Of course you’re all dying to know about my holidays! It’s a funny old thing as the one I want to tell you about – a jaunt to the super-swank, super-chic Ile de Re off the west coast of France – is one that you basically know about already.
I have never been somewhere abroad that was so comprehensively filled with English people. When I mentioned on Instagram that’s where I was going on holiday, I had multiple – MULTIPLE – messages saying “see you there!” As I walked down a charming cobbled street to the marina one morning a cheery call of “Esther!” come through the wrought-iron gates of a hotel. “Hello!” I waved back. We walked with our children to the tabac in order to buy them toys and snacks. It was genial.
So what can I tell you, my fellow Ile de Re-ites, about this island? Nothing! But I can tell you about the particular place we stayed, called Villa Clarisse. They very kindly put us up for 3 nights, which included a family room (one Superking for us and the kids on a perfectly okay camp bed in the next room) and breakfast every day.
Less of a hotel and more like a very upmarket B&B, Villa Clarisse is down a small street from the main port/town on this island, called St Martin-de-Re. We flew to La Rochelle with EasyJet and then VC organised a taxi for us from the airport to the island, over a long sea bridge.
Scuse me for the quick subject change but mainly the shopping here is fucking epic. Don’t ask me what any of the shops were called because I was too drunk and stressed out by having spent the entire summer with my family to have written stuff like that down.
But even in the tiny crapola tourist clip-joint shops on the marina the clothes were fantastic – lovely blouses and sunhat and floppy trousers and ditsy floral mid-skirts UUHNNNN. Next time I go I’m going at the start of the summer holidays with one of those checked laundry bags and I will fill. It. To. Bursting.
Here are some pictures of Villa Clarisse:
Alas I didn’t manage to take any photos of our room before we comprehensively trashed it, but it was a good room – lovely high ceilings, nice big bathroom, AC but also windows that actually open. I can confidently recommend the whole thing to you.
The breakfast was also delicious – and they serve tea and cake on request at around 4pm on the lawn by the pool. Properly proper.
Now, the caveats. St Martin-de-Re doesn’t have the best beaches – you can reach the good beaches from here, but you have to cycle. This is all fine if you have very small kids who can go in one of those kiddie-boxes on the back of a bike, or if they can confidently cycle on their own or if you have no kids at all.
If your kids are like mine – too big to go in a box but not good enough on a bike to go on a cycle path, this place is not for you. Unless you’re not interested in beaches in which case what are you doing here?
I would also say that the time we went. August Bank Holiday, was probably the worst time to go ever. It was packed it was heaving. Not just with genial Sloanes but also with day-trippers from Paris, which is only 2hrs away on the TGV. So if you’re planning a trip do not go then.
It’s also not cheap – it’s basically London prices for pretty much everything. This is good in a way – its accessible location and the beauty of the beaches is such that if everything didn’t cost a bomb it would be overrun and trashed, as comprehensively as our hotel room, within 2 seasons.
But then you have probably all been many times and know all this already!
What else do you know about Ile de Re that I don’t?? Good hotels right on the best beaches for non-cyclists? Specialist Ile de Re villa rental companies?
Please leave comment in the handy box below. I’m also happy to answer any specific questions about Villa Clarisse. Go, go, my friends; go, go, go.
I love this place https://en.hotel-le-senechal.com/ right at the end of the island (possibly meaning a tiny bit less busy? We went mid-September where it was all but deserted). Beautiful spaces downstairs, felt like wandering around an Elle Dec spread. Tiny gardens that lead into one another. Good deep pool. Lots of variety of rooms and apartments.
Emma Dawson says
Having been there the same time as you, Esther (but annoyingly FAILING to be the first to spot you IRL), I’ve got a few nuggets to add. South coast of the island defo has the best beaches. Plage Gollandiere in Le Bois incredible. Reminded me a lot of north Norfolk with (slightly) warmer sea. You’re spot on with the bikes – they do need to be able to cycle fair distances. We were in Sainte Marie which is about half an hour by bike from Le Bois. We cycled to La Flotte too and ALMOST to St Martin but that was about the limit my aged buttock muscles would take. Eating out – got to be standing outside a restaurant at 7pm to have any hope of getting a table unless you’ve been weirdly organised and booked. Turn up at 8 and they’ll guffaw in your face. I had looked for hotels near the beaches but the only one I came across was Atalante and it seemed a bit middle aged and therapy-ish. I’d say if you had young children then Bois would be a good location – village/market/supermarket/amazing beach. We had a car as had driven from Arcachon (AMAZING) so also drove to the top of the island one night (and to suss out the golf course for my boys). Random point but the churros sellers seem a bit miserable – think you had a po-faced one too. The one in La Flotte really believed in the working time directive and refused to open until the bongs of 8.45pm even though desperate snake of children standing watching, hungrily. I reckon June is the perfect time to visit – hollyhocks would be out in force and not too busy – but failing that by the week of the 27th August (or whatever that Monday turns out to be) the majority of Parisians have gone home and it feels emptier.
