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.
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.
Yes that’s Joan Collins snapped in a 2CV filming on the Ile de Ré. The results can finally be seen in UK cinemas this week with the release of The Time of Their Lives. I thought now would be a good time to revist the filming in St Martin de Ré last summer…
Ask anyone French about celebrities linked to the Ile de Ré and usually Charles Aznavour is the first name to be mentioned. He immortalised one of the island’s many beaches in the song Trousse Chemise. This year Joan Collins has been added to the list thanks to the filming of her latest movie, The Time of Their Lives.
Joan has apparantly escaped her retirement home in the UK to say goodbye to an old flame at his funeral on the island. They spent several days filming down the road from our house in St Martin de Ré. The church being used for the funeral while the old 2cv was driven the wrong way up the quayside to get a more exciting hotel arrival on camera.
Watching the film crew at work was a holiday bonus for many. Sometimes it wasn’t always clear how much was going on. It turned out the hotel arrival scene was being filmed from across the water. You can just make the camera out in this shot, to the right of the yacht’s mast. The crowd may be able to spot the backs of their heads in the finished film when it comes out.
Alongside Joan Collins, we saw Pauline Collins and Ronald Pickup. Sir Tim Rice is involved, working on the music. Dame Joan has described The Time of Their Lives as Thelma and Louise mixed with a bit of The Best Exotic Marigold Hotel.
To book our house in St Martin de Ré, or just find out more about it, click here.
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.