Ile de Ré
The island is situated right in front of the history rich harbor town of La Rochelle. The Ile de Ré has a rich own history, beginning in the stoneage mainly due to its richness in the white gold salt. But its main role was playing a very important part of the economical and political success of La Rochelle as the island builds a perfect shelter for La Rochelle from the open ocean and helped defend the city from the foreign fleets trying to attack the city. This strategic importance of the island was the cause that it was of limits for anybody besides military and the few local fishermen and salt producers way into the past century. It also hindered the overdevelopment of tourist industry and helped preserve the historical towns and villages and the unique habitats of the salines (the ponds used to produce the famous local salt).
But these cultural and natural treasures, together with some lovely beaches also made the island VERY popular amongst tourists. Like so often, at the beginning it was the artists who came because they loved the towns and villages and the unique light. They were followed by the rich and famous who bought many of the old houses and the land to spend summers on the island. And shortly after them summer holiday makers discovered the island and nowadays flood the island during summer holidays.
When you reach the island via La Rochelle – don´t miss a stop here because that town is really worth a visit – you have to cross a toll bridge (pretty expensive and therefore the first barrier to filter tourists with smaller budgets) and will be stuck in the usual summer traffic jam. There is only on main road running from the bridge to the western end of the stretched island and you can´t avoid it.
So often it is a good idea to leave the road and spend the peak traffic hours in the first town of the famous four, at La Flotte. This gem also is the least luxury one with almost reasonable prices for instance for an ice cream.
Just after La Flotte lies the next recommendable exit from the main road. Saint Martin de Ré hosted the military command of the islands and is completely surrounded by massive fortifications. Inside you find the original historic town and a very nice harbor, nowadays used for yachts, some of them very impressive. The combination of the historic buildings and the boats together with the many bars and shops makes Saint Martin the main attraction of the island. It´s considered to make it a world heritage. You only have to be able to deal with the massive tourist crowds to enjoy it during summer.
West of town just outside the fortification ring there is a nice beach with sailing and windsurfing facilities. Nice for swimming, letting the kids play on the beach and going for a sail in the summer breeze.
for a shortcut to the island gallery klick here