Most Parisians can testify to the fact that the city of lights, the city of love, can become a bit too stuffy in the summer. During the high August temperatures, most locals flee while tourists invade the streets creating a strange sensation of listening to radio stations from all over the world at the same time. Hardly a single French word can be heard. To evade this cacophony and blistering heat, we headed to the tranquil Ile de Ré.
One of the beautiful views next to a bicycle route
I think of this island off the West coast of France as the island of sea, salt and silence. The sound of traffic, tourists and construction work is far away. In this distant bubble you find yourself not hearing anything at times and wondering if you’ve gone deaf for a while. Outside of the towns the majority of the sounds are from the leaves blowing in the wind, the ticking of bicycle wheels, the ocean and birds. Lots of birds.
We never found out what these attached, plastic birds of prey were protecting
We stayed in a house with a pool outside the tiny town Ars-en-Ré with electric bikes as our means of transport. Located a few steps away from the beach and a 5 minute bike ride to the town centre and the port, we were perfectly situated to explore the island. But unlike other vacations where goals are to see local attractions, this island just cradled me into a place of peace with no need to strive for anything at all. Just being, riding the bikes around, swimming, eating and basically doing nothing at all. Just bliss.
It’s the perfect place to ride bikes around in the most picturesque locations. The salt marshes are absolutely stunning, reflecting the blue sky in the water blended with the colors of yellow and green foliage and speckled with a myriad of birds. Locals actually smile at you when they pass you which at first took me some time to get used to again as in Paris people get uneasy if you smile at them.
The island is covered with picturesque salt marshes
The island is covered in hundreds of kilometres of biking routes to explore and ten charming towns to visit. Along the trails the rare phenomenon of “Honesty Shops” can be found. Locals that harvest and work with salt display their products next to the routes with a money box, price list, calculator and the trust that people will pay for the products that they take. As salt is a speciality of the island, you can find all kinds of different versions of the local salt. Cooking salts mixed with all kinds of spices, bath salts with aromatic oils, salt scrubs and anything else you can invent by using salt. The caramels produced on the island are also incredible and come in different flavours like Pineau des Charentes (a brandy), honey, figues and salicornia.
A selection from the delicious summer menu at “Ô de Mer”, a higly recommended restaurant choice
There are approximately one thousand places to eat on the island serving fresh fish and seasonal produce. In the summer it is recommended to reserve a table ahead of time as the most popular tables are the ones outside under heaters. It can get quite nippy in the evenings on restaurant terraces to the degree that we were offered blankets to heat us up. On a very cute cobblestone road leading to the port in Ars-en-Ré, you will find the cozy restaurant “Ô de Mer” serving pure heaven in three courses.
Sunset from one of the many beaches surrounding the island
Beaches are to be found all around the island and they are never far away. There are sandy beaches to lounge and swim and also windy beaches that are great for water sports. There are plenty of rentals and courses for kite surfing, sailing, stand up paddle, wind surfing amongst others. On our final evening we went to the beach next to the house to watch the sunset. Incredibly the Atlantic ocean water was actually warmer than the swimming pool was during the sunniest time of the days. After an extraordinary last sunset, we headed home, barefoot, blissed out and covered in algae.
Photography by Edouard Lombard