Ile de Ré variously spelled Rhé, Rhéa or Rhea; in English Isle of Rhé) is an island off the west coast of France near La Rochelle, on the northern side of the Pertuis d’Antioche strait.
The island’s highest point has an elevation of 20 metres; the island is 30 kilometres long and 5 kilometreswide. The 2.9 km (1.8 mi) Île de Ré bridge, completed in 1988, connects it to La Rochelle on the mainland
The area is a popular tourist destination. It has approximately the same number of hours of sunshine as the famous southern coast of France. The island is noted to have a constant light breeze, and the water temperature is generally cool. The island is surrounded with gently sloping, sandy beaches, which are a real treat for families and tourists.
The island has a resident winter population of approximately 20,000 residents and a resident summer population of about 220,000. Since the local population is distributed all over the island, it seldom gets crowded. The island is covered by bicycle tracks, with many residents rarely using cars for transportation. Camping grounds and hotels abound on the island, as well as large supermarkets and all modern amenities. Many families stay on the island for the duration of their vacations.
However, the island’s native population has also been widely criticised for its allegedly insular nature and fear of outsiders. In May 2012, whisper campaigns and vendetta actions against a family that had immigrated from New Zealand forced it to leave after local authorities refused to assist.
Night life consists of going to Saint Martin, the main port, or to La Flotte, to walk along the quays and to potter around the shops, which are open late. Restaurants abound. At night, visitors can watch the buskers, have a drink or enjoy the island’s delicious artisanal ice cream, all set in a family-friendly atmosphere.
As a famous holiday resort on the Atlantic coast, the island has its fair share of celebrities, past and present. Among others, Jean Monnet, the father of European Unity, singers Charles Aznavour and Claude Nougaro, actors Bernard Giraudeau and Claude Rich, actress Carole Bouquet, writer Philippe Sollers or Princess Caroline of Monaco used to or still spend their holidays there. Lionel Jospin, who was Prime Minister of France from 1997 to 2002, retired on the island after his withdrawal from political life. Johnny Depp has also been spotted there.
Oysters and fresh fish are always available. There is also a tradition in which the fishermen, upon returning from the sea, sell a small quantity of their catch directly on the quays, enabling them to buy a drink. Markets are open on a daily basis in the main towns and are a popular place to shop, taste and chat. Even the vendors in the markets come to the island on their holidays. Generally, they work only in the mornings, enabling them to enjoy the remainder of the day. A large variety of items can be bought at the market, such as comics, books, African articles, ceramics, clothes, artifacts, food, local specialities, tools and souvenirs.