Île de Ré, located on the Atlantic coast, is one of France’s biggest Islands. With its ten villages, amazing beaches, and a variety of natural sites and historic landmarks, you need at least a few days to cover it fully. But where should you go if you only have one day in Ile de Re?
In this article, I’ve built a detailed plan to help you discover the highlights of Ile de Re in one day. You will visit the salt marshes, eat oysters, discover the best markets, and spend some time on the beach. The program is quite packed but with enough energy, you can get it all done in one day 🙂
If you have only one day in Ile de Ré, the best way to move around is by bike (you’ll get all the info later in this article). Most of the places I’m going to suggest here are reachable by car/bus but it’s more complicated and less fun than cycling on the Island.
Start your day in Saint Martin de Ré
Saint Martin de Ré is labeled as one of the most beautiful villages in France and one of three such villages in Ile de Ré. It’s considered the capital of Ile de Ré and is the most lively and interesting village to visit.
Saint Martin is home to the biggest port on the Island as well as a bustling city center with plenty of restaurants and shops. It’s a perfect place to start your one busy day in Ile de Ré.
Stroll the center of Saint Martin de Ré
Saint Martin de Ré has one of the busiest town centers and ports in Île de Ré. Many houses here date back to the 17th and 18th centuries. During that time the village saw great financial growth with many salt and wine merchants moving into the town center.
Take a stroll in the historic center and discover the interesting mix of architectural styles. Don’t miss the colorful houses and historic buildings such as the Eglise Saint-Martin with its bell tower and panoramic terrace.
Springtime is particularly beautiful in Saint Martin de Ré with many houses decorated with local flowers from Charentes Maritimes. The most prominent one is the stunning hollyhock flower which you can find in abundance in the region.
Saint Martin is also home to the famous citadel, the historic star-shaped fortress that was built at the end of the 17th century by Vauban, a renowned French military engineer. Built originally to protect the city in case of a siege, the citadel was later used as a prison.
The tourist office offers weekly tours of the citadel, every Tuesday from April to June, you can book the tour here.
A drink at the port of Saint Martin de Ré
The port of Saint Martin de Ré is one of the highlights of this charming village. It was a thriving economic center of the salt and wine trade, turned today into a popular sailing destination. The port is abundant with terrace cafes and restaurants with a beautiful view of the resting boats. it’s a perfect place to start your day with a café-et-croissant on a terrace 😉
Saint Martin de Re is also famous for its ice cream. One of the best ice cream shops, La Martiniere with about 50 ice cream flavors is located here on the port.
Go to the market
Saint Martin has a very nice covered market located just next to the port. If this is the only village you’re going to visit, this is a great market to buy some local specialties. However, if you’re going to visit more villages on my list, you can skip this one, as our next destination has a better market.
Rent a bike to start discovering the Island
Now it’s time to start the most popular activity to do in Ile de Ré, cycling!
Cycling is the best way to discover the most interesting parts of the Island. Ile de Ré is covered with dedicated cycling paths that connect the villages to one another. Most of the paths around the villages and the salt marshes are car-free making it a very easy ride.
Cycling is the way I usually get around the Island and I based my list on the fact that you’ll do the same. You can of course visit most of it by car or using the Navette (shuttle bus) but I believe that it’s less enjoyable.
Keep in mind that Ile de Re is a very popular destination so during summer the bicycle paths can get quite busy. If possible try to start your biking tour as soon as possible.
Where to rent bikes in Ile de Re
You can also build your own trail with the map provided by the tourist office. You can get a physical copy of it at any tourist office in Ile de Re as well as the rental bike shops. Or just follow this article to discover all the best spots to visit in one day.
Go to the beach at Le Bois Plage en Ré
After an approximately 20-minute ride through the vineyards of Ile de Ré, you’ll arrive at Le Bois-Plage-en-Ré. This village on the southern coast of the Island is home to some of the best beaches on the Island.
Here you’ll find one of the biggest daily markets that I highly recommend visiting. The market offers a huge selection of seafood and all the specialties of the region like salt, Cognac, and cheese. You can buy some snacks and do a picnic on the beach, which is our next destination.
The village is bordered by 6km of sandy beaches hiding behind dunes. The most popular beach here is Plage des Gollandières, loved by surfers and families alike.
Take some time to swim in the ocean and enjoy this amazing beach.
Salt Marshes, oysters, and other beautiful villages in Île de Ré
Get back on the bike to discover one of the most charming villages in Île de Ré. La Couarde sur Mer is strategically located on the southern part of the Island between wine, oyster, and salt production areas.
La Couarde has a cute center with restaurants, bars, and a big carousel for kids. It’s not as lively as other villages on this list but it has one of the best markets on the Islands. So before we enter the salt marshes, take some time to enjoy lunch or have a drink at one of the terrace cafés in the center.
