On a day in late May that couldn’t have been more perfect my French friend Francine and I strolled down a lane of white-washed cottages where hollyhocks bloomed at every door. We were walking toward the center of La Flotte, one of several villages on the island of Ile de Ré on the west coast of France. Once there we enjoyed lunch on a patio overlooking the marina. We shopped in antique stores and gift shops that offer hand-crafted items. We photographed the marina and – perhaps most memorably – we ate delicious, made-on-the spot ice cream.
Later we drove around the entire island in Francine’s Peugeot. (Most people would probably prefer to tour by bicycle.) We visited some of the other nine villages on the island. In the port village of Ars-en-Ré we saw the church tower famous for being painted black and white , a well-known landmark for sailors. We stopped at the Phare des Baleines (Lighthouse of the Whales). We didn’t climb the 257 stairs to the top of this, the second oldest lighthouse in France, but you can. We didn’t have time to stop at The Parc de l’Arche de Noé (Noah’s Ark), home to many birds including Amazonian parrots, flamingos and to other animals such as monkeys and the aquarium’s fish. As we departed the island we stopped to admire the fortress of Saint Martin built by the famous French military engineer Vauban in the second half of the 17th century. It stands as formidably against the tides today as it did more than 300 years ago.
Ile de Ré is extremely popular with French people making it very expensive and crowded in July and August. If you visit in May or June, September or October, you are likely to enjoy beautiful days in lovely uncrowded villages and on long, open beaches. The island is linked to the mainland near La Rochelle by a modern toll bridge. Stay for a week if you can. Rent a cottage and rent bikes for a truly French experience.
And if you go to La Flotte for ice cream, be sure to try the salted caramel!
It seems everything you need to know can be found on the excellent, English language website of the Ile de Ré tourist office: http://www.holidays-iledere.co.uk/.
For more information:
To learn more about western France see my page about Poitou-Charentes by clicking here.
36 Hours in Ile de Ré from a British newspaper: http://www.telegraph.co.uk/travel/destination/france/78874/36-Hours-In…-Ile-de-Re.html
See dozens of beautiful images of the island at Pinterest’s Ile de Ré page here: http://www.pinterest.com/nicbellvacances/my-ile-de-r%C3%A9-island-france/