The anticipation is killing you. You’ve been dreaming about the perfect summer beach trip all winter. Slurping freshly shucked oysters off their grimy shells. Licking salted caramel ice cream around a cone before it drips down the front of you. Riding bikes between vineyards and cornfields with the ocean never far from sight. Sipping a glass of pale pink rosé wine by a sailboat-filled harbor as the sun sets. Then letting the bright sunshine wake you the next morning when it’s time to go to the beach.
Usually you choose a New England island for this trip. You’ve been everywhere from Fishers Island and Block Island to Nantucket and Martha’s Vineyard to even Deer Isle. But this year, you’re heading across the Atlantic to South West France. That’s right, South West, not the South of, France. While the Côte d’Azur has a Hamptons-like vibe, Île de Ré is a more low-key, family-friendly destination. The island, connected to La Rochelle by a bridge, is known for its star-shaped fortifications, sandy beaches, and lots of sunshine.
You’re staying in Saint-Martin-de-Ré on the island’s north coast. Stone walls, which are now the boundaries of a UNESCO World Heritage Site, were built in the 17th century as resistance against attacks by the British Navy. Donkeys, wearing blue-and-white striped leggings, delight children in Parc de la Barbette along the waterfront. Little cafés, shops selling espadrilles, and whitewashed houses with faded blue shutters line the island’s main port. While narrow, cobblestone streets lead you to a peaceful little hotel.
Le Clos Saint-Martin Hôtel & Spa is exactly the type of hotel you envisioned for this trip. Its own whitewashed walls are paired with solid oak floors, soft lighting, and muted gray tones. Antique furniture, pressed linens, and soft throws fill the rooms. Two heated pools are the ideal spots for morning swims before the beaches warm up. Breakfast, afternoon tea, and local rosé wine are served in the Lounge Bar. Plus the Spa by Clarins’ relaxation room has large windows overlooking the gardens and wooden loungers topped with lots of pillows. You’ll stay to sip hot herbal tea long after your Summer Sun scrub—created to prep your skin for being outdoors—is complete.
So what’s your plan for your week on the island? Bike to the salt marshes to learn how salt is farmed or to L’Oursine de Ré for a sea urchin tasting. Explore the ramparts, the moats, and the drawbridges within the fortifications. As you stroll through the outdoor market, buy a baguette, cheese, and a bottle of wine to bring to the beach. Spend the afternoon in the sun on the gently sloping south shore. Return to the hotel for a nap and a quick shower. Eat oysters and share another bottle of rosé as an apéritif while deciding where to eat a seafood feast for dinner. Then keep repeating your new routine for as many days as possible. And don’t forget the ice cream.