It looks like your typical path down to an Ile de Ré beach but there’s more to it than that.
No! That’s not why it’s more than just a beach. There’s something a little more interesting. Something that sparked a bit of a queue the other afternoon.
For this is the way to part of Germany’s Atlantic Wall during the Second World War. More than four thousand kilometres of costal defences.
The concrete fortress may now look out on sunbathers but it had a much more serious use back in the day. For this is La batterie Herta. You’ll find it between Bois Plage and La Couarde. More than 2,500 German soldiers occupied the Ile de Ré during World War Two. One of their key jobs was keeping an eye on shipping in and out of La Rochelle. Anyone who has watched the tv series Das Boot will know about the U-Boats based in the city. Series two of Das Boot was filmed this spring, in part on the Ile de Ré.
More than 150 soldiers were based at this command post. 75 years on it’s remarkable how much has survived. Elsewhere on the island, German relics have been removed because they were falling into the sea thanks to the erosion of the dunes. Of course it wasn’t just the Germans who understood the importance of the Ile de Ré. Three hundred years earlier the English fought for three months trying to take control of Saint Martin de Ré from the French. They failed and luckily we are now all welcome as tourists. You can found out more in the island museum just down the road from our holiday home.
To check availability for our house in Saint Martin de Ré click here.
Yes the sky really is this blue on the Ile de Ré. Now we are into April there are plenty more days like this every week. You might still think twice about swimming but that doesn’t mean you can’t go in the water.
If zipping up a wet suit isn’t you, then the warm spring sunshine is ideal for a long walk along the coast.
These pictures are taken midweek in the morning. This time of year the beaches are close to empty. These shots include La Couarde and Bois Plage, all a short cycle ride from our holiday home in St Martin de Ré.
We still have some availability in late July and August. Otherwise, late September and early October are always good times to be on the island. It can feel like you are stretching the summer. It’s just a short hop on the bus or by taxi from La Rochelle Airport or train station.
There’s more information about our house and a booking calender here. You can also book via Airbnb.
2019 is going to be a very different year for our house on the Ile de Ré. If you want to book a holiday at our home in St Martin de Ré you will need to get in early. The place is already occupied for much of spring and early autumn. Currently most of July and August are available.
Oléron, the next big island down the coast towards Bordeaux, got its bridge back in the 1960’s. The Ile de Ré had to wait until 1988. Importantly, that meant the island could benefit from Oléron’s mistakes. From the start the Pont de Ré has been a toll bridge. Now it’s called an Écotaxe, with the money raised going to fund work on things like protecting the beaches and boosting the local buses. The toll has helped limit the crowds.
There is a very special feeling as you drive on to the bridge and get your first glimpse of the island. You drive steadily uphill and then there it is…
Before the bridge, there was the ferry. Islanders called it le Bac. In summer you could queue for hours to get across. When it shut at night, the island was cut off. Miss the last ferry back after a night out in La Rochelle and you would be stranded till morning. More importantly, if an islander needed urgent medical help, they too would have to wait.
This is all that remains of the way to the ferry. I know people, both English and French, who knew the island before the bridge. Holidays on the Ile de Ré were clearly more of an adventure back then. I am sure I would have loved to use the ferry but you have to admit the bridge makes life so much easier.
To see pictures of our home in St Martin de Ré and check availability for this summer, click here.
I am always pleased when I time my daily walk round the harbour in St Martin de Ré just right and one of the small boats that fish from the Ile de Ré is coming in complete with catch. A previous blog post higlighted Jemapa. This time it’s an even smaller craft, the P’tit Jules.
You can be staring out to sea and then you realise that little dot getting ever closer is one of the last petit bateau as they are called here. In this case, the boat owned and operated by Hugues Moinard. That’s him in his blue and yellow fisherman’s gear.
It takes only a few minutes to land the day’s catch and then load it into the white van that’s been waiting for the boat to come in. In fact the arrival of a van quayside is often a sure fire sign that a boat is due. The driver is thrown the P’tit Jules’s ropes so she can moor safely and then the fish is removed ready for market or sometimes to be delivered straight to an island restaurant.
Life as a small boat fisherman isn’t easy. Hugues is frequently setting sail before first light and getting back into harbour well past lunchtime. The P’tit Jules is one of a dieing breed. In the 1960’s there were some 150 island fishing boats. Now they are down to single figures. If you want to taste some of the fish caught by Hugo le Pêcheur that’s easy. Part of the catch regularly makes it the few metres from the quay into the kitchen of L’Avantport restaurant in St Martin de Ré. You can walk to the restaurant from our house. Click here to rent our holiday home.
In 2018 the Ile de Ré will be connected to even more of the UK. Jet2 will be flying to La Rochelle/Ile de Ré from Leeds Bradford starting in June. You can also fly from Birmingham, Bristol, Gatwick, Manchester and Southampton . In addition Ryanair flies all year round from London Stanstead. Ideal for a bit of winter sunshine on the Ile de Ré.
This weekend lamps will be lit and a horse will parade along the streets near our house in Saint Martin de Ré. It’s the annual Fête de la Saint Martin. A small crowd will gather on the Place de la République and the fun will begin.
It’s a simple thing but it shows how Saint Martin de Ré is much more than just a holiday town. There’s a year round community here.
This year’s parade starts around 6pm on November 11th, Saint Martin’s day. It used to be a day for hiring fairs. With the harvest in, farm labourers would be looking for new jobs. Saint Martin is perhaps most famous for ripping his cloak in half so a beggar could survive a snowstorm. He was also known as a friend of the children, hence this parade.
To see pictures of our house on the Ile de Ré and to book it for your holiday click here.