When you land on IR in summer: either touring the island either heading to the nice but probably crowded beach resorts.
Unless you visit the island for more than one day, touring would be my first choice.
We toured the island in one day, 70 km to drive. Not enough time to really soak up the ambience in another village than St-Martin-de-Ré. Yet, had a great time.
From the Pont-viaduc (bridge), took N735. N735 is the way that skirts the coast of the whole IR. We could just follow the N735 (red path on the map). But we had the chance that our guides knew the place well (they are Rochelais) so we did it differently.
We headed then to the ancient Abbaye des Chateliers. From there, followed the road to la Flotte area.
La Flotte.. was the first beach resort I saw there. If I recall it well, there were kids doing some kite... I found the beach very calm. Then, I was told by my cousin that in nearby, there was a nudist beach. I remembered asking in amazement "What? Kids are around and people would wander here nude?"
Now, was it here or near Le-Bois-Plage-En-Re? Don't remember but in one of them, surely.
Instead of reaching St-Martin-en-Ré, we went South and headed to Le-Bois-Plage, where is located a cool camping area. Initially, I am not a camping type. Yet, this was the opportunity to visit something new and it was not that bad. My cousin knew it a lot, knew what to do, to see on Ile de Re. Thing is, I saw a 4* camping village so it was quite OK. It was in Gros Joncs area.
After a long walk on the beach, it was about time to go to St-Martin for some good food. Check my Restaurant tips for that. Also, don't forget to see the citadelle of Saint-Martin. No specific visit but you can browse around.
Then, we continued our exploration: the salt marshes in Ars-en-Ré area (yummy shopping there). Also, a possibility to visit an salt collecting and oyster farm.
Finally, we drove to St-Clement des baleines area.. We saw the phare des baleines. Yet, les Portes (a bit Norther) was more interesting for me.
It didn't appear, for me, as something you must see while touring Ile de Re... but it's worth the glance. You wouldn't come to that conclusion unless you've done it.
The area houses the ruins of an ancient cistercian abbaye, that was built in the 12th century and torn down in the 17th.
For the ruins being located in a quiet desert area, no other buildings around, just the sea in nearby, you just hear the wind passing through the walls (well, the ruins, in fact).
I am not that fan of ruins, except that here, I felt a kind of atmospheric serenity and isolation. Entering the ruins, I just wanted to sit on a staircase at the corner of a wall and facing the main facade wall. It was easy to let your mind wandering, imagining the past, the setting that had to be there. And while doing that, hearing this breath, the wind... It was months ago but I can still close my eyes and hear it... Plus, it was a bit chilly but the sky was blue and sun was bright (see my pic). It sure leaves nice memories.
At the right of the church, you would find pilars, walls that seemingly parts of another setting. They are part of an ancient cloister.
A real activity that can rise a passion for oyster is visiting the farms.
I like oyster very much (Ian-Grace!!!!). Though I couldn't have a tour in the oyster farms. I could see the "bassin" (the pool where they breed oysters aftre their stint in the "wild") and have a little bit of explanation for free. I think it is what they call "affinage" or refining.
Yet, I think you can pay for a real tour in the farm. I don't know about farm stay, for long duration, though...
I could talk a bit with a farmer but we were only near the pool, not in the marshes. He was passionate but not in a "seller" mood. Well, he was not a guide, that's maybe the reason. :)
The passion farmers use to have for their job surely comes from their awareness of this to be a tradition. And also, from the pride the area feels for its local products that have spread all over the country, if not Europe and world. As far as I know, France is the place where to savour oysters. They are from this French Atlantic coast...
Oysters, white wine, lemon and the appropriate bread... I'm returning!
PS: Of course, you have the stalls in nearby premices, where to buy many types of oysters. Ladies there were very helpful, gave lots of information. Mouthwatering!
Personnally, I am not excited to see a lighthouse, whatever old it is.
However, I recommend this one for the view you would have from top of the lighthouse.
Le phare des Baleines is located west coast of IR. It inheritated its name from the wales that stranded on this side of the coast. By the way, it is in the commune of Saint-Clément-des-Baleines
The lighthouse, that was built in 1854, replaced the Old Tower (la Vieille Tour) that dates back to 1682. The latter is a bit norther to the lighthouse.
It's a lighthouse, so be ready to climb the 257 steps, with the round staircase, to reach a height of 50 m at top. Light can be seen at 50 km around and is at 57m above sea level (high tide).
From the top of the lighthouse, a panoramic view on IR, the coasts, l'île d'Oléron and the Ocean. Also, on la conche des Baleines, reportedly to be the most beautiful of IR beaches.
Le phare des Baleines is open for visit, all year.
Jan- March: 10.30 to 17.30
Apr- June: 10.00 to 19.00
Jul- Aug: 9.30 to 19.30
Sep: 10.00 to 18.30
Oct- Dec.: 10.30 to 17.30
It's also nice to relax on the beach, either by going through the park either by following the path at your left. Yet, beach is of sand and stones.
Here is a pic of the Old tower. And click here to see a picture of the lighthouse that replaced the Old tower.
Something you should do when in IR is to visit the salty marshes. Lots of products are extracted from the area, not only salt but also saltwort. Oyster farms are not far from the salty marsh either. But this is another activity.
You can visit the marshes, on foot or by bike. A nice itinerary in the middle of then marshes. At the one we visited, there was a kind of museum of salt. Video explained how salt collecting had evolved. In the room, some apparels, tools that the sauniers used to collect salt, were exhibited. Of course, the guided visit of the salty marshes, the steps in salt collecting, the whole job, is not free but if I recall it well, you can have some walk without guide.
It was interesting to see how hard were conditions sometimes, but also, how they managed to enhance those tools and techniques. For me, the most interesting part was the walks, off course
Fortifications of the town of St Martin-de Ré. Designed by Master Vauban, whose work we'd already admired at Neuf-Brisach (Alsace), Vezelay &c
Harbour scene, St Martin-de Ré. What could be more relaxing than just watching the boats sail in and out of the harbour?
These donkeys are like a symbol of an island but most of them are founded next to Saint-Martin-en-Re. They transfered the sea salt but today these donkeys are the folklore of the island
In Saint-Martin-en-Re there is a great shop La Martiniere. They sell incredible ice-cream you have to try for sure. I've tried caramel fleur du sel with Chantilly cream! mmmmmm....