The Île de Ré, a sand dune of an island, punctuated with pine trees, is a few kilometers off the west coast of France, connected to the mainland by a suspension bridge. It has been compared to the Hamptons, as it attracts the well-heeled Parisian during the summer months and is oh so chic. Luckily for us, many of the tourists had left by the time we arrived, leaving the island not exactly empty, but pleasantly populated.
It really is a charming spot, one we visited for only a few hours many years ago. This time we had two days. The weather could not have been nicer and the Atlantic was calm. We frankly spent most of our time walking along the quay, watching the boats, the birds and the clouds roll past.
The island is fairly large, taking about 40 minutes to drive from one end to the other. We stayed in La Flotte, a lovely spot, with a busy port, lots of restaurants and shops, a daily market and about 3000 permanent residents, and lots of places to stay for holiday-makers.
We visited Le Phare des Baleines (The Whale lighthouse) on the western point of the island. The view out to sea is spectacular. Whales and dolphins do inhabit these waters during certain times of the year. We weren't lucky enough to see any.
We also visited Saint Martin, a fortified town strategically important during the 15th century when La Rochelle was a Huguenot strong hold, and the Île de Ré supported the king and the Catholic church.
In every advertising brochure for the Île de Ré, you will see a photo such as the one above. The while house, with light green shutters and bike parked in front, is the most typical image of the island. The architecture is very harmonious, clean and crisp. There are massive numbers of bikers everywhere. It seems the most popular form of transportation. In La Flotte alone, there were 7 bike rental places to choose between.
When on vacation, we do enjoy going out to meals, since in our normal daily life that rarely happens. We had lots of choices. We had lunch the first day in this little joint, called Le Corner, where homemade simple but healthy food was leisurely served up. The view over the Atlantic completed the pleasure of the moment.
L'Ecailler for our last evening was a bit of a splurge. It is a Michelin rated restaurant serving wonderful sea food. Here is my entrée of 3 tartares, 3 saveurs. Glorious!
One of my favorite moments was visiting the Village Artisanal in Loix, a few blocks of old warehouses converted into smart shops for island crafts people. Wood workers, ceramicists, a soap maker, coffee roaster, textile artists and the like. But best of all, there is an amazing antique book seller who has the most extraordinary collection of old leather bound books, maps, prints and the like, displayed more beautifully than I have ever seen before.
We spent a long time just browsing the shelves. Prices were a little hallucinant, as they say here, but there was no harm in looking.
As well as the bookshop, there is a world class bookmaking studio called Atelier Quillet, where one can take classes or rent bench space.
Our short escape was up before we knew it, and back to work we went. Our doors are still open into the late fall and we seem to have lots of parties, weddings and celebrations every weekend, while during the week we host various business men and women who stay on for days at a time. Our season has elongated through the years, which is certainly nothing to complain about, but it is nice to have the opportunity to get away for a few days now and again. Our vacation in La Rochelle and Île de Ré was refreshing.