Ile de Re, a little piece of heaven on the French Atlantic coast is home to many beautiful villages. There are ten villages on the Island, each with a unique soul and character. Some of the villages on Île de Ré are lively with buzzing city centers while others are very peaceful with long sandy beaches.
Île de Ré is not a huge Island and if you have a few days, you can visit all ten villages and discover their uniqueness. However, some villages are more beautiful and interesting than others and in this article, I’ll make you discover them. So if you’re time limited and want to make sure you visit the top spots on the Island, follow my list of the most beautiful villages in Île de Ré.
*If you need more recommendations for places to visit in the SW of France, join my Traveling in the Southwest of France group.
Beautiful villages in Île de Ré you shouldn’t miss
La Flotte – an ancient port with the most beautiful market
Île de Ré prides itself on having three out of its ten villages formally labeled as “the most beautiful villages in France” (Les plus beaux villages de France). One of these three stunning villages is La Flotte.
La Flotte is located on the northern coast of the Island and it’s the first village you’ll pass by after crossing the bridge from La Rochelle. The charming village has a rich history dating back to the middle ages. It was a busy port during the 13th century playing an important role in the salt trade on the Island.
What’s not to miss in La Flotte:
La Flotte is home to one of the best markets in Île de Ré. Built as a medieval-inspired market, it’s a perfect place to try some of the regional specialties just before you leave the Island. The market is located at Place du Marche and is open daily throughout the year.
The historic center:
La Flotte has a bustling historic center with plenty of nice restaurants and beach fashion boutiques. Take a stroll through the narrow paved street and absorb the atmosphere and the architecture of this beautiful town. The village has a beautiful little church, L’église Sainte Catherine that’s also worth a visit.
From the old center, you can continue to the port with its beautiful green lighthouse. In the past, La Flotte was a commercial port and nowadays shelters many touristic boats. From the port, you can do a nice walk along the Promenade du Front du Mer.
If the weather’s getting hot, head to the small beach located right next to the city center, Plage de l’Arnerault
Recommended hotel in La Flotte:
Hôtel & SPA Le Richelieu is a great Spa hotel located within 10m from the beach. The hotel is perfectly located next to the port and the market.
Saint Martin de Ré – the main village of Ile de Re
Saint Martin de Ré is a lively port town with beautiful half-timbered houses and historic landmarks. Like its neighbor La Flotte, Saint Martin de Re is labeled as one of the most beautiful villages in France.
The village is considered the unofficial capital of Île de Ré thanks to its rich history and economic development. And while it’s not the biggest village on the Island, it’s definitely the most important and liveliest of them all. It’s not hard to see why this village is so loved by both locals and tourists.
Saint Martin was an important military port and you can still see its star shape fortifications and its beautiful citadel. This historic monument was built by Vauban, a French military architect, at the end of the 17th century. It is one of the 12 famous Vauban fortified towns some of which are located in the Southwest of France.
Blaye in Gironde is another example of a Vauban fortified town, see more details about it my article about the most beautiful villages around Bordeaux.
In 2008, Saint Martin de Ré was classified as a Unesco world heritage.
What not to miss in Saint Martin de Ré
The old center
Saint Martin de Ré has a very busy center with lots of restaurants and boutiques, especially around the port where a lot of seafood restaurants and coffee places are located. It’s a perfect spot for lunch. Be sure to be there early to get a spot on one of the terrace cafés.
Many houses 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 house and historic buildings such as Eglise Saint-Martin with its bell tower and panoramic terrace.
Springtime is particularly beautiful in Saint Martin de Ré with many houses decorated with typical flowers from Charentes Maritimes. The most prominent one is the stunning hollyhock flower which you can find in abundance in the region.
This is the main port of the island and where most of the sea excursions are leaving from. If you’re staying on the island, taking a cruise is one of the best activities you can do here. You can take a cruise to the magical île d’Aix or just a boat trip with a tour around Fort Boyard.
You can book your tickets online.
Eat Ice Cream
Another thing this town is known for is ice cream! One of the best ice cream shops here is called La Martinière. It was established in 1970 and is still considered the best ice cream on the Island La Martinière closes during the winter season.
Recommended hotel in Saint Martin de Ré:
La Martinoise Garden is a charming 4-star guest house in the center of Saint Martin de Re. Book here.
If you’re traveling with a big family, here’s a great villa with 5 rooms close to the center of Saint Martin de Ré.
Ars en Ré – the best place to discover the salt marshes
The third village in Île de Ré to be labeled as one of the “Plus beaux villages de France” is Ars en Ré. It’s a very tranquil village, especially in comparison to Saint Martin de Re and La Flotte.Ars en Ré is located on the South-west coast of the Island, about 30 minutes drive from the Pont de l’île de Ré. However, the village (as well as the route there) is remarkably beautiful and well worth the drive.
Ars en Ré is perfectly situated between the ocean and the salt marshes of Fier d’Ars. If you’re interested to discover how salt is being produced in Ile de Re, this is the perfect place to start your discovery tour.
Cycle paths are spread along the salt marshes and the port so biking is the best way to discover it. You can also do it walking but I’m a friend that the monotonic scenery might get boring at some point.
If you have a few days on the Island, Ars en Re is a great point to start discovering the western part of the Ile de Re.
