Back on the Île de Ré

 

IMG_0925“How long have we got?”

“About twenty minutes maximum, and we’ve still got another 6 or 7kms to go!”

“OK allez, let’s go, we’ve got to cycle really fast”

You would think we would have learnt by now; this is our third summer of occasional day-trips cycling on the Île de Ré and we always end up in the same situation at the end of the day when closing time draws near and we somehow find we are a very long way from the bike hire shop. It’s a recurring theme that only extreme muscle power is going to get us back anywhere near on time.

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Let’s go back to yesterday morning. We had the perfect trip planned and this time it was not just our family but also some friends who were joining us;  our total number had swelled to twelve and I knew turning up at a rental shop and asking for wheels for this many would be a great deal harder to fulfil than merely wanting to rent a couple of bikes. I thought I’d be clever and do the sensible thing by making an online reservation the night before. Something didn’t seem quite right, however, for although I received a confirmation email within minutes I hadn’t even been asked for a debit card to secure the booking. In fact the more I thought about it the more I was unsure, so I even phoned the shop and left a message on voicemail asking them to confirm the rental. That would do the trick, I thought, and slept soundly.

The next morning we set off on time (which in itself is something of a miracle!) and with little traffic over the bridge to the island we arrived early, an even more astonishing feat for our family. Alas, it was then that we found my niggling feeling had been correct; the shop had received the booking but we couldn’t get any bikes until the evening. This was certainly not what we had planned! So we headed off to search for some pedal power, which shouldn’t have been difficult as bike-rental shops are nineteen to the dozen on the island.

P6770984 But of course this was august on the Île de Ré and there are more tourists than bikes some of the time. Plus we had the slight problem of lots of traffic, narrow winding lanes and two cars trying to follow one another; needless to say we got separated which merely added to the confusion. Overriding all of this was the additional pressure of time as we were fast approaching midday, and of course in France everything closes for lunch at noon. If we had found nothing before then we would be at a loss until everything reopened at 2pm.

I led the way in my car and at the first shop we stopped at we drew a blank; some furious navigating on Google followed and then we found another, right at the end of a tiny dead-end street. Unable to park, I sent the teenagers off to run and ask if there was anything available and they quickly returned with a thumbs up. Leaving them to organise bikes, Gigi and I headed off to try and find somewhere to leave the car, whilst phoning Roddy who was in vehicle number two with the friends to advise them we were in luck and to try and let them know where we were. They’d just found a shop as well and were in the throes of booking bikes for all of us there! Silently they sidled out of their shop and headed in our direction, which in itself was somewhat confusing as in truth I hadn’t got a clue where we were after finally parking on a tiny residential street a good kilometre’s hike from the hire shop.

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With some degree of good fortune we all finally gathered to collect our trusty steeds within the space of ten minutes or so, some rather out of breath, and with a bemused look the assistant, who was a very good sport, kitted us out with our new rides for the day and we set off in the direction of the island’s capital, St Martin de Ré.

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Passing through the centre of the town a little later we headed out to the old fort on the far side where we found a quiet spot where we could enjoy the picnic that we had hastily prepared at home and pondered the question, “Why do donkeys on the Île de Ré wear pyjamas?”

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The sun had been incredibly timid all morning, preferring to remain well and truly out of sight, but as we sat down it decided to come out of hiding and with lightning speed sent the clouds scurrying off in shame. Within a very short time the skies were once again clear blue, and the summer heat was perfect, neither too fierce nor too weak. With a gentle onshore breeze fanning us, it was going to indeed be a perfect day for a cycle.

It was as we were eating our sandwiches that one of the party casually pointed out over the ramparts overlooking the bay and pointed to a small village at the far end of the island and jovially said, “Let’s have ice-creams for dessert over there.” A local friend who had also joined us on his bike commented that the church spire we could see was in Ars -en-Ré, about 17 kms away. We all thought out loud, “That’s not really too far, we’ve already come 4kms in no time, yes, let’s go there….” and so we rallied our large group into action and set off once again.