If you didn’t go to the beach in Le Bois-Plage-en-Ré, there’s another great beach right here. La Couarde borders a long 5km strip of sandy beaches and offers a variety of water activities such as surfing, jet skiing, SUP, and more.
Salt and oysters
From here you’ll continue to one of the highlights of Ile de Ré. Les marais salants (the salt marshes) are located in the Fier d’Ars area, surrounded by the villages of Loix, Ars-en-Ré, Portes-en-Ré and Saint-Clément-des-Baleines.
Salt farming was a thriving economic activity in Ile de Ré from the middle ages until the end of the 19th century. More than 1000 salt workers were working at the time in the salt industry. While today it’s a much smaller industry with less than 100 salt workers, they still use the traditional techniques that have been passed from generation to generation.
You can learn about the traditional methods that haven’t changed from the middle ages by visiting the ecomuseum of Salt Marshes in Loix. However, it’s definitely not a must to enjoy La Route du Sel.
Continue on the cycling path towards Loix and it will take you into the heart of the salt marshes. If you’re visiting from June to September you can see the workers harvesting the salt.
On the car-free cycling path, you’ll notice tables with small bags of salt. If you want to buy some, just leave the money there and take a bag as a souvenir of salt with you.
If you followed the route of salt you have just arrived in Loix, another charming village. Loix is almost an Island within an Island, bordering the salt marshes and surrounded by a 14km coast. It’s home to one of the more kids-friendly beaches, Pointe du Grouin, that feels more like a lake beach.
The village has a cute town center with a few coffee places. It also hosts a little market that takes place daily during school break and the summer.
There’s also a sailing school here called Ile de Re voile, where you can take sailing classes or rent equipment in case you want to sail or do kayaking.
One of the most interesting parts of Loix is the village artisanal. Plenty of merchants and craftsmen open their workshops and boutiques for visitors. Among the most interesting ones are the soap producer (savonerie Atisanale de re) and l’Abeille en Ré, a honey farm.
Stop for oysters
Another agricultural production in the Fier en Ars area is oysters. On the cycling path, you can find several oyster cabins where you can enjoy fresh oysters in an authentic atmosphere. The menu in these cabanes usually also includes shrimps, pork patés with bread, white wine, and not more than that really. But what more do you really need? 🙂
I recommend La cabane du Feneau at La Platière de la Passe, La Couarde-sur-Mer.
Depending on the time it took you to get here, you might be towards the end of your day. If that’s the case, you should feel proud of yourself for discovering so much of the Island, However, if you have an hour or two, continue with me to two other magical places.
If you have more time to spend in Ile de Ré
If time permits, it’s a good opportunity to discover the western part of the Island which is calmer but very special nonetheless.
Ars En Ré – one of the most beautiful villages on the Island
Go back on the route du Sel and cycle until you arrive at Ars en Ré. This small village is labeled as one of the most beautiful villages in France, partly thanks to its church, Église Saint-Étienne.
The church, dating from the 15th century, has a black and white bell tower that is seen from every corner of the village. In the past, the bell tower was used to guide boats sailing toward the Island. Hence its unique colors.
Ars en Ré is also home to one of the best markets in Ile de Ré, taking place daily in the summer. In the winter it’s happening only on Tuesdays and Friday mornings.
The village has a cute center and a port with plenty of small restaurants, which would be perfect for dinner at the end of the day.
Phare des Baleines
Let’s end your one day in Ile de Ré with a stunning view!
The lighthouse of the whales, Phare des Baleines, is located at the most western spot on the Island, in a village called Saint-Clément-des-Baleines. It’s one of the tallest lighthouses in France and one of the most visited landmarks in Ile de Ré. To be able to see the breathtaking view you’d have to climb 257 steps to the top of the tower. From there you’ll see the Island, the ocean, and the nearby “old tower” erected by Vauban.
To reach Phare des Baleines you can continue cycling on the Route du Sel or go through a more forestry southern route.
The lighthouse is open for visits all year long. See the opening hours here. On the site, you can find plenty of nice souvenir shops and places to snack and have coffee.
Hope you enjoyed your day in Ile de Ré, now start cycling back so you don’t miss your boat/bus back 🙂
Here are other articles about amazing places in the Charentes you might like to read about when planning your trip to Ile de Re:
You can also get plenty of tips on things to do in the Southwest of France via Lost in Bordeaux’s social media accounts and email list, check them out here:
*Note – Some of the links in this article include affiliate links for which I earn a small commission. It adds absolutely nothing to your cost and helps me continue writing about this amazing region. Don’t worry, I’m not getting rich here, I’ll never recommend anything I don’t believe in 🙂