What’s not to miss in Ars en Ré
The most famous monument in Ars en Ré is its church, Église Saint-Étienne built in the 15th century. The church has a black and white bell tower that is seen from every corner of the village. In the past, the belltower used to guide boats sailing toward the Island. Hence its unique colors.
The port and the little center
Ars en Re has a very cute little town center and port with a few nice restaurants. It’s a great place to stop for lunch.
After you finish eating, the center is also where you can rent a bike for your trip. We rented our at Beach Bikes in the center, but there are several shops that all seem good. Most bike rental shops are open from April to November.
Here’s a map of all the cycling routes on the Island.
Ars en Ré is also home to one of the best markets in Ile de Ré. In the summer, the market takes place in the town center every day, whereas the rest of the year it takes place only on Tuesday and Friday mornings.
If you’re visiting in the winter, market days are the better days to visit this lovely village.
Loix – an Island with in an Island
Look closely at the map of Île de Ré and you’ll notice that Loix is actually an Island within an Island. Most of the village is surrounded by the ocean, making it a 14km coast in total. The southern part of Loix is surrounded by the salt marshes of Île de Ré.
The peninsula is connected to the rest of the Island by two main cycling paths. One path takes you along the coast from the east side, which is one of the most beautiful paths on the Island.
The second path is called “La Route du Sel”. This one goes through the salt marshes and leads to the salt eco-museum.
What’s not to miss in Loix:
Pointe du Grouin – a calm beach on the northeastern part of the peninsula. If you’re looking for a calm, kids-friendly beach, this is a great option.
Loix has a cute town center with a few coffee places. It also hosts a cute little market that takes place daily during school break and the summer.
One of the most interesting parts of Loix is the village artisanal. Plenty of merchants and craftsmen open their workshops and boutiques for people to visit. Among the most interesting ones to visit in the soap producer (savonerie Atisanae de re) and l’Abeille en Ré (honey farm).
La Couarde sur Mer – a calm village in a prime location
La Couarde sur Mer is another charming village on the southern coast of Île de Ré. It’s one of the more prosperous villages on the Island thanks to a variety of economic activities like oyster, salt, and wine production.
The village has a very 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.
What’s not to miss in La Couarde sur Mer
La Couarde sur Mer has one of the best coastlines on the Island – a strip of more than 5km of sandy beaches. You can enjoy a variety of water activities such as surfing, jet skiing, SUP, and more.
Another perfect activity offered here is yoga on the beach. The classes take place on Plage des Anneries in July and August. See all the details here.
Recommended hotel in la Couarde sur mer
This beautiful B&B with its beautiful garden is located within a few minutes walk from the beach of la Couarde sur Mer. It’s a perfect place for those looking for a calm vacation.
Le Bois Plage en Ré – the village with the best beaches
Le Bois Plage en Ré is the most popular village in the southern part of Ile de Re, mostly thanks to its amazing beaches. The village has a long 6km of sandy beaches which are perfect for families.
Le Bois Plage en Ré is known for its summer market taking place in the center of the town. It’s a perfect place to equip yourself with local delicacies before going to the beach.
What’s not to miss in Le Bois Plage en Ré
The town center is not as beautiful as in other villages on this list but it’s a very lively and kids-friendly village with plenty of restaurants. The market is definitely a must.
From inland, the village is surrounded by woods and vineyards. That’s where the Cooperative wine cellar is located. The cooperative includes about 60 wine producers, whose vineyards cover around 600 hectares (7% of the total territory of the Island). You can visit the cooperative in July and August. See details here.
Where to stay in Le Bois Plage en Ré
If you like camping sites, Interlude located next to the Gros Jonc beach is a great one. If you prefer to stay in a hotel, Les Bois Flottais is a very cozy hotel located between the beach and the city center.
How to get to Ile De Ré
To get to Ile de Re you first need to get to the main city nearby, La Rochelle. La Rochelle has an airport and one of the biggest train stations in the region so you have quite a few ways to get here.
You can find all the ways to get to La Rochelle here.
From La Rochelle, you can take a bus ( 3/3E), which stops at the train station and the city center. This is the cheapest way to get here, the ticket price is only 2.5 euros.
See the timetable here.
If you’re traveling by car you’ll have to pay the environmental tax to cross the bridge. The fee is 16 euros in the high season (mid-June to mid-September) and 8 euros in the low season.
You can also take a boat from the port of La Rochelle to get to the Ile de Ré- see all the details here.
How to get from village to village in Ile de Ré
Even if you decide to come to Ile de Re by car, you can easily leave it in the parking. The best way to move around the Island is by bike. There are bike rental shops in every village and in many camping sites as well.
Some of the shops will even bring the bikes to your hotel.
The second option is the free shuttle that circulates around the Island. From April the subtle serves three villages: La Flotte, Loix, and Sainte-Marie-de-Ré. In the high season, July- August, the shuttle goes through all 10 villages of Ile de Re. See all the details here.
Here are other articles about amazing places in the Charentes you might like to read when planning your trip to Ile de Re:
Where to eat at La Rochelle
What to do in Cognac
Discover the French capital of comics and street art – Angouleme
Aubeterre sur Dronne – the most beautiful village in Charente
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:
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*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 🙂