Satellite photo of Île de Ré
|Area||85 km2 (33 sq mi)|
|Length||30 km (19 mi)|
|Width||5 km (3.1 mi)|
|Highest elevation||20 m (70 ft)|
|Highest point||Peu des Aumonts|
|Largest settlement||La Flotte|
|Pop. density||208.5/km2 (540/sq mi)|
|Ethnic groups||French people|
Île de Ré (pronounced [il d? ?e]; variously spelled Rhé, Rhéa or Rhea; 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. Its highest point has an elevation of 20 metres (66 feet). It is 30 kilometres (19 miles) long and five kilometres (3 miles) wide. The 2.9 km (1.8 mi) Île de Ré bridge, completed in 1988, connects it to La Rochelle on the mainland.
Located in the arrondissement of La Rochelle, Île de Ré includes two cantons: Saint-Martin-de-Ré eastwards and Ars-en-Ré westwards. The island is divided into 10 communes, from East to West: Rivedoux-Plage, La Flotte, Sainte-Marie-de-Ré, Saint-Martin-de-Ré, Le Bois-Plage-en-Ré, La Couarde-sur-Mer, Loix, Ars-en-Ré, Saint-Clément-des-Baleines, Les Portes-en-Ré.
During Roman times, Île de Ré was an archipelago consisting of three small islands. The space between the islands was progressively filled by a combination of human activity (salt fields gained from the sea) and silting.
In the seventh and eighth centuries the island, along with Oléron, formed the Vacetae Insulae or Vacetian Islands, according to the Cosmographia. Since Vaceti is another name for the Vascones, this reference is evidence of Basque (Gascon) settlement or control of the islands by that date. In 745, Hunald, the Duke of Aquitaine, retired to a monastery on the island. In the mid-twelfth century, a Cistercian monastery was founded on the isle, where the Abbot Isaac of Stella sojourned amid the Becket controversy.
The island became English in 1154, when Eleanor of Aquitaine became queen of England through her marriage with Henry Plantagenet. The island reverted to France in 1243, when Henry III of England returned it to Saint Louis through a treaty. In 1360, however, with the Treaty of Bretigny, Île de Ré briefly became English again, until the 1370s.
In February 1625, the Protestant Duke of Soubise led a Huguenot revolt against the French king Louis XIII, and after publishing a manifesto, invaded and occupied the island of Ré. He seized Ré with 300 soldiers and 100 sailors. From there he sailed up to Brittany, where he led his successful attack on the royal fleet in Blavet, although he could not take the fort after a three-week siege. Soubise then returned to Ré with 15 ships and soon occupied the Ile d'Oléron as well, thus giving him command of the Atlantic coast from Nantes to Bordeaux. Through these actions, he was recognized as the head of the reform, and named himself "Admiral of the Protestant Church". A few months later, in September 1625, Charles, Duke of Guise, organized a landing in order to recapture the islands, with the support of the Dutch (20 ships) and English navies. The fleet of La Rochelle was defeated, as was Soubise with 3,000 men, when he led a counter-attack against the royal troops who had landed on the island. The island was invested forcing Soubise to flee to England.
In 1627, an English invasion force under the command of George Villiers, Duke of Buckingham, attacked the island in order to relieve the Siege of La Rochelle. After three months of combat in the Siege of Saint-Martin-de-Ré against the French under Marshal Toiras, the Duke was forced to withdraw. The English lost more than 4,000 out of 7,000 troops during the campaign.
The main port, Saint-Martin, was fortified by Vauban in 1681 as a component of the belt of forts and citadels built to protect the military harbour of Rochefort. It was later used as a depot for convicts on their way to the penal settlements of New Caledonia and French Guiana. Prisoners included Alfred Dreyfus, en route to the penal colony of Devil's Island after his conviction for treason.
During World War II, the beaches of the Île de Ré were fortified by German forces with bunkers, in order to block a possible seaward invasion. Many of the bunkers are still visible, in a more or less derelict state. Several scenes of the 1962 movie The Longest Day were filmed on the beaches of the island.
In 1987, a two-point-nine-kilometre (1.8 mi) bridge was built to connect the island to the mainland. Previously, the island was connected through roll-on roll-off ferries (called "bacs"), which could accommodate vehicles and passengers. In peak summer time periods, the waiting time to board a ferry could reach several hours. The bridge was built by Bouygues. Since then, tourism on the island has developed considerably, with real estate prices reaching high levels. The easier transportation system has stimulated the purchase of holiday homes by people from as far as Paris, who can visit for week-ends, mostly in spring and summer. Using the bridge requires the payment of a toll (either EUR8 or EUR16 return for a normal car depending on the season) and makes it the most expensive road to use per kilometre in France. The Paris-La Rochelle high-speed train (TGV) trip takes around three hours, and then taxis or buses can be taken to the island. Île de Ré can also be reached from Paris by plane. It takes only 85 minutes to fly from Paris to La Rochelle airport which is five minutes from the bridge, assuming no traffic delay.
The area is a popular tourist destination. It has approximately the same number of hours of sunshine as the southern coast of France. The island has a constant light breeze, and the water temperature is generally cool. The island is surrounded with gently sloping, sandy beaches.
The island has a winter resident population of approximately 20,000 residents and a summer resident population of about 220,000. Since the local population is distributed all over the island, it seldom gets crowded. The island has a network of cycle tracks, with many residents rarely using cars for transportation. Camping grounds and hotels abound on the island, as well as supermarkets and all modern amenities. Many families stay on the island for the duration of their vacations.
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 do 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, Katy Perry and Orlando Bloom have 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.
Ré à la Hune : free information newspaper and website founded in 2007.
Capture of Île de Ré by Charles, Duke of Guise on September 16, 1625.
A WWII German bunker on a beach in Île de Ré (Plage des Quatre Sergents).