Wednesday, 25 June 2014

Ilê de Ré by Bicycle

A couple of months ago we decided that a long weekend break was much needed - a good way to celebrate our Birthdays and impending Wedding Anniversary (Mr PJP still has his Birthday to celebrate as well) So it was with much excitement on the 20th of June we loaded our bikes into the car - yes into (new car bike rack doesn't work with it!) careful packing of the boot and we were off! By the time we stopped at Decathlon for our new accessories of Sunglasses for cyclists (they are brill!) and inner tubes and essential item we were really finally on our way! We are lucky in as much as it's only really just over an hour and half to get to the island, so we were actually there in time for lunch, we went to the lovely little town of La Flotte and found our restaurant of the day actually we ended up having our final lunch on Sunday here as well - I proclaim their Grande Creme to be the best I have had in France in the last 10 years!

For us the first rule of days out at the coast - is Moules et Frites for lunch! and the were really lovely, large and succulent and full of sweet flavour - really clean and just mmmmmmm.......

Whilst eating we had the very pleasant sounds from these musicians - they were probably there due to it being the Fête de Musique and it is allowed to busk, they were really very good though!

We had a walk around La Flotte before we headed back to the car to basically kill time before we could go and check in and see where we would be staying for the next two nights! Still it wasn't a wasted walk the town was brimming and a hive of activity.

Office de Tourisme

The receptionist at Le Suroit was lovely, very helpful and very friendly - everything was gearing up for holiday mode and we felt it :) We found our mobile home easily enough and couldn't wait to unload the bikes to set off in any direction!

So direction sorted - St. Martin en Ré then working our way back along to La Flotte and after that we would see - this is what I love best - doing what we want, without planning or schedules!

The gates to St Martin welcome us, we haven't been here for a few years now, nothing much would have changed I know that but still it's lovely to go back and seeing it this time on 2 wheels so very different, we had cycled through some lovely areas and didn't have to touch the main road at all (this time!) but it was a breezy ride with a good old headwind for most of it - tide changing breeze!

St. Martin is a Citedal , built and designed by Vauban in 1670 to prevent further attacks, between 1873 & 1938 it kept prisoners before shipping them off to Penal colonies.

The  Poitou Baudet donkey which  in the high season used for rides around the town, dressed up in their dungarees - yes dungarees I kid you not! This goes back to the years when they used the donkey in the salt marshes, it protected them from the nasty old mosquito bites! This time of year however they are mainly resting and trying to keep in the shade from the heat of the day!

Cycling through St. Martin - we didn't stop for a drink or even an ice-cream but photos of course...

towards l'Abbaye Chateliers

Maybe for dinner or to sell - it looks a back breaking job either way!

We decided at this point to head towards l'Abbaye Chateliers - you can see it in the coast photo, just in front of the bridge! It seemed an awful long way - but we were in no hurry whatsoever and the day still young!

Back through La Flotte and on seeing this scene the photo had to be taken! 

Feeling the black and white at this point!

Our next stop Châteliers Abbaye (Abbaye Notre-Dame-de-Ré)  another building I love being around - it's so atmospheric there, we have been lucky each time on visiting as there are never many tourists around so hopefully today would be the same, being as it was officially l'heure d'appero!

The Abbaye des Châtaliers was bulit by Cistercian Monks in around 1156. Burnt down and pillaged during the combat over the Il de Ré it was later restored and now a listed building!

So now being 7 pm and still extremely hot we thought we should start making our way back to Le Suroit, we had no idea how long it would take us - we had at this point achieved about 20kms and still going strong - back to St. Martin to make our way across to Bois Plage - easy - erm no, not really! But on the way we stopped to chat to some more Baudet's!

The slow puncture I started to get on the way became a fast puncture on the way back - good old Mr. PJP!
How lost could we get? Very we added on about an extra 8kms to our ride, just by losing one signpost!

Our day was at an end, we had managed (as only we seem to) to get lost and ended up using the GPS on the mobile phone to get us back to our site, we finally got back about 9.30, we had been out since 4pm and so please with where we had been and what we had seen, and this was only one afternoon! We relaxed with a bottle of the Ré's finest read - highly recommended by a dear friend - she has such good taste it would deem rude to not try for ourselves! *Not all the wine was consumed DF has 2 bottles on order*

Day 2 - 21st June loomed bright and breezy, I was a tad worried about the weather as I heard strong winds during the night but it was fine, it was a little overcast but that's not a bad thing either, ahh actually yes it is as you tend not to put on quite so much suncream and then forget to take it with!

We were heading out today for the furthest point from us Saint Clement des Baleines where the lighthouses are, a  very popular attraction as the lighthouse is open as a viewing gallery and also there is a museum to peruse as well. BUT we were not going to be going there for these attractions but just to see what it's like off road and we were loving it!

We stopped for a new map at the Office de Tourisme on the outskirts of Les Portes on Ré, just like the lady in La Flotte the young lady was extremely helpful and so friendly, she also informed me it was 32 degrees and climbing! Ah, that's why were really, really hot then! She even reminded me to make sure we kept drinking (water) and to stop when we felt tired or dizzy, so sweet! She was thrilled when I mentioned we were off to the Bird Sanctuary, it's a place that doesn't attract many tourists this time of year apparently!

Our route would take us through the Fier d'Ars, Lilleau des Niges nature reserve,which is a wonderful and natural area for many kinds of bird life, there is also a Bird Sanctuary you can pay to visit at La Maison du Fier which is run by the LPO - well worth a visit by the looks of it but we decided we would see probably as much on the cycle path so stuck to that. We did see lots of Black Headed Seagulls, Albatross, Egrets and Black Winged Stilts. 