Hi Esther, my family has had a place on the island for many years and I completely agree with your review above!
Sorry to hijack the comments (and please delete this if it contravenes self-promotion rules, I’m not sure how it works) but I have an apartment that I rent out in Ars-en-Ré, which is at the far end of the island, near the great beaches that you mention. If anyone is looking for somewhere to rent for next year (or for autumn half term this year), my two bedroom apartment is right on the harbour front in Ars (next to the Cafe du Commerce, for anyone familiar with the village), with a large roof terrace covered in vines. I can send more pictures/details if you email me at firstname.lastname@example.org
There is also a lovely hotel in our village, called Le Sénéchal, that I would highly recommend for people wanting to stay at this end of the island. You’re right about the hordes of people and easy accessibility from the mainland, which is mitigated a bit for us by being further away from the bridge and campsites etc at the near end of the island.
I’d agree about St Martin which is stunning and has the best shops and lots of restaurants but it does get incredibly hectic. The problem is that there aren’t many hotels on the island (and those that are, are mostly in and around St Martin) and most of the non-privately owned houses (which is a small percentage) are rented year to year by French families who have been coming for decades so the market is rather sewn up.
If you have small children I’d recommend staying at the far end of the island in either Ars or Les Portes as it’s close to the beaches and the bike tracks are a lot quieter if your children aren’t very confident bikers. A warning – Les Portes is gorgeous and very close to the beaches but it is completely deserted out of season and even in season doesn’t have that many restaurants (although it has a couple of really great womenswear stores). Ars is still quite humming (partly due to the amazing market which people travel all across the island for) until much later in the season. BUT if you have older kids, the only nightlife to speak of is in St Martin (there are a couple of bars open late in Ars but that’s it) – having said that, it’s worth bearing in mind that the whole island is really trying to move away from being a nightclub kind of destination, not that it ever really was, so teenagers may be disappointed by the quietness.
It is a great place for a family holiday though! We have been going for 20+ years and although it’s got busier and busier, we still adore it.
Georgina no no – you’re very welcome to plug your place! It sounds wonderful I hope some Spikers will be in touch to snap it up!
Tag alongs re bikes for the in between years. You can cycle miles with them as they can put their feet up and have a rest (which they find hilarious).
Did you go to Puy du Fou? I took my 7yo boy a few weeks back (staying near La Roche Bernard) and he nearly DIED OF JOY despite not speaking any French. As did I. Bugger me, it’s a sight to behold.
Ste Marie de Ré is quieter and just as cute. The medieval part of the market at La Flotte is lovely. We camped at Huttopia, would not recommend that (too full, though the other campers were mostly very sweet and yes, British).
We always stay in Saint Martin or la Flotte even when our son was small. Tag-alongs on the back of your bikes are the answer. We cycled everywhere with him cycling behind but attached!
Ha! We just returned from Ile de Re….seems like EVERYONE had been there except for us….and I can understand why it’s such a draw! What a blissful place. We took a mobile home at Tous Les Prises which had been recommended. It was nice enough (as my limited experience of campsites go….) but I found the beds were about as comfortable as park benches and I spent a lot of time sweeping grit from our bedroom floors. I guess I’m not a natural camper. (I shall be investigating other accommodation ideas from your comments section for a second visit ). I think Ile de Re is best suited to people sans kids who want to drink wine and shag a lot….Did you go to Le Cible at Saint Martin for lunch?….it’s a gorgeous spot for a bit of people watching….Also, to anyone thinking of going, it’s definitely more pricey than London, particularly in Saint Martin (€14 for a coffee and two apple juices!) .