Ile de Re Travel - Getting There


Getting to the Ile de Re, either with or without your own bike, is going to involve one or more of:

See the Ile de Re route map below showing the principal transport option from the UK and Eire.

Planes

If you are flying from outside Europe then the most obvious airport to aim for is Paris, Charles de Gaulle, which is also known as Roissy. This is certainly the right choice if a visit to Paris is part of your holiday plan, and a week's cycling by the sea followed by a week in the capital (or vice versa) would make a good trip. However, getting from Charles de Gaulle to the Ile de Re by train is not straightforward, particularly if you have brought your own bike. That is because bicycles cannot be taken on the metro (underground train) so you will have to cycle through Paris (not recommended for the faint-hearted) unless you can find a large taxi to take you, or you can get your bike onto the Air France shuttle bus (see below).

  1. You will first need to transfer from the airport to Montparnasse station in the southern part of the city centre, either via local train (RER line B ) and then the metro, via the Cars Air France line 4 shuttle bus, or by taxi. Information on all the options for getting from Charles de Gaulle to the city centre can be found, in English, on the access section of the airport's website, but these are the only three that make sense for getting to Gare Montparnasse.
  2. Although bikes can be taken on RER trains outside of the peak periods on weekdays, it appears they can only be taken to certain stations, and Montparnasse is not one of those. But if you are bike-free and choose the RER option, stay on it until Denfert-Rochereau which is only 3 stops on Line 4 or 6 of the metro to Montparnasse Bienvenue, a few minutes' walk from Gare Montparnasse.
  3. If you use the Air France shuttle bus, you may be able to take your bike with you as these buses have big luggage compartments under them. Your chances will probably be higher if your bike is still packed for its flight, ie preferably in a bag and looking as unbikelike as possible, or at least still flat with handlebars turned sideways and pedals off. Tickets can be bought from Air France ticket offices in the terminal or from the driver. Our advice would be to put your packaged bike on a luggage trolley together with your panniers and wheel it out to the bus stop, then don't part with any money until the driver has confirmed he is happy to take it all.
  4. Study the timetables and other information on the websites in 1 above to get an idea of how long the transfer will take, but we would suggest you allow at least a couple of hours after your flight lands before your train is due and 3 hours would be safer. Aim to be at Montparnasse an hour before you need to be, you can always go and have a meal or a coffee while you wait for your train. If you have brought your bike on the Air France bus and it is still wrapped up, you will need time to reassemble it and fit your panniers so that you can get around the station and onto the train easily - unless you are taking the TGV, in which case it will have to stay in its bag.

The TGV (fast train) from Montparnasse will take roughly 3 hours to La Rochelle. Reservations are mandatory and bikes will only be carried if they are in a bike bag. From La Rochelle there are frequent buses to various places on the island - see this page for more information.

In view of the difficulties outlined above in getting to the island by public transport, you may think that hiring a car at Charles de Gaulle is the best bet. If you are bringing your bike, you will need an estate car because a hire car will not have a bike rack fitted to it. Also, bear in mind that you are unlikely to need or want a car on the island so you might want to look into a one-way hire to La Rochelle (the hire agency is likely to be based at the airport, which is only a short distance from the bridge) and another one-way hire back to Paris at the end of your holiday.

Another possibility is to fly into London Gatwick which (in the summer) has a number of Easyjet flights going to La Rochelle during the week. Brussels offers the occasional flight. London Stansted also offers regular Ryanair flights to La Rochelle but you will have to get across London from Gatwick or Heathrow - there are direct coaches and a frequent train service from central London.

There are many sources of cheap international flights but we have found that cheapflights.co.uk offers consistently low prices. 
If you are flying to France within Europe then the best target airport is La Rochelle  which is located just on the outskirts of the town and close to the Ile de Re bridge.  The summer feeder airports are:
  • Birmingham
  • Bristol
  • Brussels Charleloi
  • Cork
  • Dublin
  • Edinburgh
  • Gatwick
  • Leeds
  • Lyon (and winter)
  • Manchester
  • Oslo
  • Porto
  • Southampton (and winter)
  • Stansted (and winter)

There are no bus services direct to the island from the airport, but the bus service into town is good, and there is an equally good service to the island from outside the railway station. There are taxis at the airport and the journey is short, provided you don't do it during peak season when the queues for the bridge's toll booths can be long. Or you can simply cycle from the airport if you have your own bike with you - there is no toll for cyclists.

If you are flying with your bike, check the airline's terms of carriage (many budget airlines disclaim liability for bicycles) and your travel insurance.  We don't recommend transporting an expensive bike by plane.  Also, choose a direct flight wherever possible, as the more your bike is handled, the greater the chance it will be damaged.  

