From Île de Ré to Île d’Oléron: Unveiling the Charms of France’s Coastal Islands

From Île de Ré to Île d’Oléron: Unveiling the Charms of France’s Coastal Islands

Whether it’s a large island spanning two departments, such as Corsica, or a more remote windswept haven, such as Ouessant off the coast of Brittany, the Hexagon offers a slice of island living for all. If island living floats your boat, Charente- Maritime has two very different gems to choose from: chic Île de Ré and cheery Île d’Oléron, says Leah Rottier..

In the southwestern department of Charente- Maritime, two magnificent islands lie next to each other in the balmy waters off the Atlantic coast: Île de Ré and Île d’Oléron. Both are equally well known and sought after, but they have very different characters as well as very different property prices.


(c) Pep.per de Ré – Wikimedia Commons

In 1988, a toll bridge opened connecting Île de Ré with the maritime city of La Rochelle on the mainland. This spectacular structure, almost 3km long, gives a panoramic view over the entrance to the island and the delights that await you. If you’re athletic enough to use the cycle path on the bridge and brave enough to tackle the ocean breeze that comes with it, you’ll be rewarded with a magnificent vista. You’ll also save yourself a few euros as the toll bridge is free for pedestrians and cyclists.

Stepping onto the island, you enter a new world, one of luxury and sophistication. Everything is clean, well maintained and sparkling. Even the supermarkets are pristine. The restaurants entice you with oysters and seafood delivered fresh that morning. The beaches along its 100km coastline are world class, clean and easily accessible.

The first you see from the bridge is the magnificent Plage Nord at Rivedoux-Plage, a stunning expanse of golden sands that could easily rival the Mediterranean. Here, you can picnic, fly kites and bathe in a warm ocean to your heart’s content, with an amazing view of the island’s coastline to one side and the port of La Rochelle to the other. The Chauveau lighthouse towering off the coast is reminiscent of Brittany, but the gentle climate and bright sunshine 300 days a year are unique to this part of Charente-Maritime.

Rivedoux-Plage is also one of the least expensive communes for purchasing property on the island, and it’s an ideal location for access to and from the mainland. A small two-bedroom house with limited outdoor space (approximately 300m²) in the centre of Rivedoux-Plage costs approximately €450,000.

A large number of houses remain shuttered up outside high season. The year-round population of this small island is around 18,000, but this figure swells by 10 times during the hot summer months. Long perceived as a playground for second homeowners – especially Parisians – the island actively encourages people to live here all year round.


(c) docjo81 -Flickr

Primary homeowners are exempt from the toll bridge fees and have easy access to first-class supermarkets, boutiques, restaurants and beaches, with all the amenities of a large city just across the bridge in La Rochelle.

Île de Ré is an ideal place for those who love nature, cycling and a relaxed style of living. Measuring just 30km long by 5km wide, it’s the perfect size to navigate at a gentle pace, and you’ll see more bikes than cars here. The island has been perfectly planned with cycle paths everywhere to encourage and reduce traffic congestion. Take a leisurely cycle down to the beach for your early morning swim or head out for a gentle ride on a balmy summer evening before letting the sea air lull you into a restful sleep.

The island is divided into 10 communes, each with its own unique features and personality. For those seeking nature and a quieter part of the island, especially during the high season, Germain Tournoys of Barnes International Realty suggests the commune of Les Portes-en-Ré, right at a more eco-friendly lifestyle the northeastern tip of the island, noting that “it’s very calm with a lovely summer feel to it”. This area contains the Lilleau des Niges Nature Reserve, once a vast expanse of salt marshes and wetlands, and even now the salty aroma lingers in the air as you stroll down the wild paths. It’s home to migrating birds such as avocets, bluethroats and Belon shelducks, and it’s well worth taking your binoculars with you when you head out.

(c) ZEBULON72 – Pixabay

Unfortunately, the prices in this commune reflect the high demand for property – artists and painters seek out the glorious light and colours here, and you’ll find workshops and studios dotted all over the commune. A small, three-bedroom house with a courtyard in the centre of the village will set you back €650,000 and you’ll need a budget of at least €1.2m for a detached four-bedroom villa complete with large garden and sea view.

Property prices on the island have increased dramatically since the opening of the toll bridge and the subsequent increase in tourism, but there are more affordable options if you’re willing to sacrifice your outside space or proximity to the beach.

Germain Tournoys attributes the success and popularity of Île de Ré to its “wonderful climate, incredible light, very well-preserved natural spaces and, also its accessibility due to its proximity to La Rochelle with its airport and train links”. You can get to La Rochelle from Paris in about 90 minutes by plane and three hours by the high-speed TGV train.

