Île de Ré


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Île de Ré
October Thursday 26 to Saturday October 30 2021

It was a regular two-week school break for Atticus and Roman. Erica had arranged for us to visit Île de Ré, an island off La Rochelle, on the Atlantic coast, south of Brittany and north of Bordeaux. We had reservations on the fast TGV train, a three-hour trip, to La Rochelle. We had not allowed time to explore this interesting town, that will have to wait for another visit. We headed by taxi to Île de Ré, a 30 km long by 5 km wide island connected to the city by a 2.9 km bridge

Erica had rented a house for our stay in the town of Le Bois-Plage-en-Ré and the owners were waiting to show us around. It was a very nice white stucco bungalow with a red tiled roof, sitting on the left side of a large grassy lawn with a patio for tables and chairs along the front and the right side of the house. The were three bedrooms along a corridor leading to the open kitchen next to a large living and dining room area. This is mostly a summer vacation area so many of the other houses were closed for the season.

We had a late lunch in Bois-Plage-en-Ré and rented bicycles from a shop that offered both regular bikes and an electric model. Atticus was keen to try the electric model, promising to share riding the electric bike with Roman. We walked out with 3 regular models, and one the electric model, each with a back basket and a good lock. We were set.

Every night, dinner was food we bought in town, followed by a few games of crazy eights, hearts or cribbage before bed.

Each day we set out for a long bike ride, exploring different parts of the island. Lunch was usually in a town on our route. It was always delicious.

Our first full day had us heading west on the bike paths past the salt marshes, for which the island is famous. We stopped at a roadside kiosk displaying a multitude of salt products, from coarse and fine salt, to mustards, salts flavoured with seaweed or wild herbs, to salt milk and caramels. Erica bought a bag of caramels as snacks for our outings.

We were headed for the lighthouse, Phare des Balleines, (Whale Lighthouse). There were too many people lined up to climb to the top of the lighthouse, so we enjoyed the sea views and walked along a narrow walkway above the beach to where it exited to ramps to the beach for a walk.

Another day we rode to the main town of the island, St Martin, a walled city on the north Atlantic shore of Ile de Re, now a UNESCO site. We rode through the old gates over very uneven cobblestones into the city.

A bit of history about St Martin from Wikapedia
: During the Huguenot Rebellions of the 1620s, Cardinal Richelieu ordered that the island be fortified as a counterweight to the nearby Protestant city of La Rochelle on the French mainland. This included a citadel at Saint-Martin. After La Rochelle had been subdued, Saint-Martin's fortifications were largely demolished to remove its potential threat to royal power.

In 1627, an English invasion force under the command of George Villiers, Duke of Buckingham attacked the island in order to relieve the Siege of La Rochelle. After three months of combat in the Siege of Saint-Martin-de-Ré against the French under Marshal Toiras, the Duke was forced to withdraw in defeat.

Later, in the 1670s, the French engineer, Vauban was commissioned to review and overhaul the island's defences and, as a result, Saint Martin was enclosed by extensive and modern walls and embankments. This was done in three major phases ending in 1702 and the end result was an enclosed town capable of housing the island's population for a long siege.

It was fun riding into the city over the old, dry moat and through the old gates. Like all the streets in the villages we have visited, the streets are barely wide enough for one car to pass, so most are just one way “sauf velos” say the signs. We explored the Citadel, still within the city walls. The exit from the citadel was again over the moat, this time with marked off game areas where we watched two pickup games, from the bridge over the moat, a beach volleyball game on one side and a soccer game on the other side. There was also a long sandy beach outside the walls where some people were walking, but not swimming at this time of year.

We woke the next morning to light rain. We stayed in the house for lunch until the skies clear enough to bikes to the beach on the south side of the island. There were two groups of children of various ages taking surfing lessons during their school break, the same break that allowed Atticus and Roman to holiday with Erica and me. The beginner class was in the shallows at one end of the beach. In another area, several of the older surfers were swimming out to the big waves to ride them back to the beach. Each surfer wore a wet suit and a brightly coloured t-shirt as a safety measure should they be in trouble. The surf would have been much too wild for me to contemplate swimming, even with a wet suit. Another group of older people were packing up, leaving just one man behind still trying to conquer the surf. He stayed quite a while as we walked the beach. Some children, not surfing, had been having fun building hills of stones and stone lined designs on the beach. The skies were quite black in the west, so we headed back to the house.

Saturday arrived, our last day on the island. We packed up, returned the bikes to the rental shop and bought croissants and sandwiches at the bakery to take with us for lunch on the train. After we returned to the house, the owner of the house arrived to check us out; there were no problems. The taxi arrived to drive us to the station in La Rochelle in a snazzy Mercedes big enough to store all our bags. La Rochelle is the end of the line for the Paris train. The train from Paris arrived at 12:20 PM. Since it is the end of the line from Paris, the train stayed on the track until people were allowed to board about 1:25 PM. We found our seats and just enjoyed the views until we arrived in Paris, on time, about 4:30 PM.

What more could we ask for? The weather was great, we had a very comfortable house to live in, the bikes we rented were comfortable, there were great markets nearby to buy for our meals, and the bike paths were in good condition. It was fun place to visit, especially with bicycles. I could easily return for another visit.

Go back to Paris 2021 to read more about our trip and see photos in an Album.

Go to Berlin 2021 to read about our visit and see photos in an Album.

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