Advice on packing your bike for a flight is to be found in the Guide.
 
Don't forget to book an airport car park in advance, it will be much cheaper than just turning up.  Purple Parking has better coverage than most, with car parks at over 20 UK airports.

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Trains

Booking a train from the UK or Eire is not as straightforward as it could be because there isn't a booking web site that deals well with both the national and international legs of the journey.  You will find that you need one supplier to get out of the UK or Eire and a second supplier to get across France.  Despite the difficulty in finding out information if you are using Eurostar try to get them to book the rest of the train journey so they are responsible for any delays  and later train reservations can be modified if it is their fault.  The following should allow you to plan the journey:

  • The Man in Seat 61 gives by far the best, independent explanations of all things rail-related and we can only recommend that you check out his views on bike travel.
  • Travel with a bike inside the UK is relatively easy, as most trains will carry bikes as long as there is room (avoid commuting times and travelling in a large group of cyclists) and for free, but advance reservations are sometimes required.
  • For information, train times and ticket purchases, we find that thetrainline is better than most of the other commercial sites.
  • Note that the London Underground (the Tube) does not take bikes, unless they are bagged and do not look like bikes. 
  • Crossing the channel by train means using Eurostar.  Tickets can be ordered from thetrainline.
  • TGV map Eurostar will take you to Paris and once there you can catch a TGV to La Rochelle using SNCF.  This website is a little tough to use but keep at it. 
  • Travel from La Rochelle can be done by bus or taxi.
  • Bikes are not allowed on trains called Thalys, TGV and ICE, but they are allowed on trains called IC and regional trains.
  • Tandems are tricky things to transport, they are just too long.  If you are tandem riders, you will need to do more research on the transport possibilities or, more simply, hire a tandem when you get to the Ile de Re where many are available for hire. 
  • You may also be interested in this transporting bikes on trains article by a MyBikeGuide contributor.

The map below shows you the critical transport points you may need to get to the Ile de Re.

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AirportsIle de Re key points of travel

  1. La Rochelle
  2. London various
  3. Paris

Ferry Ports

See  Ferries below

Bike Route

The green marker

 

Ferries

There are many ferry options from the UK and Republic of Ireland.

  • Eire 
    • Rosslaire (Q) to Le Havre (M) or Cherbourg (N)
  • South Eastern England
    • Dover (E) to Calais (L) or Dunkerque (L) 
    • Newhaven (E) to Dieppe (L)
    • Harwich to the Hook of Holland
    • Ramsgate (E) to Ostend (L)
  • South Western England  
    • Plymouth (I) to Roscoff (P)  
    • Portsmouth (F) to St Malo (O), Caen, Le Havre (M) and Cherbourg (N)
    • Poole (G) to Cherbourg (N) and St Malo (O)
    • Weymouth to St Malo (O)
  • Northern England
    • Hull (B)  to Zeebrugge (J) (overnight)
    • Hull (B) to Rotterdam (C) (overnight)
    • Newcastle (A)  to Amsterdam (C) (overnight)
    • All these make great starts to any holiday as the tedious car drive down through England is replaced by a night time ferry journey.  P&O make the Hull trip very enjoyable.
  • Eurostar
    • St Pancras, Ebbsfleet or Ashford to Belgium, Lille, Paris or Calais
 
We like travelling by P&O and DFDS seaways and booking direct often gives you a good price.  For other routes we have found Direct Ferries to be a reliable ferry booking agent. 
 
If you want to take your car in the tunnel under the Channel then use Eurotunnel.
 
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Driving

Driving rules

The rules vary by country and you should double check current requirements before setting off.  If you are a member of a motoring organisation, it should be able to provide up to date information, as should the national tourist board web sites, or see here.  At the time of writing, the most stringent requirements required for France, Belgium, or the Netherlands are:
  • carry your passport, driving licence, vehicle registration documents and certificate of insurance
  • display a country of origin sticker (GB etc) on the back of the car
  • use mobile phones only with "hands free" kit
  • children should sit in the back
  • all passengers should wear seat belts
  • fit beam converters to the head lights of a right hand drive vehicle
  • carry a warning triangle and spare light bulbs
It is mandatory in France (and spreading to other countries) to carry a reflective vest, fire extinguisher and first aid kit.
 
Fines are levied on the spot and must be paid in cash (Euros).

For further details, click here.

Crafty Bison

The French have a great website to help you plan your journey.  It's called Bison Futé (Crafty Bison) and it not only shows the state of traffic flows, but predicts when roadworks are likely to cause disruption.  It is invaluable for advice on Le Grand Départ and Le Grand Retour, which are the weekends at the beginning and end of August when the French go on holiday and fill up the roads.
 

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