Thursday, May 30, 2013

A day on Ile de Ré

French Village Diaries cycling Poitou-Charentes Ile de Ré Ars-en-Ré France
Cycling on Ile de Ré


I don’t know about where you are, but the weather here in our little bit of French paradise is quite horrid today. I have decided we need a day trip out, so come with me as I return to the sunnier days of last September when we did our very own Tour de France, or at least a Tour de Ile de Ré.

Ile de Ré is a small island (30 km long) just off the coast of La Rochelle in the Charente-Maritime department and is about an hour and a half drive from us. It is a very popular holiday destination and home to some very exclusive (and expensive) hotels and accommodation. It is accessed by a 3km bridge, that when you approach by bike like we did, looks very imposing and a little intimidating. We left home at 8 o’clock in the morning with the church bells ringing the Angelis and the sound of gunshot echoing in the distance, as the first Sunday of the hunting season got under way. We had a couple of near misses on route as a ‘lucky’ fox dashed in front of the car, causing Ade to make an emergency stop and just as we approached La Rochelle we saw our first ever sighting of a wild boar, just out for a stroll on the dual carriageway. Hunting season or no hunting season, I didn’t think much of his survival chances poor thing.

french village diaries cycling Poitou-Charentes Ile de Re La Rochelle
The bridge from La Rochelle

There is a large car park with viewpoint (belvedere) just before you enter the tolls for the bridge and this is where we left our car, for free, for the day. The tolls are quite pricey in high season (from 20th June to 11th Sept) at 16€ for a car, outside of these dates it is a more reasonable 8€, and Ade wanted the challenge of cycling over the bridge. The original plan had been for Ed and I to take our bikes over on the shuttle bus and meet up with Ade on the island. However, as we left we were talking to Pierrette, our neighbour who is in her seventies, and she casually slipped into conversation that she would be happy to cycle over the bridge too. We were not alone in leaving the car and packing up day bags and picnics onto bicycles, there were many families with young children and we all set off to tackle the bridge together.

Ile de Ré can be difficult to navigate by car as it quickly becomes a very long traffic jam, but with over 100km of marked cycle paths it really is best explored by bike. Not wishing to brag (too much), with 80kms clocked up over four and a half hours in the saddle I think we pretty much sampled nearly all these paths, but as it is flat and open it was very easy cycling. Once we are back to our summer fitness levels I’m sure we will return to see our favourite sights again, at the moment I can’t imagine completing that distance in one day!

French Village Diaries cycling Poitou-Charentes Ile de Ré La Flotte France
La Flotte, Ile de Ré

French Village Diaries cycling Poitou-Charentes Ile de Ré Salt France
Ile de Ré salt
Our first stop for morning coffee was the busy port of La Flotte, where we even struggled to find space to leave the bikes, as everyone (on the entire island) seemed to have the same idea. Fuelled up with coffee and dark chocolate (and coke for Ed) we continued to follow the coast to St Martin-de-Ré and on towards Ars-en-Ré, cycling through vineyards, salt marshes, and past wading birds, oyster bars with fantastic views and unfortunately more hunters. We picnicked in the pretty village of Loix and made it to the lighthouse of the whales ‘Phare des Baleines’ for a mid afternoon ice-cream break. Energy levels were again topped up with beer or coke and snacks before we cruised back to the bridge, which seemed a lot steeper from this direction. Tired but very pleased with ourselves, and especially with Ed who wasn’t quite 12, this really marked the high point of our 2012 summer of cycling. Now all we need is for some nice weather to get back out on our bikes – fingers crossed for this weekend.

French Village Diaries cycling Poitou-Charentes Ile de Ré oysters France
Oyster bar with view Ile de Ré





French Village Diaries cycling Poitou-Charentes Ile de Ré Phare des Baleines France
Phare des Baleines, Ile de Ré

French Village Diaries cycling Poitou-Charentes Ile de Ré Bridge France
At the end of the day on Ile de Ré