Thinking ahead to Spring yet? Lydia Gard tells us why a trip to the ‘French Hamptons’ on Il de Ré makes for a chic family weekender.
All too often when you nip off on a whim one weekend to somewhere fabulous looking, the reality is slightly disappointing. The hip design hotel where service is with a smirk… The Grande Dame where the staff – and the windowsills – come with a layer of dust…
But Hotel de Toiras is extraordinary in its faultlessness. Yes, the Parisian elite bomb across the bridge that tethers Il de Ré to ‘le continent’ as soon as the sun breaks through, but they leave their pretensions at home. The island, which has been dubbed the ‘French Hamptons’, is awash with bicycles and life revolves around the harbour of St Martin de Ré. And yet, it isn’t smug, though the windswept little island has every reason to be. Unabashedly French, chic but not flash, and staunchly ‘Atlantique’. This is a slow pace of life, with a backdrop of dunes and pine forests, oyster beds and vineyards, and whitewashed houses with oyster-shell shutters.
The hotel should by rights be old news, but somehow it feels fresh: both a European classic and a whispered secret. The pretty 17th century quayside house has been converted with a lightness of touch, allowing the décor to be at once classical and unfussy, antique but not imposing. There’s an understated but palpable quality to it all, from the heavy cutlery at La Table d’Olivia, to the linen in the rooms.
Oh, the rooms… how to choose? Gorgeously feminine, the Madame de Sévigné suite is perfect in spring – all duck egg silks and harbour views – where lunch at a little table by the window demands a newspaper and a bottle of rosé, the slightest hint of beeswax polish mingling with fresh-cut flowers on a gentle sea breeze. Children are welcomed here with warmth and enthusiasm, no-one will tut at raised voices or dropped spoons and no spaces are off limits.
In summer, when the cobbled streets below are a throng of wedged espadrilles and Ralph Lauren linen, turn inwards to the Nicolas Baudin room, with it’s colonial bed and fresh apple greens. Take your morning coffee on the balcony as the chef harvests herbs from the garden below and the children loll around nibbling on croissants. Then get everyone on their bike to Le Bois-Plage market with an empty hamper and stock up on goats’ cheese, sea salt, warm bread, fresh oysters and fruits before hitting the beach.
Find out more about Hotel de Toiras (1, quai Job Foran, 17410 Saint-Martin-de-Ré; +33 5 46 35 40 32)