3 French islands to visit this summer

Popular with French tourists but perhaps less well known to international visitors are the western islands of France - here's a look at three islands that you should add to your holiday list.

3 French islands to visit this summer

The largest island off the coast of mainland France – Corsica – is a very well-known tourist destination, but the three next biggest are lesser known among foreign tourists, although they are very popular with the French.

The islands of Île de Ré, Île d’Oléron and Île de Noimoutier are situated in the Atlantic ocean off France’s west coast, and all three are accessible by car, via a causeway or bridge.

The bridge between La Rochelle and Ile de Re is the second longest in France at 3840 meters. Photo by XAVIER LEOTY / AFP
Ile de Ré

Where: the 85km sq island is just off the coast of La Rochelle in the Charente-Maritime département and is connected to the mainland by a bridge. The island’s winter population is 18,000 and that grows to 130,000 in the summer.

The island is sometimes known as the ‘French Hamptons’ after the American resort of The Hamptons where rich New Yorkers decamp in the summer, because a lot of very wealthy Parisians have holiday homes there. 

Property on the island is therefore extremely expensive to buy, but don’t be put off by its reputation for wealthy holidaymakers there are actually plenty of hotels, rental cottages and campsites that are more reasonably priced.

Food: Seafood – especially oysters – and crèpes are both big on the island, and the local salt marshes produce a special kind of fleur de sel which is much sought after by cooks. Salted caramel is a popular sweet treat.

What to do: The island has lots of beautiful beaches, while inland there are walking trails and cycle paths where you can enjoy peace and quiet, nature and explore the several ruined fortifications along the coastline.

The several small towns including Saint-Martin-de-Ré and Sainte-Marie-de-Ré have a good selection of shops and places to eat, in fact there are several designer shopping boutiques to cater to all those rich Parisians.

The island is also famous for its herds of donkeys – which in the summer wear pyjamas and are known as les ânes en culotte – and you can buy special donkey milk soap that is made on the island

You can gather your own seafood on the beaches of Ile d’Oleron (or buy it in the market). Photo by XAVIER LEOTY / AFP)

Île d’Oléron

Where: Just south of Île de Ré is Île d’Oléron, the bigger island at 175 km sq, it too is connected to the mainland by a bridge.

It doesn’t have quite the same reputation for wealthy visitors as Île de Ré, but it too is very much a tourist destination whose population swells in the summer. It has a large selection of hotels, campsites and rental cottages that can be booked all year round. 

Food: As with Île de Ré, oysters are the local speciality and you can see large areas of land given over to oyster beds. The island also produces some great white wines that go particularly well with seafood, and it too has large areas of salt marsh that produce fleur de sel.

Phare de Chassiron. Photo by MARCEL MOCHET / AFP

What to do: The island is really beautiful and has a great network of cycle paths so it’s perfect to get around by bike. It also has several protected areas along the coastlines that have a great variety of wildlife, as well as beautiful beaches.

You can explore the Chateau d’Oléron and the Phare de Chassiron lighthouse that stands on the western tip of the island, looking out into the wild Atlantic (hold on to your hat, it’s usually very breezy) and towards Canada.

Passage du Gois is a 4.1 km road connecting the gulf of Bourgneuf with Ile de Noirmoutier, which can only be crossed for a few hours each day when low tide occurs. Photo by Ludovic MARIN / AFP

Île de Noimoutier

Where: A bit further north is Île de Noirmoutier – it’s to the south west of Nantes in the Vendée département. The smallest of the three it’s about 50km sq. About a third of the island consists of salt marshes, producing more of that fleur de sel, and the rest is largely given over to tourism.

You can get to the island via a bridge but also by the famous Passage du Glois, a 4km road that links the island to the mainland and only appears at low tide. Be sure to check the times that it’s open to avoid floating off into the Atlantic.

A salt worker prepares his salt marsh in Noirmoutier
Photo by Ludovic MARIN / AFP

Food: Noirmoutier is famous for its potatoes which grow exceptionally well in the sandy soil of the island. It also has a fabulous selection of seafood and due to its proximity to Nantes you will find historic Breton specialities like crèpes and cider.

One of the island’s restaurants – La Marine on the very western tip of the island, was recently awarded a coveted third Michelin star for its locally-influenced cuisine.

What to do: Another island that’s great for cyclists with a network of cycle paths and bike hire facilities, the island also has 40 km worth of beautiful beaches. Check out the pine forests and fine sandy beaches of Bois de la Chaise at the northern end of the island. Noirmoutier is also a great place to learn how to sail.

Member comments

Log in here to leave a comment.
Become a Member to leave a comment.


Nuit Blanche 2023: What’s on and where to go in Paris

During this year's all-nighter event in Paris there will be film screenings and street art exhibits, as well as free museum entry at some of the capital's best art and culture venues. Here is the schedule for the 'Nuit Blanche'.

Nuit Blanche 2023: What's on and where to go in Paris

The annual Nuit Blanche celebration in Paris will take place on Saturday, June 3rd, and the city has plenty of activities to enjoy all night long.

