I have, for the past few years, been in the grip of a love affair with the Ile de Re. I know: I am not the only one. But I have, truly, dedicated time, money and effort to pursuing the acquaintance. I first discovered it on a a blissful week in June when my husband was my boyfriend and we were young, footloose and full of fancies (like staying in bed til 9, listening to the swallows swooping into the eves overheard); then I took my mum for a blissful long weekend when I was first pregnant (we stayed in a darling little attic apartment – with views over La Flotte – and I started every morning with a pot of apple sauce to stave off the nausea). It was here that my husband and I had our first solo weekend, post-baby; and then, last year, our little family spent a blissful week pottering around the hollyhock-lined lanes, eating moules frites, and sipping wine, watching the sun set over the sea.
Think Cornwall with better weather (and less in the way of Camerons and Hoorays), an island out of the 1950s criss-crossed with bicycle paths; beaches with swathes of golden sand, and houses with painted shutters (in approved shades – it’s all very Farrow & Ball-ed). It’s the closest you’re going to get to Swallows and Amazons these days.
The Villa Clarisse in St Martin – the island’s biggest, chicest town – is the perfect bolthole for two (although they can, and do, accommodate families). A white-washed villa tucked down a side street, just a stroll away from the legendary Hotel Toiras (its sister hotel on the ridiculously picturesque harbour – dinner here comes highly recommended), it is perfectly blissful.
It’s a haven of white-washed, white-flowered calm, all very chic and ‘hmmm, shall we redecorate?’ inducing. We particularly loved: the hotel’s chaffer service to and from La Rochelle airport (result: no taxi queues); the heated pool; flinging open the shutters to admire the early morning sun from the comfort of bed; the simple, but perfect breakfast (with freshly baked pastries and local jam). When the small but perfectly formed in-house spa opens early next year, it really will be the complete escape package.
(If you’re holidaying a deux and fancy splurging, do try La Baleine Bleu. Or, for something less formal and modern French (i.e. if you’re more of a steak frites type), opt for Le Bistrot de Marin (L’Ilôt, Saint-Martin, (00 33 5 46 68 74 66) and stroll to La Martiniere for ice cream in giant waffle cones to takeaway (eat whilst sitting on city walls, admiring the view).
Ars en Re, nearly at the tippy top of the island, is quieter, more relaxed, slightly less (but only slightly) full of unnervingly chic Parisians. Plus, the beaches are, to my mind, better at this end of the island. Le Senechal is, quite simply, one of the loveliest hotels on the island.
There is a flower-strewn courtyard, a tiny little pool, rooms decorated with a charming mishmash of tasteful vintage – and you can even book one of the ‘little houses’ (complete with fireplace, your own patio, and – praise be – a separate room for small people. From €75 for a classic room (rooms are rated classic, character, rooms of charm, elegant, magnificent and exceptional), breakfast is extra, €12,50 pp).
La Flotte, with its gorgeous covered market, quaint harbour, and excellent seafood restaurants, is an easy option if you are travelling with or without small people. If you crave your own space, Bon Sejour en France has a good choice of high quality properties across the island (but look out for the unexpected extras: the non-negotiable cleaning cost was ridiculous). And I’ve just spotted this fab place on Airbnb (from €190 per night):
One thing you must do, wherever you stay on the Ile de Re, is make your way to LesTilleuls, just about the most charming little restaurant we found on the island.
Images: TootlaFrance, Villa Clarisse, Le Senechal, Airbnb