramble.
Whatever you do, make sure one of your meals features a side of potatoes. Seasoned with the salt from the marshes, these fluffy bad boys are the bomb and dangerously moreish.
Work off the potatoes by biking to La Flotte’s abbey; set amidst rolling fields, it is a truly spectacular, humbling sight.
One of the largest ports on the islands and the my favourite port to while away a late afternoon when most people have eaten one too many ice creams and headed home, meaning that the cobbled streets are are yours to potter, ice cream in hand.
Note how I mentioned ice creams within the first sentence of introducing St Martin…..the queues for La Martiniere ice cream shop never seem to be less than four people deep. The feverish excitement, the muttered conversations, the jostling of elbows becomes understandable once you’re faced with the ice cream counter. Imagine every single ice cream flavour you’ve ever tried.
Now imagine being faced with every single one plus concoctions such as bubblegum, cactus, pamplemousse and oysters and potatoes; now you understand why people brave the queues!(N.b. I wouldn’t order the oyster/potato flavour, unless the taste of salty oyster is what you’re after. And one hundred percent, this oyster ice cream is not an aphrodisiac.)
Whoever at La Martiniere invented their MACAROON ICE CREAM SANDWICH was quite frankly a genius, but also responsible for my need of elasticated trousers. No words can do this combo justice.
Trust me, if you do one thing during your trip to the island, buy one of these, (and in the name of research, also get an ice cream), and head to the harbour to sit with your feet dangling over the water’s edge overlooking the boats. Here you’ll have some fantastic people watching and can decide which boat you want to sail away in, David Gray style.
La Flotte to St Martin is about a thirty minute bike ride which takes you past a beach; so load up your bikes with products from La Flotte’s market, head to the beach for a siesta and a swim and end up strolling around St Martin, following the sign posts for ice creams and macaroons!
La Flotte is very much a family friendly village. Children dash around on bicycles, young couples stroll together with arms slung around each others shoulders whilst adults dip in and out of the boutiques; with a warm atmosphere this is a village that gives out the chilled holiday vibes like no other. St Martin is more upmarket, with much more expensive shops and hotels but people do come straight off the nearby beach to wander the cobbled streets which ensures that the village retains a laid back and inclusive feel. Whether you choose to stay at La Flotte or St Martin, your days are going to be spent biking to villages, browsing markets and eating all sorts of French food; not hard to see why I keep returning to this island!