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The route was not without its fair share of mishaps; trying to keep 12 cyclists all together on busy cycle-tracks is quite a demanding task, especially when one member of the team had had the brilliant idea of hiring an adult tricycle complete with carrying box on the back for all of our belongings. At the time it really did seem such a good plan, but we soon realised what a burden it was, the mechanical beast was impossible to steer, hated going around tight corners, sat nose to the wind like a barge and it had a terrible tendency to veer off the road when the camber sloped towards the verge. However, I always look on the bright side and every near miss, meant a break for everyone, I could stop and take some photos along the way!

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But eventually we did make it to Ars-en-Ré with its famous church with the black and white spire.

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The ice creams were duly purchased, devoured and enjoyed; they were certainly very well earned. We walked around a little on the quay, found a wall to sit on where we watched the comings and goings, gawped at the other tourists, who – very much like ourselves – were making the most of the island.

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Our bikes safely tethered to railings we wandered the narrow streets and admired the quaint shops.

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At some stage we decided it was time to start the long trek back from whence we had just come and yet again we formed an orderly line and started pedalling, only this time we were also clock-watching, acutely aware that the bikes had to be returned by 7pm when the shop would be closing. We were doing well and making good time, and somehow we managed to stay almost together. The dreaded beast of a tricycle was shared amongst a succession of brave riders, each shift bringing with it a tale of woe and near accidents. These included a near submergence into a salt pond, a rather sharp diversion into a row of vines and a close brush with death for an old lady who was doing nothing more than cycling on the correct side of the road. Roddy kept muttering the beast was possessed and should be exorcised. As we settled into our stride I became more daring, snapping away with my iPhone as the route took us through vineyards and along the coast (there was no time to stop).

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But then we hit the capital, St Martin de Ré. If we had found it crowded earlier at lunchtime, it was nothing compared to how it was now at the time of the evening’s l’heure d’apéro. It seemed as if every person on the island was milling around the capital. Riding a bike was totally out of the question and so we walked, carefully pushing our bikes through the crowd, not as easy as it sounds with the large three wheeled beast. But yet again it gave me time to take photos as we moved slowly along, in fact I became quite adept at taking one handed snaps whilst steering or manhandling a bike with the other!

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Soon our group became separated as we ploughed on through the throng of people, all good natured, all ambling slowly, in no hurry, just seeing where the evening would take them.

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That was all except for us, of course, as we were in a huge rush and had just five minutes to cover 4kms back to the shop still. At this moment it became apparent that we had no idea where half of our party was. Strung out along the crowded little streets it had been inevitable that we would suffer some losses. Emerging at the end of the town a while later, we phoned Millie with more than a little concern;  I knew she was ahead of us with the first group. I knew everyone would be safe, we had no worries on that level at all, I just wondered how on earth we would find those that did not have phones! Thankfully she did have a phone and she heard it over the hubbub and after answering, did a quick head count. All were present, we hadn’t lost any of our youngest children and so they waited until we were all reunited, and after a quick chat we made a final dash for the rental shop in an attempt to be there on time.

It was in vain – we didn’t make it, and arrived seven minutes late to find it was closed. But a telephone call and a huge apology sorted things out. The manager returned after he realised we were not staying on the island, we handed back our tired steeds and the dreaded beast which Roddy gave a departing kick to as he manhandled it into the shop. After that we slowly wandered back to our two cars, a final kilometre of gentle exercise for fatigued bodies, but a feast for the eyes as we walked down impossibly pretty, tiny lanes .

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We all had various aches, whether it was backs, butts or legs – everyone had a some part of their body that they knew was going to be stiff in the morning! We hadn’t planned on cycling just over 40kms when we set out that morning, it all sort of just happened, but sometimes I think that’s the best type of day, one that takes you totally by surprise.

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We returned home in gathering darkness, a glowing sunset to the west creating a shroud of golden light on the road and as we ate an adventurers’ supper around the kitchen table, we swapped the stories of our day as we did so, the children still chatting excitedly. To say we all slept like logs may be an understatement!