Salt Marshes being worked

Our next stop was the very busy town of Ars en Ré the church steeple stands out from miles away, the black stands out whether the sky is the electric blue we had or Winter grey! 

the first time I have seen a bike stall at a market!

As it was market day, so we decided to carry on and come back later when it would be much quieter!

In the meantime we would carry on through pine forests to our destination..

Le Phare - and it felt quite far as  well! We had a bite to eat and then walked up to the sea wall and the 

beach oooh and the cool, cool sea - actually it was quite warm but very welcome to the pedal warmed feet! 

By now it was hitting about 30 degrees, so we chilled for a while and watched the world go by.

As we still had to get back to Ars en Ré for dinner we decided to leave the beach and the sea to start the 

next stage back....the good thing about the Island is the paths all lead you to where you need to go! So back 

up yes up hill despite what is said it is NOT flat but luckily it was through the pine forests so plenty of shade!

It was a bit early to eat by the time we arrived back so we went for Apperos in the harbour and met the most fabulous waiter Douglas, who had time to talk to us (as it was the end of his shift)  we ended up putting the worlds to rights and finding out how it was living on the Island 12 months of the year, he and his partner as he says "are ok as they inherited a family house, living here in the summer is great and seasonal work is always good as the other six months of the year can be used for travelling and surfing" turns out he is an avid surfer so goes South to indulge his sport - last year he went to Australia and surfed whilst his girlfriend did her diving! He loves his life and intends to bring up their children (when they decided to settle) as it's a great place, very friendly and good schools (winter can be a bit uncertain as there isn't much to do, so a lot of drunks are found!) We had such a lovely chat it was a shame he had to leave!

We decided to go into centre ville to have a wander, maybe take some photos, and walked slap bang into a wedding party, sadly I couldn't quite reach the Bride and Groom - it was a day off but the thought of capturing them leaving in their little blue sports car did certainly pass my mind, but there were too many guests in the way! 

So it was finally time to eat and what a wonderful dinner we had at Le Clocher Hotel  I had Dorade, a first for me, it was delish and of course Mr PJP went with the Moules! Afer a long, hot but fabulous adventure we were pretty starving and it was worth the wait!

Another restaurant another band!

Just loved this blue door and the dusky pink of the Mallow.

Time to head back, to get to the beach for sunset.......on the way we saw more activity on the salt marshes, I should imagine this job could be quite therapeutic, not sure I want to find out though, because by now the midges were out!!

SO happy with this one, I did a very stealthy creep up to get this!

The cycle back was actually quite unpleasant by the time we got back to the first nature reserve the midges were out in force - thank goodness for sunglasses, at this time a hat and some kind of full suit of armour would have been useful as well! It really didn't do much to make you want to be out on the bikes at this time of the day, and did take away some of the pleasant feeling we'd had, but thankfully on the other side, back into vineyard territory and they all but disappeared! Funnily enough I didn't spot any swifts or swallows as I would have thought that it would have been a gourmet feast for them!
After running the gauntlet of said midges I just loved the colour the sky was turning, the vineyards were glowing! 

So after a (what we thought was a quick freshen up!) it was to the one of the beaches of Bois Plage en Ré for what I hoped would be some fabulous sunset captures, we left it too late though, and the sun had left us leaving beautiful colours however! The sea was once again welcome to our poor hot feet, and the sky was still quite spectacular! After sun set we sat with all the other people who like us were just enjoying the last of the day, being as it was the longest day and the first day of Summer where else could be more perfect? Across the sea to the Vendée we could see flashes and some amazing orange colours from fork lightning and rather large rumbles going on! It didn't come our way thankfully!

Day Three 22nd June 
The day came all too quickly neither of us really wanted to be packing and cleaning to be honest but we had to leave at some point so on with it! We decided to head back to La Flotte for the best Grande Creme I have yet had in France! We found a place in Sainte Marie de Ré to park the car, unloaded the bikes and set off on another cycle path through woods, a busy town greeted us, shops open, market in the old market place and hundreds of people!!  We were so relaxed however, we thought a cold drink first would be rather nice, which then meant we might as well stay and try their lunch menu as well, Brochette de Crevette and green salad has never tasted so good, I finally got my Grande Creme to set us up or the next leg of our final ride!

Our final path took us into unknown territory, we were a bit naughty and went along the coastal path, along with others before and after us I know! But it was worth it - what a fantastic ride - up and down the hill with the sea about 3 feet away from us! It was exhilarating to say the least, especially on the downward inclines!

We circumnavigated the Abbaye on this path, but seeing it from another angle was just as good, having never seen it from this area before was something new and as always great to view this sadly majestic building.

The path took us as far as le Fort de le Pree which was quite uninspiring, I know it wasn't ever meant to be pretty! But still the views were rather nice!

After we had gone as far as we could we hit the main road back to Sainte Marie to our car but not before I got some final photos of the beautiful scenes before me.....

Au revoir Ilê de Ré we will be back!

Thank you for taking time to read our brief but fabulous mini tour de Ré, there are more photos on my page over on Facebook if you would care to see more of this beautiful island known as the "hidden gem of France".

I can't wait for another break whether it be a day or a weekend being out on the bikes has shown what you can explore without the inhibitions of the car, of course it's much easier on a bike to yell "STOP" and we stop so that I can take that photo or photos in my case! 

We tried to explore as much as we could in the short time we had, covering 100kms (getting lost more than once) and watching the sunset on the beach all just made the whole experience incredibly special for us!