ALASTAIR SAWDAY'S Special Places to Stay
Susan Herrick Luraschi
Hôtel de Toiras
1, quai Job Foran, 17410 Saint Martin de Ré, Charente Maritime
It is one year old and already stubbed with stars. Exquisite is the first word, refined is the second, then you stop thinking and let the senses rule. Revel in the soul of this quayside hotel, inspired by the illustrious figure of Jean de Caylar de Saint Bonnet de Toiras, no less, who protected the island from the English in 1627. So the arts of navigation and hunting set the tone and imbue the rooms with memories of 17th-century ship owners'houses. Linking the old part with the new is a cool and fragant garden with three palm trees. Then a reception room that feels like a study, black and white tiles in an elegant living room/library, open fires, a small bar, soothing music, happy young staff. Each gracious, immaculate bedroom -some are large, some are small- carries reminders of courtesans, writers, botanists or sailors; the detail in fabrics, paintings, objets and books is both rich and meticulous. All this, and an island of big skies and beaches - and bicycles: 60 miles of cycles paths crisscross its vineyards and pine forests. Bliss.