100 thoughts on “Back on the Île de Ré

    • We truly did sleep like logs and amazingly awoke feeling really good this morning, a combination of all the sea air and exercise! The buildings are beautiful, it is a very photogenic island! xx

      • Yes, I found that out too thanks to some lovely readers and their comments who did the research for me. I am sure even when they are away from the salt marshes it helps with the mozzies and the flies and other bugs, plus they do look so cool, a real trademark of the Ile de Re donkey! xx

  • Thank you so much for your tour of the island Susan, I’ve wanted to go there for about 20 years now, so it was lovely to see it through your eyes. It’s as beautiful as I expected, & much busier too! I didn’t realise there was such a biggish town near the harbour, & so many shops to see, I would so love a browse around them, but I’m guessing they would be quite expensive? Have you all recovered yet from the bike ride, my legs are aching in sympathy!

    • Hi Janet, the Ile de Re is gorgeous, but yes one certainly does pay island prices! But the shops are lovely, even if just to browse around. It does get very crowded in the summer but it is always a good natured crowd and so one never feels threatened or indeed at all worried by the number of people, most are in flips flops and sneakers and riding a bike. It’s a very laid back sort of island, the Cote d’Azur but without the bling! xx

    • No! Plans changed slightly and numbers swelled! Our local friends led the way and we all followed, in one way or another! Fabulous day, happy to repeat it again any time, truly one of the best, cannot quite believe the children cycled so far without a single word of complaint, they loved it! xx

    • Our numbers always seem to swell, one minute we are six for supper, the next a few friends have been added and before we know it we are 12! It’s all part and parcel of large families I guess, as Roddy said yesterday we had enough for a football team and a referee (one of our friends was a professional ref!!) xx

    • You absolutely must when you are here! and I have your email and yes I am going to reply, it has just been very very busy the past couple of weeks, I am supposed to be on holiday but that just makes it busier than ever!!! xx

  • I looked up why the donkeys wear pyjamas … according to reports, the donkeys were originally used to work on the salt flats and there were / are a lot of biting insects. The pyjamas protect their legs from the bites and nowadays, it’s tradition. And quite charming.

    Of course, Google could be wrong.

    • I knew someone would look it up for me, thank you! They do look rather fetching don’t they, I love that they have kept the tradition. I wonder if in those days they were striped and looked so fabulous or if they were made from sackcloth? I am sure google could answer that for me too! Thanks again xx

  • Another place on my….must do list…It is so much larger than I had thought. I have not been on a bicycle in years. I hope it’s true that one never forgets how to ride a bike. It does look like a lot of fun to tour the island that way.
    Ali xx

    • It is the only way to tour the island Ali, it really does give you a sense of what the island is like, a mass of vineyards and little villages and the sea. They have bikes to suit all and they are the old fashioned kind, you sit up straight and they are incredibly comfortable! xx

  • It’s marvellous to see a different part of the world…and you tell a tale so cleverly! Hope you’ll make a book of your adventures.

    • Thanks so much Jill, I can see I have to really consider this book idea so many people keep suggesting it! Most of all I just so enjoy sharing all of these adventures, it is a fabulous place to live and to raise a family here! xx

  • What an adventurous day you had! Twelve bike cyclists? That is a definite feat in itself to keep everyone on task and happy.
    The day sounds Wonderful. Though, I definitely would be “saddle sore.” The pictures lovely. My favorite one is of the church…so simple but utterly beautiful as it stands. So much history.
    Enjoy the day! Gorgeous sunrise this morning in Minnie! What’s not to love??? ❤️

    • Indeed it was a fantastic day, remarkably unsure today and feeling ready to do it all again! Amazingly not even the youngest children struggled with the length of the cycle, I think because there were lots of children they all just messed around and had fun, it was one huge adventure! The church is beautiful, but then the whole island is. I love a beautiful sunrise, it sets the day up perfectly. Hope the rest of the day is going well xx

  • Lovely to see Île de Ré again, I was there two years ago…and you’re right, it is impossibly pretty. I remember the church at Ars and all the bike riders, never did see any donkeys in trousers though. Had a lovely 8km ride around Jard Sur Mer a couple of weeks ago.

