Bathed in the southern sun, drenched in a languid atmosphere and scattered with villages of green-shuttered, whitewashed buildings with terracotta roof tiles, Île de Ré is one of the most delightful places on France's west coast. The island spans 30km from its most easterly and westerly points, and just 5km at its widest section. In July and August it is almost impossible to move around and even harder to find a place to stay.
On the northern coast, about 12km from the toll bridge that links the island to La Rochelle, is main town St-Martin-de-Ré (population 2600), a quaint fishing port. Surrounded by 17th-century star-shaped fortifications and a citadel (today a prison) built by Vauban, the port town is a mesh of streets filled with Paris-chic fashion boutiques, art galleries and salty sea views.