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La Flotte, Ile de Ré…it just rolls off the tongue immediately conjuring up notions of romance, a salty breeze and breathing more easily.
The French love their islands. And there are many to choose from. Mention Corsica (La Corse) and every French person sighs with adoration and then slips into a passionate chatter about their spectacular island. Smaller islands, such as Ile aux Moines, where the only way to arrive is via water taxi are treasured destinations for many French holiday goers.
Ile de Ré, the fourth largest of France’s islands, is another favourite with the French. Easily accessed from La Rochelle, Ile de Ré epitomizes French island life. Sandy beaches. Oyster shacks. Lighthouses. Charming villages. Bicycles perched here and there. Belltowers. Sailboats exposed at low tide. Fishing vessels returning to harbour with the day’s catch.
If you love the relaxed atmosphere of island life with French flair, and the scent of salty air on the breeze, mark Ile de Ré as a must-see destination in France. Allow for plenty of time on Ile de Ré which is dotted with ten villages, long beaches, and plenty of places to explore. You’ll definitely want to stay longer than you think.
My visit to Ile de Ré was short. Housesitting in La Rochelle with a rainy and wet forecast for the week, I took my chances one day and hopped on Nouvelle Aquitaine bus #3 and crossed the bridge to Ile de Ré. The bus service covers all of Ile de Ré. I decided to get off at La Flotte, the oldest village on the island, and one of the Plus Beaux Villages de France.
The first thing I noticed on descending the bus was the drifting scent of pine mixed with the strong delightful salty aroma of low tide. I knew I had made a great choice rain, or shine.
At that moment, I decided to not race around the island but to investigate La Flotte and embrace a leisurely island pace for the day.
8 Wonderful Experiences in La Flotte, Ile de Ré
1. Flâner In La Flotte – By The Ocean
The French can flâner like no other. In fact, they invented this method of observing life and connecting with a place. It is the absolute best way to visit Paris and every other corner of France. If you are not sure how to flâner, this article gives you some tips and tricks.
Slow right down and stroll the pathway by the ocean. Admire the gnarled tamarack trees and watch what’s happening on the ocean floor.
2. And Flâner In Town
La Flotte lives up to its designation of one of the Plus Beaux Villages in France. It is tiny yet bursting with charming narrow roads. White stone homes topped with clay red roofs peer out from behind colourful shutters and thick glossy ivy.
Hollyhocks, at season’s end, stretch into deserted streets to find a ray of sunshine.
3. Stop Quayside
Part of a day in La Flotte France requires the island visitor to take a table at one of the quayside restaurants. Order a coffee, a glass of local wine, or a meal and sit back. Watch the seabirds and the people.
I’m always curious. Who is from afar like me? Not too many people during COVID-19. Who is a resident of La Flotte? The population on Ile de Ré soars in the summertime but on this first day of October, there appear to be few locals and even fewer visitors.
4. Rent A Bicycle In La Flotte
There are plenty of bicycle rental shops in La Flotte. Grab a bike and pedal past vineyards, hollyhocks, and the sea. Ile de Ré is flat and has 138 km of bike paths. The bike trails lead from one end of the island to the other and pass by the sea, through the forest, and all ten villages. Once on my bike, it was very tempting to ride up to the next closest town, Saint-Martin-de-Ré, but I felt restricted by the bus schedule. I have big plans to cycle further afield on my next visit.
If you are planning to rent a bike, remember that the French take their lunch from 12 – 14 h and that most businesses are closed. I darn near missed my chance to rent a bike!
I rented from Cycland which has nine locations on Ile de Ré. Bicycles can be rented for an hour or up to one week. The rate for a half-day was 7 €. There was not an option to drop the bike off at a different shop location.
5. Dive Into A Gastronomic Delight
Eating oysters by the sea is the ultimate French gastronomic experience. The oysters in La Flotte arrived with two accompaniments, a lemon wedge and red wine vinegar. This article explains the ins and outs of consuming oysters in France.
Lunching on oysters with a glass of local white wine, listening to the hum of French conversation around me and watching the action on the ocean made for a delightful experience. It was a good thing that I had decided to embrace the pace of island life. The slow service dictated that this was the only way to appreciate La Flotte.
6. Savour An Ile de Ré Wine
Ile de Ré produces both red and white wines. The white wine ordered with the oysters made for a perfect combination.
A few days later, I bought a bottle of red wine from Ile de Ré to offer as a gift and it too was delicious.
7. Visit Ste-Catherine d’Alexandrie in La Flotte
The red doors are open. It’s an invitation to enter into this sacred space admire the stained glass windows, feel the vibration of the tolling bells and rest a few minutes in this sacred, tranquil church.
8. Cycle To The Ruins Near La Flotte
Not far from La Flotte are the spectacular ruins of the Abbaye des Châteliers. The remains of this Cistercian abbey from the 12th-century rise from the fields making an impressive sight.
This historic site was once a strategic and important monastery in the region. Its history includes The Hundreds Years’ War between the English and the French and the religious wars. And then, its stones were taken to build the nearby Fort de la Prée.
Stand and imagine the Abbaye des Cháteliers in its former glory.
I loved my taste of island life in La Flotte and can’t wait to return to Ile de Ré.
More Travel Info…
How To Get To La Flotte, Ile de Ré
Years ago there was no bridge to Ile de Ré but nowadays simply cross the three kilometre long bridge, Le Pont De L’Ile de Ré, connecting La Rochelle to Ile de Ré. The toll includes the crossing there and back. Rates are double in the summer months. Check here for further information.
By Bus From La Rochelle:
Nouvelle Aquitaine buses, #3 and #3E, leave from in front of the train station. These red and white buses are not to be confused with the yellow buses that provide city service in La Rochelle.
In the fall of 2020, there was construction in front of the train station. The buses that leave for Ile de Re (#3) are found with your back to the station, to the RIGHT. Alternately, if you are staying in La Rochelle, the buses also stop at Place de Verdun. Check here for the bus schedule. Off-season, the buses are not that frequent.
In the summer months it is possible to take your bicycle across to Ile de Ré on the bus. Racks are attached to the buses but are only available in July and August.
Alternately, rent a bicycle in La Rochelle and cycle across the 3 km long bridge. There is a bicycle lane and a pedestrian lane.
From Paris to La Flotte, Ile de Ré:
The TGV from Paris takes 3 hours. Bus #3E heading to Ile de Ré is coordinated to depart from the train station just after the arrival of the trains from Paris, especially in the summer months.
Where To Stay on Ile de Ré
Let me know what you love about La Flotte and Ile de Ré.
Until next time,