April 25, 2023
It's about this time of year that I start to pine for more sunshine, warm evening breezes and alfresco dinners, and the joy of discovering new places and experiences. And of course, opportunities to discover flea markets, brocantes and antique fairs! The summer holidays are calling!
Today I want to take you to one of my favourite ever places to take a holiday and somewhere we return to as a family time and time again. As an added bonus, it's full of wonderful French antique stores and flea markets.
Come with me to discover the Ile de Re in France.
Known as the "Hamptons of France", this tiny and beautiful island off the west coast of France is where chic Parisians decamp every August to enjoy sun, seafood, beautiful beaches and stunning scenery.
We first discovered the Ile de Re on a day trip from a holiday in La Rochelle. With our tiny daughter in tow, we were wowed by the scenic winding lanes with picture perfect pastel shutters on the houses, the beautiful beaches and the quiet, relaxed pace.
We loved it so much we've returned a number of times over the intervening years and it never lets us down! It's one of my favourite places in the world and I wanted to share the magic with you.
Here's your essential guide to the Ile de Re (bonus ideas for vintage and antique lovers!)
Where to stay on the Ile de Re
You really cannot go wrong as all the towns and villages are lovely, but they all offer something different. We tend to book with AirBnB and have stayed in a few different towns. Here's a quick guide to our favourite destinations.
St Martin de Re is the main destination point for tourists and is a really pretty port town with a wonderful food market and tons of great shops and restaurants. Yes it gets busy, but we tend to go in July before the hordes really descend in August! It's worth it for the vibe and the atmosphere. Plus, it has the world's only dedicated Tin Tin store, which is a must visit! My daughter never leaves without some new Tin Tin memorabilia in tow! It's also a great central location.
Le Bois Plage en Re is a quintessential beach town, complete with a vibrant outdoor market (I love the hamman towels, the French soaps - I always stock up - and the linens) and lots of cute ice cream shops and cafes. Plus you can walk to the lovely Bois Plage beach, which is a great family friendly space to play, sunbathe and swim. Remember we're on the Atlantic Ocean here, so you won't get high Med temps, but we prefer it that way, and it's still lovely and warm in the summer
La Couarde Sur Mer is another lovely little town, it's very quiet and we have rented a great house here before, with outside space for dining and a stone's throw to the peaceful beach. The old square is beautiful, with one of the best ice cream shops on the island and a wonderful independent bookstore, as well as La Part Des Anges, which is a wine store and cafe. Enjoy a cold glass of Sancerre whilst snacking on duck rilette and crackers. Bliss! If you're lucky, you may be in town for their annual Brocante too - i've been before and it was a lovely browse.
Saint Clement Des Baleines. If you were to ask me my favourite way to spend a day (apart from antiquing of course!), it would be strolling in the sunshine among an outdoor market, loading up on fresh fruit, bread, patisserie and picnic items, discovering beautiful artisan homewares and jewellery, and then stopping for a coffee, before heading to the beach. This is exactly what we do every time we visit this village! I've found some wonderful ceramics here for my home and beautiful delicate jewellry. The beach here is fabulous and stored in my memory bank for those hard winter months...
What to do on the Ile de Re
Get your cycle on
The Ile de Re is a tiny island and you can cycle it easily in a day. We tend to drive, as it's more relaxing for us, but once you cross the bridge from La Rochelle onto the island, you could ditch the car and hire bikes for the week instead. There are lots of bike rental places (we tend to take our own helmets, because someone else's sweaty helmet, ugh) but rent the bikes. There are so many beautiful trails to follow and our favourite thing to do is spend the morning cycling, then end up somewhere for lunch. Speaking of which...
Seafood reigns supreme
I still remember the first time we stopped at our favourite seafood shack for lunch. After a long and tiring bike ride, we stopped off, took our helmets off and commandeered an outdoor table overlooking the sea. Even without the food, it was already a wonderful experience! Add some crisp and cold white wine, a plate of prawns and the special of the day grilled on a wood flame, and you have the recipe for a perfect lunch. Our then six year old demolished a very fancy French cheese plate and has continued to do so every time we make a return visit! The only problem is getting back on the bikes after lunch - oof, that uphill on the way back!
You'll see these outdoor seafood restaurants everywhere on the main coastal bike trails and it's a wonderful way to spend a day. Then home for a nap...
Discover antiques and the joy of the brocante
When in France, brocante. I always look up any nearby brocantes or flea markets or vide greniers (like a car boot sale but with so much more covetable loot!) using the website www.brocabrac.fr. It can be a little difficult to navigate, but use your location and look for the ones nearby. There's always at least one running on the island when we stay, as well as more just over the bridge in La Rochelle. Perfect for a leisurely browse or even to buy a special gift for someone back home. There are also some lovely antique stores on the island in both St Martin de Re and Les Clements des Baleines among others. The store Magasin de la Republique is an amazing home concept store and always has some thoughtful antiques as well as new independent homewares and clothing.
Enjoy ice cream every night after dinner
It's no secret that my husband and my daughter love ice cream. I'd go further and say they are ice cream aficionados! So they are in seventh heaven on the Ile De Re, as there are so many amazing traditional and artisan ice cream shops. One of our favourites is the very famous La Martiniere in St Martin de Re. The range of flavours is insane and it's so fresh. Take a wander after dinner around the harbour and enjoy an ice cream - lovely. If you don't like ice cream, they do very tempting waffles with Chantilly cream and dark chocolate sauce - now i'm salivating!
Wander and wonder at the decor
One of the most striking things about the Ile de Re is the houses and the architecture. Island legislation only allows a limited palette of 16 approved colours for people's shutters and doors on their white washed houses! This results in the most beautiful blend of pastels and deep greens and blues, which mingle with the floriferous plants outside each house. It's very soothing and very beautiful. Think Farrow and Ball on steroids! Just wander around the streets and your camera will always be on - you'll want to grab as many photos as you can to inspire you back at home.
I hope I've inspired you to take a look at the Ile de Re when you're planning your next holiday! It's such a special place. Or maybe you'll bring that inspiration home for your own considered approach to interior design, blending artisan homewares with vintage and antiques, with a soothing colour palette.
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