Ringed by UNESCO-listed ramparts designed by Vauban, Saint-Martin-de-Re is one of 10 towns on the Île de Re. It was here that prisoners were kept before being shipped to the penal colonies of New Caledonia and French Guiana, with the town’s historic harbour lined with alfresco cafes and restaurants.
Things to do in Saint-Martin-de-Ré
Occupying a 15th-century building east of Saint-Martin-de-Re is the Ernest Cognacq Museum, which is named after the founder of a Parisian department store, La Samaritaine. Its exhibits include archaeological findings, historical documents and decorative art treasures, as well as navigational objects and model ships. The museum garden features a statue of George Washington, who is related to the locally born Nicolas Martiau.
South of Saint-Martin-de-Re is the Clocher Observatoire, a stone-built bell tower with stunning views across the Île de Re. Climb the 117 wooden steps that lead past the tower’s three bells, the largest of which weighs 1,140 kilograms. Visit on the half-hour to hear them in action.
Saint-Martin-de-Re makes an excellent base for exploring the Île de Re, which is ringed by beautiful sweeps of sand and pretty villages. Cycling routes hug the coastline, offering easy access to the dune-backed Plage de la Conche des Baleines and its octagonal lighthouse. Birdwatchers shouldn’t miss a visit to the Lilleau des Niges Nature Reserve where more than 300 different species have been recorded.
Getting around Saint-Martin-de-Ré
Saint-Martin-de-Re is a 30-minute drive from La Rochelle and 25 minutes from La Rochelle – Île de Re Airport, which has seasonal flights to destinations across Europe. Buses connect to Saint-Martin-de-Re from La Rochelle and the town is compact enough to explore on foot.