Everything you need to know to enjoy a cycling holiday on Île de Ré, an island off the west coast of France.
Where is Île de Ré?
Île de Ré is an island off the west coast of France. It's in the Charente-Maritime department of Nouvelle-Aquitaine region (the 'new' French region that combines Poitou-Charentes and Aquitaine).
How do you get to Île de Ré?
Île de Ré is linked to the city of La Rochelle on the mainland via a wonderful piece of architecture, Le pont de l'île de Ré. It's a sweeping 2926.5-metre feat of engineering that's 42 metres above the water and a feast for the eyes. At the time of writing, the toll for crossing by car was €8 (you pay in one direction only); it's free to cross by bike or on foot.
We drove to Île de Ré with our bikes on the car, but for cyclists arriving from the mainland on two wheels, Île de Ré links in nicely to the Atlantic Coast La Velodyssey EuroVelo 1 bike path from La Rochelle. It's also a short hop from La Velo Francette, the bike route that links La Rochelle to the ferry port at Caen in Normandy.
I've marked both routes on the map below – just zoom into the west coast to also see routes on Île de Ré itself.
Why go for a cycling holiday on Île de Ré?
Île de Ré is rougly 30km long by 5km wide, making it a perfect place to explore by bike. In fact, it's the quintessential cycling holiday destination for people wanting a leisurely cycling experience. It's also a wonderful place for families. There are no hills here (the maximum elevation is a barely recognisable 30m); instead, there are miles and miles of dedicated, car-free cycling paths. In fact, you could cycle here all day – or for days, even – and barely cross paths with a car.
It's also almost impossible to get lost (we've mapped some bike routes suggestions here), as the bike paths are impeccably signposted. I'd estimate 60-70 per cent of the paths we rode in two full days of cycling were sealed tarmac; the remainder were a smooth, stone-free dirt paths that posed almost no puncture risk to a bike with robust tyres (so easily navigable on a town bike or hybrid). Andrew rode a town bike rented from our hotel, and I had my road bike with 28cc tyres. The mini-cyclists had their kids' bikes with MTB tyres. We did see a few out-and-out road riders but, on the whole, people in Lycra were an endangered species in this little corner of France.
When should I visit Île de Ré?
The island is lovely all year round, but pack a jacket and gloves for chilly offshore winds that can sometimes prove challenging. There's no getting around the fact that the island is a tourist attraction in its own right. Summer is particularly busy – Île de Ré has long been a holiday haven for Parisians (it's a popular second-home destination), while it also attracts daytrippers from the mainland. The main towns heave in summer but the bike path network means it's easy enough to escape the crowds, though beware of the higher volume of cyclists on the routes and take care around corners. We visited the last week in October and, to my mind, autumn and spring are the best times to visit. There are fewer tourists, and the hotels and restaurants aren't as busy. If you're OK rugging up, winter brings with it deserted towns and bike paths, but plan ahead by taking a picnic for lunch stops as many places will be closed offseason.
What to see and where to cycle on Île de Ré?
Attractions are mostly focused on the outdoors – birdwatching, farming, viniculture and, of course for an island, the sea. But there's also plenty of history. See this page for a complete list of things to do by bike.
Where can I hire a bike on Île de Ré?
There is no shortage of local options for hiring a bike (see the map above for a few suggestions and also our bike delivery page for Poitou-Charentes). Also ask at your hotel as ours had its own fleet of hire bikes (pictured below), and it wasn't the only hotel we saw with bikes.
If you're visiting in summer or in the French school holidays, make sure you plan ahead as **everyone** gets around the island by bike – even though hire shops are plentiful, it still pays to book ahead (especially if you need trailers or other accessories like tagalongs or cargo bikes). See here for options.
Where to stay?
We stayed at Hôtel La Jetée in Saint-Martin-de-Ré and found it a great base for exploring the island. Most of the key attractions on the island are in the north/north-west (e.g. the lighthouse, honey farms, forts, and the more popular oyster shacks), making Saint-Martin-de-Ré and its restaurants and bars a good base (there's also a mini-golf course for the kids). For something quieter you could look towards Ars-en-Ré if you can get past sniggering at the name. The village is also a good lunch stop en route to the lighthouse. For other options (and to avoid the €8 charge for driving across the bridge if you have a car), you could stay in La Rochelle (see here for a suggestion) and visit the island on daytrips. See our map above for accommodation suggestions on the island as well as on the mainland in the Cherente-Maritime department.
Where to eat on Île de Ré
We stocked up on supplies for picnics at local supermarkets or bought sandwiches and quiches from boulangeries for lunch (there is a great boulangerie in Saint-Martin-de-Ré). Offseason this can be a good idea simply because not everywhere will be open in the quieter corners of the island. In peak season it's also a good idea as restaurant spaces can be limited outside the larger towns. During our visit in late October, the village of Loix – a lovely ride from Saint-Martin-de-Ré – had two restaurants open, as well as a boulangerie. However the village was busy with cyclists and I imagine finding a seat at either eaterie would be tough in high summer.
Oyster bars are scattered right along the island's coast – there are a number as you head out towards Loix and the lighthouse. All serve fresh oysters from the sea, as well as those other two vital cycling staples: wine and coffee.
We ate on a shoestring for lunches and saved our pennies to enjoy the harbourside restaurants of Saint-Martin-de-Ré in the evenings. We scoped the menus out during the daytime and made reservations for each evening to ensure we didn't end up eating to late with the kids. In high season, you should absolutely make sure you book ahead so you have a pick of places and don't end up eating in a tourist trap.
We can highly recommend Le Serghi, which was where we had the best meal of our stay (delicious starters pictured below). On the eastern side of the harbour, it's open all day for drinks but also has an exceptional evening menu. The children's main meal – €8 – was a paired down version of a full fish meal. No packet fish fingers here but chef-prepared fresh fish with gourmet-style carrots and tasty frites.
Other local recommendations in Saint-Martin-de-Ré include Cote Jardin, Les Embruns and O Parloir. All these places have good value 'midi' lunch menus as well as evening offers. Main towns like Saint-Martin-de-Ré have loads of options of varying quality and affordability, while even the smaller towns and villages have one or two restaurant options in the warmer months.
What else do I need to know?
See this page for a list of must-do things to do on your Ile de Ré cycling holiday.
The local tourist board website has lots of advice and information for visiting the Ile de Ré. See also the Charente-Maritime tourism website for information on things to do on the other side of the bridge.