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Ile de Re France (an island off La Rochelle) French Destinations

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The population of the Île de Ré increases twelve times in August when families with young children, teenagers and twenty somethings come here in droves to take advantage of the beaches and safe, shallow waters. The sun is usually shining but it is not as harsh as on the Mediterranean coast.

All the houses on the Île de Ré are maximum two storeys and adhere to the local principal of whitewashed walls, green shutters and orange tile roofs, which increases the island's southern ambience. Oyster and mussel cultivation are the Île de Ré's prime industry. You can reach the island using the 3km long toll bridge (€16.77 return per car) at La Pallice, a suburb of La Rochelle, or by boat from La Rochelle (Interîles, 14 cours des Dames) to the village of Sablonceaux on Ré (same price).

The capital town of the Île de Ré is St Martin de Ré, a fishing port on the north of the island with stone quays and the ubiquitous white houses. The village is surrounded by Vauban's 17th century fortifications, rebuilt after the Duke of Buckingham's unsuccessful attempt to capture the island in 1627. You can read the story of the Duke in the Café Boucquingam (pronounced a bit like 'Buckingham' with a cold) on the quayside. From 1860 until 1938 the bagnards set sail from the citadel at the end of the fortifications, that is to say prisoners (including the famous Alfred Dreyfus and Henri Charrière, aka 'Papillon') were sent to the penal colonies from here. The best beaches on the Île de Ré are to be found on the southern edge of the island, and to the west near the Phare des Baleines.

Booking ahead is obviously recommended if you wish to stay in one of the Ile de Re's hotels, as there are over 400,000 visitors every summer. A couple worth trying are L'Océan at 172 rue St Martin in Le Bois Plage (05 46 09 23 07) with rooms from €55 70, and Le Français at 1 quai de Sénac in La Flotte (05 46 09 60 06) with rooms from €40 55. Campsites abound, but it is still worth booking to secure a place at the more popular southern beachside campsites.

If you intend to have a picnic, buy your supplies in La Rochelle before crossing over to the Île de Ré as it is cheaper. There are plenty of cafés and restaurants on the island, with quaysides providing a mix of standards and views out to sea. It is very picturesque though, and on a sunny evening you will have an enjoyable meal on the portside terraces.