The beloved French island of the Ile de Ré has long been a favourite among those in search of a little taste of the pastoral way of life surrounded by quaint villages and unspoiled nature. This quiet, pretty destination is a delightful blend of cosy cafes, rustic restaurants and rows of little shuttered houses, long strips of wild sandy beaches mingling with brushlike tall grass, harbours bobbing with fishing boats and, of course the waft of fresh treats from the local boulangeries.
The gentle pace of local life invites visitors to abandon their cars and explore the island's understated natural beauty on foot or, the best way, by bike,
Whether you wish to cut through the island's famous salt marshes, chocolate box villages or untamed coastline, with the Ile de Ré's 110km of cycle paths, there is an itinerary for you. What's more, given the Ile de Ré's bike friendly topography (the highest point of the whole island is a mere 19 metres above sea level), it is the perfect option for those who would rather not break into much of a sweat as they take in the picturesque scenery, making exploring the Ile de Ré by bike, a fantastic option for all the family.
That's not to say you won't deserve to treat yourself at a restaurant with a taste of the local delicacies at the end of the ride, however...
Given the island's status as a cycling haven, there are plenty of options for bike rental for those looking to discover the Ile de Ré by bike, with helmets and advice on itineraries available from the friendly locals.
In summer, there are a great deal of tourists looking to discover the island by bike. We therefore advise booking your bikes in advance to avoid disappointment.
Here are some of the better local options:
Portes en Re:
Ars en Ré:
Saint Clément des Baleines:
Sainte-Marie de Ré:
Villanovo's local concierge can also arrange your bike hire for you.
Once you're on the saddle, we have no doubt that you'll find the island's car-free cycle paths a joy. We recommend the idyllic villages of Ars-en-Ré and Les Portes-en-Ré close to the salt marshes, as great starting points, with a 17km looped path between them providing an excellent opportunity to discover the gems of the northern part of the island, such as Baleines lighthouse. This area is also home to the 120 hectares of greenery that make up the Reserve Naturelle de Lilleau des Niges, where a brief pause and a picnic lends the opportunity to spot some of the local birdlife the island is famous for.
Further south you might like to explore the area around Sainte Marie-de-Ré and Le Bois-Plage-en-Ré, where you can take in a long strip of wonderfully natural beach fronts, as well as stop off for a free tour of the local cooperative vineyards. Meanwhile, on the other side of the island the UNESCO World Heritage Site of the 17th-Century Vauban fortifications of Saint Martin-en-Ré offer a different kind of cultural experience, with its ancient ramparts no doubt sparking the imaginations of the littlest ones. On the quay of the same village also features the famous La Martinière ice cream parlour, where all kinds of weird and wonderful flavours are on offer, including potato flavour! And just along the coast you can find the village of La Flotte, regarded as one of the prettiest in all of France.
On the cycle paths, information points are available if you have any questions. There are 4 of them and they are very easy to access:
Sandpits - Rivedoux-Plage
Big Rush - Le Bois-Plage-en-Ré
Le Martray - Ars-en-Ré
La Maison du Fier - Les Portes-en-Ré
Meanwhile, for those who are a little tired or lost, the Vélo-Mouettes shuttles are on-hand to help you.
Near each cycle info point, there is a Vélo-Mouette stop where shuttles stop to get to the next cycle info point. Each shuttle is equipped with a trailer that can transport your bike for only €1 per person.
The South Gourmet Tour: designed for sports enthusiasts with a big appetite, this tour introduces you to the island's cuisine through more than ten gourmet stops.
Distance: 22.3km Time: 4h Difficulty: medium Altitude difference: 86.49m
The forest path circuit: ideal for a family outing, this path weaves through trees, over the dunes and by the sea.
Distance: 9.3km Time: 1h30 Difficulty: easy Altitude difference: 47.47m
The Vauban circuit: for the most enthusiastic visitors, the Vauban circuit allows you to discover the history of the island –conflicts between Catholics and Protestants or between French and English…
Distance: 36.6km Time: 5h Difficulty: medium Altitude difference: 103.34m
For a full list of itineraries, including maps, visit the island's official website.
Suffice to say, for a small island, the Ile de Ré packs in a huge amount of history and natural beauty into its 85km², both of which have remained wonderfully intact. From the aforementioned Vauban fortifications and the old whaling lighthouse of Les Baleines to the 12th-century origins of the church of Sainte Marie, the island is dripping with monuments to its storied past, many highlighting the traditionally tempestuous relationship between the Britons and France. .
Meanwhile, the splendour of its beaches, natural parks and country roads offer plenty of opportunities for outdoor enthusiasts to participate in countless activities.
Beyond the obvious charms of its cycling routes, the Ile de Ré provides a fantastic setting for those wishing to try their hand at windsurfing, paddle boarding, kitesurfing and canoeing. Everything you need to stay active on your stay in the beautiful Ile de Ré.