The Ile de Ré north of Bordeaux has always been popular among France’s Haute Volée. Ex-president Lionel Jospin loved to travel to the flat island in the 90s and Michel Piccoli bought a house in Ars en Ré when he filmed the movie “Les Choses” (The things of life) here. The Ile de Ré feels a bit like a French version of Long Island. Also rather rough and natural, with many meadows, small villages and houses. And many long beaches. The only thing you won’t find here is the bling bling of Montauk beach parties.
The typical Ile de Ré visitor would rather rent a bike and ride to the many beaches – or through the narrow streets of the small villages that didn’t need the arrival of large hotel chains to thrive. On one street, a car mechanic sells restored Renault Quatrelles (R4) from the 70s. You travel back in time a little. A holiday like in a novel.
Right on the church square of the northernmost village of Ars en Ré, Christophe and Marina Ducharme fulfilled their dream of owning an authentic hotel. It was right at the turn of the millennium. What a beauty! Le Sénéchal is truly a blueprint of a Pretty Hotel. Not perfect, but charming down to the last detail.
You stay in an ensemble of several houses connected by an inner courtyard. Alix, the friendly inn-keeper who runs the house during the season, led us – past a small swimming pool – into an annex whose ground floor still houses the local post office (with its own entrance on the other side).
One walks up a spiral staircase to the second floor. Once there: Three beautiful guest rooms with old windows, great wooden floorboards and open bathrooms.
In room 25 we stayed. Which also happens to be the most popular room among regular guests. It features large windows facing the front and back of the house. As the post office building is the highest house in the village, you basically can overlook the entire area. Talk about a divine view! In the morning, the sun enters into the open bathroom from the east and in the evening it leaves on the other side, bathing the room in yellow light. It is also more of a suite than a room. 100 points and highest recommendation.
Extras: Coffee machine, TV, freestanding bathtub & a lovely fireplace for the colder months.
In total, there are 20 rooms in Hotel Le Sénéchal, all different, all beautiful. Plus two lofts, which are also located in this eclectic mix of several townhouses. Here you can also cater for yourself & also bring the kids. Both lofts have a small kitchenette with a cooktop. Everything is very simple, but also very charming.
Breakfast is served in the courtyard and in the living and dining room areas on the ground floor of the main house. There is fresh food from the kitchen, some cheese, you take coffee from the thermos and orange juice in an uncomplicated way. Travelers who come to Ile de Ré are more interested in fresh mussels, which they enjoy at lunchtime in the beach bars, and great long dinners, which are available in the pretty restaurants around the corner.
The Sénéchal Villas
Marina & Christophe Ducharme also rent out three “Maisons” and a luxury holiday villa – Villa Victoire – with private swimming pool. The three maisons can accommodate four to six people. The Villa Victoire easily sleeps 10 people.
We walked to the neighboring restaurant La Bouche Rit in the evening. You sit on small chairs at small tables in the middle of the piazza, a friendly waitress leaves you with the menu on a cardboard. What’s cooking? Starters like crabs and mussels, Entrees like boeuf with baked potatoes and mustard sauce (brush up on your language skills, the menu is in French only, of course). You order a few courses and realize: the food in France is still top notch. (And not overpriced either).
The island is divided into several small sections. There is St. Martin de Ré, a bit bigger than Ars en Ré, but also very pretty and charming. Every Tuesday there is a market in the centre. You also find a few campsites and in the north of the island, many rugged unspoiled beaches. If you’re thinking of Forte dei Marmi now, you’re wrong here. There is no beach club and no umbrella rental. Just a few beach bars with plastic tables, nice atmosphere and very good food.
In high season between 15 July and the end of August, the island is packed with tourists. Especially the Parisian families who bought holiday homes here in the 80s are all in now. During these six weeks, the Ile de Ré is a little different from the rest of the season. That’s what the locals say. Le Sénéchal is open all year round, so if you want to enjoy a very relaxed holiday, come in spring or October. Then you have most of the beaches to yourself, most of the restaurants are open, you dine with the locals and enjoy some peace and quiet.
Families, couples and also single travelers who are looking for some solitude, enjoy staying in an artists’ village in exclusively beautiful alleys and houses and who like holidays “unplugged” on the wild Atlantic.
On our trip to La Rochelle, the town near to Ile de Ré, we discovered a charming Maison d’Hôtes in the hinterland: The Manoir de Plaisance. Five rooms, a swimming pool in the garden and two lovely hosts, who prepare a romantic dinner in the salon in the evening. The perfect start or end to an Ile de Ré trip.
Rooms depending on season and size between 95 und 500 euros – including breakfast. The maisons come from 290 euros per night.
Booking & contacts
Hotel Le Sénéchal
6, Rue Gambetta
Ars en Ré / Ile de Ré