There are some holidays you kind of forget and some that stay with you a lifetime! A very good friend and I decided we would meet somewhere in France for a weeks holiday with our teens last summer. Ré, as the locals call it, is a tiny, long island just off the Atlantic coast, only a bridge drive away from La Rochelle, France. I have to mention that it was the end of the summer (last week in August) and reserach told us July is very crowded. The population jumps from 20'000 local residents to 200'000 during the peak months! However, we didn't have problems finding empty cycle paths, cobbled streets or beaches!
12 villages with beautiful white houses, vast potato fields, lush vineyards, cycle paths, salt marshes and sandy beaches make up this gorgeous island. The authentic and simple charm is maintained by the local council who impose restrictive construction rules: no new buildings higher than two stories, no overhead cables, all shutters painted in one of the sixteen shades of blue or green.
We rented a small house accross the beach, literally. On the first morning, we hired bicycles for everyone and never used the car again! Even when we didn't bbq in our front yard, we cycled along the sea, through a forest to La Flotte, for dinner and ice cream in the evening! The bay infront of our beach house is what you might call a part-time beach; there’s a lovely expanse of sand, nestled against the inner shore of a small bay, but the tide goes out so far that the sea all but disappears, and the bay seems to revert back to dry land.
There are many things to do on the island. With five full days we chose to cycle and explore in the mornings and enrolled the teens in a sailing course in the afternoons. During those lessons, my friend and I contiuned venturing out to different villages by bike, trying to cross off each of the 12 villages. We didn't make it - a reason to go back for sure!
Each village has it's own Farmer's market; whereas most tourists go to Ars, St. Martin or le Bois, my favourites were La Noue and La Flotte. Already on our second visit, the farmers remembered the kids names and helped them choose the juiciest fruit and let them try the local Cognac! We would pick up some fruit, vegetables and freshly baked baguette for lunch on the go.
One morning we scheduled a visit to the salt marshes, an incoherent part of the culture. I would recommend it even if it sounds a little touristy. Our guided tour was interesting and I feel it's important to understand as part of the islands heritage. On our last night we found out about the fish locks tour, which I would have loved to have experienced. Again, another reason to go back one day! The locks are coastal constructions in stone, horseshoe-shaped and up to 1km long. They are designed to trap the fish which enter during the rising tide. They then find themselves imprisoned when the tide recedes. In Charente-Maritime, hundreds of locks were built from the Middle Ages, the earliest ones being nearly a thousand years old.
Another morning we discovered the gorgeous Abbaye des Chateliers, ancient ruins worth a stop! Set in the middle of lush, green fields, these ruins were a highlight to see and of course the kids couldn't help themselves. Give teens a rock and they will climb it!
My favourite part of the holiday were the long runs and walks with my friend, chatting, making up for several years of long distance friendship and seeing the kids so independant, safe and happy in simple yet stunning nature.