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.