Tag Archives: Poitou Charentes

The Ile de Ré celebrates its bridge

One French newspaper puts it this way. Le pont qui a changé l’île de Ré a bientôt 30 ans.  This month marks 30 years since the Ile de Ré was physically connected to mainland France.  Three decades on and much has changed.  Though some things don’t. The other side of the bridge is still called  le continent.   Driving to our holiday home in St Martin de Ré the excitement mounts as we reach the bridge.

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.

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Small boat fishing on the Ile de Ré

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.

Celebrating a Saint 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.

 

Ile de Ré: One of France’s Best Holidays

 

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Last winter it was the New York Times that put the Ile de Ré on a best list.  Now The Times has done it.  Celebrating the island in its list of the 50 best French holidays and as one of the 10 best French breaks for families. I have to agree…

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Great beaches, lovely food and if you want to get on a bike, brilliant.  The island is a cyclist’s dream.  A network of cycle routes goes up, down and across Ré.  Pedalling is made that much easier by the lack of hills.

By bike you are never more than a few minutes from another beach.  Of course if four legs rather than two wheels is your kind of thing, there are always the donkeys.  On a good day you can hear them from our garden.

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There are more places to rent a bike than rent a car on the island.  A cycle certainly gets you to places you can’t drive to.  Your wheels will be handy for some of the oyster shacks.

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However you spend your day, be it on the  beach or just wandering the whitewashed villages, you need to be ready for sundown.  The island gets some brilliant sunsets.  We love the short walk from our house in St Martin de Ré  to see the amazing colours round the harbour.

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In summer St Martin de Ré has its own night market. You can have dinner at our favourite harbourside restaurant, Bistrot Marin and then check out the stalls as you wander home to dream of the next day. Hoping it will start with breakfast in the garden.

To find out more about our house on the Ile de Ré click here.

For the latest on availability check here.

 

 

 

 

 

 

Christmas on the Ile de Ré

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Until I manage a Christmas on the Ile de Ré when it snows, I think this has to be my favourite festive island scene.  This was taken outside the Café du Commerce in Ars-en-Ré a couple of years ago.

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If you are lucky enough to spend Christmas on the island, you may even see a live nativity. Well the Ile de  Ré is famous for its donkeys.   Perhaps more importantly there are the wonderfully quiet beaches.  On a bright, crisp and sunny day in midwinter they can be so beautiful. Great for walking off any festive over indulgence.

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Ok, so sometimes the festive efforts can look a little tired but it is a much more gentle, less in your face Christmas than I am used to in the UK.

Last year, these lights were on the fortifications that make Saint Martin de Ré a UNESCO World Heritage site. I’m sure the soldiers that once guarded the place would never have expected to be replaced by giant baubles.

As Christmas is traditionally the time many people start thinking summer holidays, I should remind you that we are already booked for some weeks in 2017.  You can check availability here.

 

 

 

 

 

The Ile de Ré donkeys

They are curious creatures, the Ile de Ré donkeys. Some look positively rastafarian, others like the donkeys you might see on a British beach. In fact the longer haired animals are a rather rare species, the Baudet du Poitou.

Once a common site in the Poitou Charentes countryside these lovely animals were in danger of becoming extinct as machines took over.  Today St Martin de Ré is home to a herd of them. You can usually find them hanging around the town’s ancient walls.  Sometimes we can hear them in our garden when they start braying…

Sadly the animals are still fragile, over the winter a donkey died because visitors kept feeding it things like bread.  It turns out their stomachs can’t cope with it.  Now extra signs have gone up to remind holidaymakers that the donkeys don’t need food.  However, you can still ride them.

The donkeys are turned out in their Sunday best every weekend in St Martin.  These donkeys are called the ânes en culotte.  Their pyjamas may look daft but they are genuine.  The proper working donkeys used to wear them as protection for their legs from all the mosquitoes and other insects on the salt marshes.

This year the island’s donkeys are being celebrated with a special exhibition in St Martin. Âne-en-Ré, une exposition culottée is at the Musée Ernest Cognacq just down the road from our house.

If you want to stay and visit the donkeys, we have just one week left free if you want to book for the school summer holidays.  Details here.

More Music on Ré

We were in our garden having dinner when suddenly the music started up.  We could hear it clearly as it was coming from just round the corner on Place de la République, the main square in St Martin de Ré .  It sounded lovely as it came through the trees, so food finished, we went for a closer look.

The square had been sealed off earlier in the day and a temporary stage put up for the free night at the opera.  The evening was a bit more than a greatest hits performance but somehow they managed to condense three Rossini operas into one show.

The night was part of the annual Musique en Ré festival that sees performances across the Ile de Ré including some that are free and in the open air.  It was a lovely way of spending a warm summer evening.

The last opera featured was the Barber of Seville.  Darkness descended as the music came to an end but then as an added bonus there were fireworks to add to the memory of another lovely night on Ré .

To see our holiday home in St Martin de Ré and find out how to book it, click here.