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Visiting Ile de Ré (Isle of Rhé) in France
The 2.9km bridge that links La Rochelle to Isle of Rhe as seen from Rivedoux-Plage.
To make the most of your short stay in Ile de Ré (Isle of Rhé) it is best to go about everywhere on a bicycle. If you are not much of a cyclist then I'd suggest you hire a bicycle for a minimum of four hours and just cycle from Rivedoux-Plage which is at the end of the 2.9km. bridge (assuming you come from La Rochelle) to La Flotte stopping for some time at its waterfront before continuing your way on to the island's capital at Saint-Martin-de-Ré stopping wherever your fancy takes you. That distance of about 10kms should not be too taxing on your leg muscles or thighs (though there'll be another 10kms for the return ride). The many paths specially meant for cyclists should make it safe even if you have children cycling with you. You should definitely make a stop to explore the colourful medieval market at La Flotte as well as its port and esplanade and linger on at the Saint-Martin-de-Ré waterfront and after a good lunch, climb up the hillock across the port for an overall view of the commune.
If you don't want to cycle across the bridge you can hire a bicycle from inside Ile de Ré itself. In 2013 it costs 8 euros to hire a bicycle for 4 hours and 11 euros for the day (you have to return it by 19h00). You will have to leave your identity card or passport with them (in case you run away with the bicycle, hehe!)
There is really no point killing yourself in cycling all the way to the very end of the island in order to see the Phares des Baleines lighthouse under the hot summer sun (unless you are a cycling enthusiast). Having said that, if you really want to see some birdlife or the salt fields then you will have to go a bit further beyond Saint-Martin-de-Ré. (Click on photo to see an enlarged version.)
The Rivedoux beach (above) is one of the first beaches to greet you upon arrival in Ile de Ré by the bridge though if you should arrive by the local bus you are likely to see the Sablanceau beach which is on the other side of the road.
If you continue on your way to La Flotte you are likely to pass by the Châteliers Abbey, a Cistercian monastery dating from the 12th century. In order to visit it you will have to make a small detour but if you are a history buff it might be well worth it.
A close look at the 900-year old abbey or what is left of it. It stands alone in total defiance of the forces of nature and is a conspicuous landmark as it is surrounded by a vast expanse of wasteland.
On the way to La Flotte.
The colourful medieval market at La Flotte. Don't miss it!
Not all the ports at Ile de Ré have such a nice esplanade as La Flotte.
There is also a school here for those who want to learn yachting.
More to see in Isle of Rhé.
One of the many delightful cycling paths in Isle of Rhé.
La Flotte has also a nice beach (though you have to wait for the tide to rise).
A really narrow path in Sainte Marie.
Arriving at Saint-Martin-de-Ré, heart of the island.
Souvenir shop in St-Martin-de-Ré
Signposts like this are found everywhere to guide the cyclists
The waterfront at St-Martin-de-Ré with its rows of restaurants.
Shop selling 200 varieties of ice-cream!
One of its alleys of souvenir shops.
The ramparts are to the far end.
The bucolic life is ever-present in Ile de Ré. Here cows, donkeys and horses graze and roam in full liberty, tranquillity and insouciance. In earlier times the donkeys here wore "pants" (l'âne en culottes) to protect them from both mosquito bites as well as from the salt that ate into their skin. In order to go round the island (it is possible to go round the whole island in a day) you'll have to hire a bicycle from one of the numerous bicycle hire shops. I paid 8 euros for half a day's use of a bicycle.