La Flotte or ‘the fleet ‘is one of the oldest villages on Ill de Ré with authentic charm on the Atlantic coast. This idyllic village is classified as ‘Les plus beaux Villages’ – ‘the most beautiful villages’ in France and with its charming port, medieval market, narrow alleys with stone houses and the beautiful church Sainte-Catherine, it surely deserves this title. It is also known as a ‘Villages de pierres et d’eau’ – a village where the elements – stone and water meet. Its heritage and architecture make it my favourite village on the island. I loved wandering around the white houses with green and blue shutters, surprised at nearly every corner. You can sense that the residents love their village and they adorn it with flowers and maritime details.
The remains of the Cistercian abbey of Châteliers, built in 1150 by the Cistercian monks is a stunning landmark as you enter la Flotte. Listed as a historical building, it is one of the beautiful ruins of France. The site offers spectacular remains of the Abbey built by the monks who first settled on the island and developed the salt and wine trade. The port was built in 1765 to develop maritime trade. It started as a commercial port for the export of salt and wine, then became a fishing port and marina. The pier dates from 1840 with its charming green lighthouse. The port hosts 5 “old rigs”, which are classified as historic monuments. One of our favourite places to enjoy an ice cream while watching the boats.
A highlight for me was Sainte-Caterine’s church. Our apartment was a stone’s throw away. The church started as a small chapel which was destroyed and rebuilt in 1575 as an independent church. The facade dates from 1818. The interior echos the fishing village life with hanging models of boats from the ceiling and exquisite painted ceilings and stained glass windows.
The market is where you will find local produce, fruit and veg, meat, fish, shellfish, cheese, bread and regional products. It is located at- 1 place du Marche and open everyday from 9am till 1pm. It was built in 1804 inspired by medieval architecture with a beautiful paved courtyard.
You have not visited Ill de Ré if you have not cycled the 100 km of cycle paths that criss cross the island. Ile de Ré is 30 km long and almost completely flat, no excuse not to hire a bicycle and explore. The island has numerous cycle paths with stunning views, wild moors, salt marshes, woodlands, beaches and villages. We cycled from La Flotte to St. Martin- the neighbouring village and enjoyed our breakfast of pastries and coffee overlooking the Atlantic. Bicycles/Velos are easily rented everywhere. We also tried to picnic on the beach but ended up with sand on our watermelon, but the kite surfers did not mind the gale.
Oysters, salt and caramel are the three foodie offerings of the island and you can find it in abundance, available straight from the producers. The salt workers, known as “sauniers” on Ile de Ré, still use traditional techniques, these methods of salt production have barely changed here since the Middle Ages.
Five days spent on the island allowed us plenty of time for adventure, exploring and relaxing days. The island is definitely worth a visit and we will return in Summer.