Island of Re: Surf, sand and sun
A VISIT TO ILE DE RÉ
Ile de Ré is accessible by plane to La Rochelle or by train from any major city in France or Europe. Its total land area is 85 square kilometers, making it somewhat larger than Manhattan. I opted for the latter because it would be less hectic and give me a better chance of photographing some lovely countryside scenery.
Most summer visitors come to the island to soak up the rays on its beaches, but they’d be missing out if they didn’t venture off the beaten path.
From the fortified citadel of Saint-Martin de Ré and the salt marshes of Loix to the peaceful towns and breathtaking beaches covered in thick pine forests and sweeping sand dunes, Ré has it all.
There is so much to do and see on this island off the coast of France at La Rochelle that it may win over the heart of any sports fan who has suffered through a dreary winter.
Fine sand beaches, dunes, natural marshes, and charming little towns come to life when the island begins to produce its signature colors of green and the intoxicating aroma of mimosas, laurels, and fig trees in bloom.
MONKS AND WINEMAKERS IN ILE DE RÉ
Consider that the island receives an average of 2,600 hours of sunlight per year, while the French city of Paris only receives an average of 1,662 hours of sunshine each year.
Due to the Gulf Stream, the weather on this French island is pleasant from March until October, making it the second sunniest area in France (behind Corsica).
The Cisterian monks who initially lived on the island, constructed the Abbaye des Chateliers, and planted the first vines knew this immediately after arriving there in the Middle Ages.
The foresight shown in realizing that the island’s 650 hectares of sandy soil and superb microclimate are perfect for wine production was commendable.
The region now also produces cognac and the aperitif liquor pineau des Charentes, which is made by blending white wine and cognac. Nonetheless, the quiet and beautiful region’s economic success isn’t limited to the vino and liquor industry.
The island’s famed “Fleur the sel” (hand-harvested sea salt) is still gathered from the marshes using techniques that date back to the 13th century, including the evaporation of seawater in open pans.
The salt workers on Ile de Ré harvest the salt by raking the cleanest, whitest layer off the top, resulting in what is often regarded as the world’s finest salt.
Saint Martin de Ré’s picturesque harbor. Photographed by Lesley Williamson
EXPLORING THE VILLAGE OF LOIX-EN-RÉ
The salt marshes are most prominent on the approach to the tiny town of Loix-en-Ré, where the last of six tide mills can be found. The flow of water powered the mills, which were used to purify the salt.
SURFING IN ILE DE RÉ
However, I haven’t made the trip to Ile de Ré to splurge on expensive bottles of wine, view rare birds, or feast on fresh seafood and oysters.
Among my top concerns… The outdoors, working out, and surfing. Since a 3-kilometer bridge connected it to neighboring La Rochelle in 1988, Ile de Ré is no longer technically an island, yet its gorgeous blue seas and water-sports continue to entice me.
You can surf to your heart’s delight on Ile de Ré, as well as try kite-surfing, wind-surfing, and the newest craze, stand-up paddle surfing.
With its south shore facing west, Ile de Ré is perfectly situated to receive surges from the open Atlantic.
The southern beaches, specifically Rivedoux, Les Grenettes in Sainte-Marie-de-Ré, Gouillaud in Le Bois-Plage-en-Ré, La Pergola in La Couarde-sur-Mer, and Grignon in Ars-en-Ré, have some of the best surfing in the country.
La Conche des Baleines, Le Lizay, Le petit Bec at Les Portes-en-Ré, and Diamond Head in Saint-Clément-des-Baleines are some of the top destinations on the island’s northern coast.
You can either rely on the many professional surfing schools on the island, or you can inquire around and see where the local surfers go.
For this reason, a trip to Europe in the springtime sounds like the perfect time to get an adrenaline rush and soak up some rays on the island of Ile de Ré. From La Rochelle, you may board a bus that crosses the beautiful sea bridge in about 20 minutes and doesn’t break the bank.
Flat and with over a hundred kilometers of picturesque bike lanes, the island of Ré seems tailor-made for cycling.
The island is known for its abundance of “action holiday” activities, such as surfing. I used to be able to get my wetsuit wet in the spring every year, but since moving to Paris, those opportunities have diminished drastically.
Just three hours and fifteen minutes from Paris, I discovered a surfer’s paradise and a welcoming local surfing community. A region where powerful winds frequently blow.