This year, the event was organised by artistic director Kitty Hartl, who also coordinated the 2022 event. With nearly 200 cultural activities and art exhibits running throughout the night, everyone will be able to find something worth staying up for.

You can find the full agenda HERE.

Artistic exhibits

“Artistic posters for the Paris 2024 Olympic Games” – If you are not available on Saturday the 3rd, you can still see a special Nuit Blanche exhibit on Thursday, June 1st from 3pm until 8pm.

For each Olympic and Paralympic Games, artists are invited to contribute to the collective memory of the event by creating a body of original artwork intended to demonstrate Olympic values, such as inclusivity and innovation. Seven artists were commissioned to come up with Olympic and Paralympic posters, which you will be able to see during the exhibit. The event will be held at the Auai de la Mégisserie in Paris’ 1 arrondissement.

“Nuit Blanche at the Holocaust Memorial” – During Nuit Blanche, the Holocaust (Shoah) Memorial will present works of art related to the Armenian Genocide via the personal story of artist Melik Ohanian in an evening titled “Remember, It was tomorrow”. You can find more information here.

“Breuer.121” – Held at the Hungarian cultural centre, the Institut Liszt Paris, this exhibit will show the works of Marcel Breuer, who graduated from the Bauhaus school in the 1920s, and gained an international reputation for his tubular furniture. On the event of his 120th birthday, the exhibit will show Breuer’s entire body of work and discuss his influence on Hungarian Brutalism. It will run from 7pm until 11pm. More information found here.

“CAPITALE(S), 60 years of urban and street art in Paris” – Nuit Blanche will represent the final day of the “CAPITAL(S)” street art exhibit at Paris’ Hôtel de Ville, which will keep its doors open to the public until midnight during the event. The exhibit shows works from 70 prominent street artists, both French and international. The event will run from 6:30pm until midnight, and though it is free, you will need to reserve a ticket in advance. You can find more information here.


Several museums across the city will offer free entry during Nuit Blanche, and some have special exhibits going on for the night as well.

La Bourse du Commerce – During Nuit Blanche, entry will be free until midnight. There will also be a special event titled “Before the Storm” running from 7pm until midnight at the museum, which will show the works of 15 artists exploring tensions and impacts brought on by climate change. 

Picasso Museum – The Picasso Museum will also open its doors for free, with special events throughout the night. From 9pm until 11pm, there will be a DJ performance by the artist Radio Nova in the courtyard. You can find more information here.

Pompidou Modern Art Museum – The Centre Pompidou will offer immersive installations and performances starting at 6pm at the Piazza in front of the museum. The public will also be granted free entry into Galerie 3, where a light and sound performance by Camille Juthier will take place, as an exploration of the universe.

The Musée d’Orsay – Even though the museum will not allow people to take tours of all its galleries during Nuit Blanche, there will still be an event worth seeing, running from 7pm until 4am – an outdoor showing of the film “Le Fond de la Seine” which gives a portrait of the river using underwater and landscape images to show its history, connection to people and industry and how the water runs out to the ocean.


“The Orchestre Colonne” – one of France’s oldest orchestras, founded in 1873, the Orchestre Colonne will offer a show running from 8pm to 11pm during this year’s Nuit Blanche. The team of over 47 musicians will play Verdi, La Forza del destino (overture) and Brahms’ 2nd symphony. It will be held at 23 quai de Conti, in Paris’ 6th arrondissement. You can find more information HERE.

“Nour Kara & Juliette Capel – Women, Life, Freedom” – this experimental live music show will honour Iranian women’s struggle for freedom. Starring Nour Kara, Iranian electronic music producer, and Juliette Capel, cellist and percussionist, the show will offer a non-classical interpretation of the cello, partnered with electronic and experimental music effects. The event will take place at the Mairie of the 19e arrondissement, going from 9pm until 10:30pm.

“III Julien Signolet & Mathias Durand” – Enjoy an immersive musical experience with live performances by Mathias Durand. This installation will join visual effects, dance and sound. It will take place at the Collège des Bernardins at 20 rue de Poissy, in Paris’ 5th arrondissement, going from 7pm until 2am.

Activities for kids

“109 LOSANGES” – located along the banks of the Seine, the Federico-García-Lorca garden will host several open air art exhibit, with trees and pathways illuminated with lights to create a fun, immersive and colourful experience. It will run from 7pm until 3am, taking place on the Georges-Pompidou pathway in the 4th arrondissement.

“The Europa Experience” – Inspired by the world of gaming, this video event is a collaboration between two artists. In the exhibit, viewers will enjoy a 2D to 3D video as the character walks around video game landscapes and modernist paintings. The event will be held at 28 place de la Madeleine, in the 8th arrondissement. It will run from 7pm until midnight.

“Aiguillage galerie” – From the young comics collective, this multimedia event will allow you to discover comic books, immersive video projections, and fascinating animations. It will be held at 19 rue des Frigos, Building B, in the 13th arrondissement, running from 9pm to 1am.