Ile de Ré

Trip Start Aug 02, 2012
Trip End Aug 02, 2013

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Flag of France  , Poitou-Charentes,
Monday, June 3, 2013

We set off from the Poitevin Marsh and after about an hour of driving we were at the bridge heading over to the Ile de Ré. The bridge still had a toll and we were glad to be there in the off season since the cost doubles from 8€ to 16€ in the peak season. We decided to stop off in St. Martin first since it was the biggest town and also had a citadel with ramparts to explore. We walked in to the town which is right on the water and has a port which comes in to the main touristy area of town. There are restaurants the entire way around the waterfront and we pondered their menus as we wandered. The indoor market was still going on so we had a look and picked up a brown bread that was just delicious. We have had a serious lack of brown breads since returning to France and were more than happy to buy one for breaky the next morning. The menus looked ok, but we thought they were a bit overpriced since they were on a touristy island in an even more touristy town. We decided against seafood from the waterfront places, but found a good looking crêperie on one of the side streets. We browsed the shops and explored the streets until we decided we were ready to eat. Anoop and I had a crêpe complete (ham, egg, cheese) while Mom went for the ham and cheese and James chose a goat cheese creation. They were quite tasty although not as nice as the ones in Brittany – they had rolled the crêpe up so you couldn't see all your toppings which we think is half the fun. For dessert I had a butter & sugar crepe with a scoop of vanilla ice cream while everyone else went for the salted caramel butter crepe. They were all delicious and we left quite satisfied. We then headed over towards the ramparts and passed by an ice cream place with a huge selection. It turned out that it was one of the top 5 ice cream places in France so we decided that we had better sample a few of their flavours. James went for the crème brulée while Anoop and I shared mango, raspberry, vanilla with pecans and crème brulée. It was incredible and we wondered if we would be able to return again before leaving the island. We walked along a short section of the ramparts before spotting the donkeys taking kids for a ride. We headed over because we were hoping to see them wearing their "pants". Sure enough, there they were! Farmers started making “pants” for them to help fend off all the mosquitos and flies that come with working in a wet environment. It was quite fun to see them and we wondered how they even managed to get them on – they must have been very obliging donkeys! We walked over to the citadel, but unfortunately we weren’t actually able to visit the inside. We then headed off to our campsite which was closer to the middle of the island. It had a pool and everyone took advantage of the warm weather and indoor pool while I enjoyed an excellent hot shower, a great change from our last campsite.

The next day we set out for the lighthouse at the end of the island. We climbed the 257 steps to the top for incredible views all around. There was a beautiful spiral staircase which was different from others we had seen since it didn’t spiral around a centre column and left the space in the centre empty. When we got to the top of that staircase we were in a room with closets and a bed for when the lighthouse keeper was tending the light. Then we climbed a smaller metal staircase which took us up to the top and outside. We looked out over the water on the one side and could see the smaller lighthouse further out which marked where the offshore rocks were located. We also got a view of the rock walls which are used for a certain type of fishing. The walls are covered at high tide which allows the fish to enter and then as the tide drops, they are caught in between the walls allowing the fishermen who have the rights to the area to catch them. We could also look down on the old lighthouse which was decommissioned in 1854. On the other side of the lighthouse we looked out over the island and could see the shape and where it narrowed quite well. In the bottom of the lighthouse there were old black and white pictures and postcards which were interesting to look at. We then hit up the gift shop which was actually quite well stocked with books on the seashore, birds of the area, cards, toys, postcards and the usual touristy stuff. We found a deck of cards on the seashore that we quite liked and will make our canasta playing easier when using our other French deck. We had bought a deck on our last trip and when we got home realized that we now had to play with the French and English letters for the face cards – V, J, D, Q, R, K can get very confusing and lead to huge mistakes when playing canasta. Now we won’t have that problem! We then wandered along the path beside the beach before finding a gap to get down onto it. The rocks were all quite flat and you could tell that people had enjoyed building piles of stones because some of them were really tall.

After exploring the beach we decided that we should go out for lunch having spotted a few restaurants on the way in. We were a little wary of eating in such a touristy area, but the menu sounded good and there weren’t a ton of choices which usually is a good sign. We found a spot partially in the sun and partially in the shade so everyone was happy. We started with a plate of small and large shrimp with a salad while James opted for the mussels. We were very pleasantly surprised by the quality and quantity of the starter and thought that that boded well for the next course. For the main we went for the skate wing in mustard sauce while Mom chose the chicken in a creamy mushroom sauce. The veggies that came with the skate were incredible and the skate itself was delicious. We had never had skate before and decided that it didn’t have a fish texture at all. For dessert Anoop and I had a brownie which we thought was an odd option in a French restaurant (but very tasty) and Mom & James had the coconut flan. We were all very happy with our lunch and glad that we had tried that spot.

After lunch we headed over to the salt marsh ecomusée to see about visiting the site. There was a tour starting about 45 minutes later so we wandered along a path through the marsh for a bit before returning to the museum. It was quite interesting learning about the salt marsh and the process it goes through to change from sea water to salt. Twice a month the tide is high enough to let salt water into the first pan which they then use to fill the other pans until the next high tide. The process takes 15 sunny days; if there is any rain, there can be a delay of several days as the water needs to evaporate again. The pans are built in the clay by building stone walls to form the sides and then there are channels and pipes which allow the water to pass from one pan to another. Each time, more water evaporates until in the last pans, they are left with sea salt. We didn’t get to see any salt at that time because it hadn’t been hot enough yet. We did see one of the tenders cleaning the clay out of the pans though in preparation for the start of the season.

After visiting the salt marsh we made a quick stop to see a mill run by the tide. It wasn’t at all like the one we had seen on the Ile de Bréhat, but it was interesting to see the way that they had built it and walk behind to see the area behind the mill where they would have held the water.

Feeling quite hot we decided it was time to head back to camp and have a swim. Unfortunately they had uncovered the pool which meant it wasn’t quite as hot as the day before. We had a quick dip and then hopped out before we got too cold with the wind blowing. We quite enjoyed our time on the island and were glad that we had decided to spend a few days exploring it. 
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