Island in the Sun(Harry Belafonte)A day trip to the Ile d' Re

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March 20th 2016
Published: March 21st 2016
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The warm sun looked like it was going to desert us today for although there were patches of blue sky the general overcast gave the impression that it was back to that mode for the day. Here we had been thinking that a change to short sleeve shirts and shorts might have been on but today is certainly a day for rugging up again. Never mind, as long as it doesn’t rain.

We have been sleeping in really well and this morning was no different waking when the time was nearly 7am.

So it was a relaxed breakfast as we planned our day trip to the Ile de Re, a long strip of an island separated by a 1.8km long bridge from the mainland. It is about 35km by road from the La Rochelle end of the island to the other which runs roughly east/west out into the ocean.

We hadn’t given any thought as to whether there would be a toll to drive over the majestic looking two laned bridge but if there was then so be it.

And so it turned out to be and as we weren’t quite ready for the man in the toll booth collecting money we pulled over and sorted out the €8 charge for the drive.

There were a lot of cars in the large car park and we discovered why there were so many when we started onto the bridge and realised that there were a lot of people walking over the bridge. It must have been a good view for the walkers from the highest point over the channel although the breeze was quite strong. It must have been at least 50 metres down to the sea at the highest point on the bridge.

The bridge was finished in 1988 and replaced continuous car ferries that plied the channel and because of the volume of traffic heading to and fro there were long waits for space on a ferry.

The island has a long history dating back to Roman times when it was actually 3 islands. We guess that shifting sands over time made it into 1 island.

An odd quirk in history reveals that the island was part of England in 1154 when Queen Alienor d’Aquitane married Henry Plantagenet who was King of England but returned to French rule in 1243 when Henry III gave it back to France under a treaty.

The Germans installed bunkers on the island during their occupation of France in WW2 to defend the mainland and scenes from the greatest war movie of all times ‘The Longest Day’ were filmed here even though the film was about the Normandy landings.

The island has a permanent population of around 15000 which we imagine swells considerably during the summer by the number of white washed houses all with their shutters closed.

We stopped in at beach which had the same colour sand we have at Mt Maunganui. The beach was almost deserted in the cold wind blowing along it and we didn’t linger too long. It was good to see that the sand dunes were well protected and that regeneration of plants was well underway.

The island has a maximum elevation of 20 metres so wind blowing across it obviously can affect the dune regeneration.

At the narrowest point, about half way to the far end of the island, there was a substantial concrete seawall that had been recently completed. At that point there was probably no more than a couple of hundred metres from one shore to the other.

We made it to the last town,Portes-en-Re and took a walk through the town square where there were a few merchants selling seafood and vegetables.

We were looking for a restaurant for lunch and in particular a creperie.

We followed a couple of signs for restaurants away from the town square with the narrow lanes taking us past closed up houses that eventually will be occupied by holidaymakers. We found the two restaurants but both were closed and we were starting to get hungry.

Heading back towards the bridge we stopped in at a town with a rather unfortunate name,Ars-en-Re!

There were plenty of cars in the main square although we missed out on the last park by a van that somehow got in front of us and we had to park a little further away and walk back to a restaurant we had spotted.

It didn’t look like it served crepes but seafood was on the menu and we were now ready for lunch.

We were given the last table in the busy casual dining area and ordered our meals and a glass each of the local wine (there are vineyards well established on the island)

I knew what I wanted, moules and frites (mussels and chips) as I would have tried them in St Nazaire had they been on the menu. Gretchen meanwhile ordered oysters as she hasn’t yet got the full desire for mussels.

The mussels came in their shell but were very small compared to what we have in NZ.However what one lost in the size of the mussel it was made up with the 50 or 60 that the dish consisted of. The mussels were in a smooth, creamy white sauce making the dish once I had eaten all the mussels into a soup.

Meanwhile Gretchen’s oysters which she thought were going to be cooked came almost raw. She enjoyed them but helped me with some of the mussels and frites. She left the seaweed like stuff that came with the dish unsure if it was supposed to be eaten too.

It was a tasty lunch and we can now tick off two more delicacies from this part of France as having been tasted.

Driving back to the bridge to return to the mainland we stopped at an advantage point to take some video of the impressive curve of the structure as we hadn’t found anywhere to stop on the way over with a similar view.

The €8 we paid on the way over also covered the return journey and we sped past the toll gates and back onto the motorway and home to Salles-sur-Mer.

We finished off a lovely day out with a store bought pizza and the chick flick movie ‘Shall we Dance’ starring Richard Gere and Susan Sarandon on the laptop.

Tomorrow we head further south to Taillon-Medoc near the city of Bordeaux.


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