Property on the island remains a luxury purchase for most people, with many opting to buy in and around La Rochelle in order to have the best of both worlds – life on the mainland at a more reasonable price, but with fast and easy access to one of France’s most sought-after islands.


(c) Cobber17 – Wikimedia Commons

In contrast to its luxurious laid- back neighbour, Île d’Oléron is a dynamic island full of life, character and energy. Whereas Île de Ré offers a more genteel lifestyle of upmarket boutiques, restaurants and pristine cycle paths, Oléron offers bustle… and lots of it.

Here, you’ll find the cycle paths full of giddy families chattering happily while working their way across the island; souvenir shops and fast-food cafés bursting at the seams with excited tourists of all ages; and animated festivals and shows for all the family- day and night.

The largest town on the island, St-Pierre d’Oléron, is steeped in history and retains an authentic charm and character making you feel instantly at home. The vibrant town centre of shops and restaurants contrasts with its rural outskirts full of vineyards and crops.

The micro-climate here means many homeowners have palm trees and mimosas in their gardens, and for much of the year you’ll find the market gardeners selling their delicious wares in the covered markets of St-Pierre. A morning spent sampling the freshly picked fruits and vegetables and savouring the fish and seafood caught just a few hours earlier is a very well-spent one.

Property on this island is much more reasonably priced than on Île de Ré. In St-Pierre d’Oléron, a one-bedroom apartment, ideal as a holiday home, costs approximately €160,000 and you can purchase a small, three-bedroom detached house just 5km from the beach for under €270,000.

For those looking to live a stone’s throw from the coast, the commune of Le Château- d’Oléron is an excellent choice. The town is alive with colour, with rows of brightly painted oyster huts and studios for inspired artists.

(c) Camulogene77 -Wikimedia Commons

No restrictive shades of green imposed by the préfecture, as on Île de Ré – here, the huts, shutters and woodwork are in lively and inviting hues of bright blue, orange, yellow and red. Its host to a majestic citadel, built in the 17th century and partially destroyed during World War II. In the past 50 years, some of its former glory has been restored. It’s now a must-see monument, open year-round and regularly visited by locals who stroll past the impressive architecture and enjoy the magnificent scenery.

Sarah Blanc of IAD Immobilier is a big fan of Le Château-d’Oléron. “It has everything – a port, beach, the biggest Sunday market in the region, schools, a library, lots of great restaurants and a couple of good bars,” she says. “Here, you live with the sea, you’re close to the bridge and just five minutes’ drive from the beautiful west coast beaches.”

Justine Touratier of Human Immobilier is also an estate agent for the area and loves the warmth of this island, not just the climate, but also the people. She says: “Île d’Oléron is a fantastic place to live and there is something for everyone here, with people able to choose between the quieter and calmer northern part of the island and the livelier southern sector. The nature here is more rugged than on Île de Ré and the property market is more accessible too.”


She finds the property prices on the island quite reasonable for such an idyllic way of life. A modern three-bedroom maison de plein-pied (bungalow) of approximately 130m² in the village of Le Château-d’Oléron costs under €350,000 and you’ll get a good-sized garden of around 700m² with that too.

With a larger budget of €500,000, you’ll be able to buy a four-bedroom family-sized villa with 1,200m² of land, palm trees and vines within walking distance of the centre of Le Château-d’Oléron and the beach. A dream come true!

The vibrancy and movement on this island is continual. With a host of tourist attractions such as the ferries to Fort Boyard (the 19th-century sea fort made even more famous by the French TV programme of the same name), the imposing Chassiron lighthouse and the island’s main museum (Le Musée de l’Île d’Oléron) which showcases traditional island life through the centuries, the island is a great draw for summer tourists.


(c) Cobber17- Wikimedia Commons

Yet it remains a working island – the oyster farmers, artists, winemakers and other workers keep the community spirit alive long after the tourists have left for the season. A sense of tranquillity returns in late September as the traffic jams onto and off the island come to a halt for another year. You can walk through the pine forests of St-Trojan-les-Bains and cross the labyrinth of paths until you hit the beach without seeing another person – perhaps just a deer or two!

Both islands offer an idyllic lifestyle for those who enjoy nature, beaches, and eating and living well. Whether you prefer the elegance and sophistication of laid-back Île de Ré or the lively and welcoming charm of Île d’Oléron, you can be sure to enjoy a temperate climate, well- preserved nature and your very own Robinson Crusoe moment in France.

The unique mix of legal, financial and tax advice along with in-depth location guides, inspiring real life stories, the best properties on the market, entertaining regular pages and the latest property news and market reports makes French Property News magazine a must-buy publication for anyone serious about buying and owning a property in France.

Lead photo credit : (c) Eric Pouhier - Wikimedia Commons

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