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.
If you are already thinking holidays and 2018, next year there are going to be more routes from the UK to the island’s airport in La Rochelle. Jet2 have announced a new service from Leeds starting in the spring.
I first published this last year but given it’s Valentines we want to give more love to the Ile de Ré. For many February 14th means it has to be oysters. There are plenty of them to be had at the moment on the island. I clocked these with their special Saint Valentin box in La Flotte.
Our half hour Sunday morning walk from our house in St Martin de Ré to La Flotte certainly left us feeling peckish and there was plenty to choose from in the market. The big bonus no peak season crowds.
It’s not just about seafood. It’s amazing what they can do with pork. Great lumps of it.
I always find Sunday mornings in La Flotte market a bit of a treat and this time despite it being winter, the sun was shining.
After a coffee while watching the world go by down by the harbour, we walked back to St Martin, taking the coast route. A chance to see the migratory birds that have arrived and to just listen to the sea.
If you would like to enjoy a Sunday morning like this have a look at our Ile de Ré holiday home. Remember, the Easter holidays are sooner than you think. You can book it here.
This Saturday is what is fast becoming the annual end of season party on the Ile de Ré. It is the annual Fête du Coquillage. Basically a chance to eat, drink and be merry outdoors on the quayside in Saint Martin de Ré.
Around two thousand people turn up to enjoy some of the best local seafood, washed down with a glass of island wine or two. Temporary tables are set up on the harbour so you can sit and chat and also enjoy the live music.
It is seen as the end of the season as it is a final outdoor event going on into the night. One of the delights of St Martin de Ré harbour is that the sunsets can be lovely, we are hoping this Saturday’s will be as good as ever.
And after sunset the real fun begins. There’s dancing…
Our house is occupied for this year’s Fête du Coquillage but there is always next year. We are though still taking bookings for the rest of 2016. The island is lovely off season. Great for cycling and so easy to get to via La Rochelle airport and railway station. If you are already thinking 2017 call or email using the contact details on the booking page and say you are interested in Maison 312.
We get plenty of live music on the Ile de Ré. This week it’s the annual Jazz Au Phare up at the Phare des Baleines lighthouse. Stanley Clarke is headlining. This summer we’ve also had live music from a yacht. The first day the Lady Flow appeared in St Martin de Ré harbour I noticed there was something carefully covered up on deck. A large rectangular object. I never imagined it would be a piano.
For a few days, twice daily, St Martin de Ré harbour echoed to the sounds of live music from the Lady Flow. I kept walking down from our house to have a listen. Pianocean as it’s called is a project that seems to carry some of the spirit of the love, peace and good music days of the mid 1970’s Radio Caroline when its ship was moored off the Dutch and then the English coast.
Last year they sailed round the Mediterranean. This year it’s France’s Atlantic coast and Brittany. As well as songs written about their experiences on and offboard, we were treated to covers of Tom Waits and even Billie Holiday’s Strange Fruit.
While listening I kept thinking how do they do it? How do they get the piano up on deck? Maybe it was on a moving platform like the old cinema organs. More likely it’s muscle and a rope. Marieke, the singer, said the piano had been put in her cabin so they could record a CD on board.
After St Martin de Ré ,the Lady Flow was sailing to La Rochelle for Francofolies. Details of future Pianocean venues are on their website. Apparantly they’ve pencilled in Antarctica for 2024! Remaining ports of call this summer include Lorient, Le Crouesty, Vannes and Groix.