Summertime is different on Île de Ré, a tiny island near La Rochelle on the Atlantic coast of France. Everyday life in Saint-Martin-de-Ré moves at a slow pace. The weather is cooler, the ocean is colder, the waives are bigger and the wind is stronger. There are no high rises, no big hotels, no extravagant clubs and loud beach bars. Today, such a description sounds as the last place for a summer holiday but in reality that is exactly the advantage on which Saint Martin carefully built the aura of an elegant and sophisticated destination for French bourgeoisie who set the tone for this charming place.
Saint-Martin-de-Ré is a picture perfect set with lovely houses, happy families and their pretty kids. People here dress with nonchalance. They enjoy strolling around the quay and the side allies at any time of the day. No rush, just simple pleasures…
Despite the fact that Île de Ré has as many sunny days per year as Marseille you will definetly need a sweater when heading for a dinner in one of the restaurants along the quay in Saint Martin.
In the town with nice crowd, nice shops, smart cafes and fine restaurants there is always one nice hotel. In Saint Martin that was our hotel La Baronnie. More than a hotel, La Baronnie is an elegant 18th century mansion that in 1785 Louis XVI bought for Marie-Antoinette. A lot has changed since but La Baronnie is still a beautiful property which interiors reminds us of other times but in perfect balance with understated luxury of the island.
Surrounded by pine forest, long sandy beaches around the island are fascinating! Surfers catching waives, children flying kites, families having picnic under umbrellas. It’s all there – you see it but you can’t hear it because of the mighty sound of waves crashing the shores…
Back in the town there are plenty of cool shops selling Saint Martin lifestyle and oh-so-chic seaside accessories. There are many antiques and vintage shops selling great bijoux, art, fashion or furniture. Here at least small shops selling stripe shirts, espadrilles and straw hats don’t fear competition from mega stores and super brands.
As of 2010 the town of Saint-Martin-de-Ré and its ramparts are protected as UNESCO Word Heritage Site. New buildings are not allowed and the existing one have been carefully preserved. A typical vista from Saint-Martin-de-Ré is a narrow ally with cobbled streets with jungle of hollyhock flowers as a cheerful backdrop.
Finally, we could not finish the story about Saint Martin without mentioning one restaurant: La Baleine Bleue where we spent all our evenings tasting wonderful food.
Welcome to the French version of the Hamptons!