    • The donkeys do make me laugh! Your bike ride sounds so good too, it truly is the best way to see somewhere don’t you think, driving it simply not the same no matter how many times one stops! xx

  • I know the Île de Re quite well, we went there as part of our month long tour of France on honeymoon many moons ago and this brought back so many happy memories

    • You must go there if you are in France, it is the most beautiful island, one of my favourite places to visit, we are lucky as it is less than an hour away and we make sure we go there several times each year. Bed really did feel fabulous last night!! xx

  • For reasons I never thought to ask, my father always called Tricycles, Trycylooks … I have fond memories of mine but I am certain those memories would quickly evaporate faced with ‘the beast’! As ever you give us a wonderful glimpse of a heavenly place in words and pictures – Île de Ré is not imminently in need of tourists but I am certain the French tourist board would do well to pay you for your services … you really do make France THE place to be (which it is 😉 ) xx

    • Ha ha, thanks! The Île de Ré is certainly not lacking tourists no! However, it is one of the few really touristy crowded places that I like, it still manages to keep it’s laid back charm, think the Côte d’Azur and St Tropez but without the bling! I am trying to think why he would have said Trycylooks, isn’t it so sad that we can no longer ask these things, some things we shall never know. I remember my tricycle too and this one looked so cool, Millie leapt on it instantly and we all agreed, brilliant idea, but 20kms down the road we knew we had made a fatal error, the hardest thing to steer and pedal I have ever known. I have cycled hundreds of miles towing a little people carrier with two small toddlers in it, also with toddlers on bike seats to my rear, but never have I been faced with anything as difficult as this!! France IS the place to be!! xx

  • What a marvelous outing, despite the possessed 3 wheeled bike. I did some poking around on the Net about the PJ’d donkeys and think it stems from their days as pack animals at the salt marshes where they were mercilessly dogged by mosquitoes. The owners’ solution was to wrapped them in those striped PJs. Now they’re just for the tourists and if I do say so myself, quite charming. 😍

    • Thanks Monika, and thank you for the explanation, I knew some people would have the time to dig around on google, we learn something new every day! Whether they are just for the tourists or not I am happy to see them, they look rather cool and I am sure they help with the mosquitos and flies and bugs even away from the salt marshes. xx

  • I’m totally exhausted just reading through your ordeal on wheel(s)…. 🙂 Was only once on Ile de Ré and absolutely loved it but this great number of tourists frightened me a bit. And of course, your photos make it a well worth-while trip to this fabulous place.Thank you.

    • Kiki, it was fantastic! I am not usually one to enjoy crowded places at all, in fact I avoid anything touristy like the plague, but somehow it doesn’t seem the same on the island, it is the Côte d’Azur without the bling and the tourists all seem to be as laid back as the island, perhaps it is because everyone is getting around on bikes, it sort of keeps everyone grounded! xx

  • Love cycling so I especially loved this post! What a delightful ride! We also follow a mix of a picnic lunch and then stops for store bought treats. Sometimes, the only way for me to do the mileage we set for ourselves is with an ice cream or patisserie tempting me ahead!

    • I think the ice cream ahead certainly helped the children, but they loved it, no complaints at all. I am sure part of the reason for this is we had friends with us and so they all were on holiday mode, enjoying every second of the adventure. It was just a day full of giggles and great fun. xx

  • What a great bike ride, the paths look as if they are specially made for cyclists, What a superb island, would love to visit.

    • Thanks so much Marisa, it was such a perfect day for a cycle, I don’t think it would have been so much fun without all the other cyclists on the paths, they added to the interest, especially with the beast!! xx

  • You have spoilt us with your photos once more and your captivating text, you certainly are an expert at telling a story. Loved this post today.

  • Susan,what a fun and just glorious day!
    Your beautiful photos have once again made us arm chair travelers!(Thank you!)
    We were on the Ile very long ago;not so many tourists at that time but still a charming place.
    I remember it fondly every time I see those tins of salt!

    • How fabulous to look back on such happy memories Natalia, I wonder did it look different back then compared to my photos, I would imagine as you say not so many tourists back then, but it still does retain a very laid back charming atmosphere. xx

  • Wonderful post as usual and amazing pictures!

    My wife looked over my shoulder as I read your blog… she said “those pictures are making me home sick.”
    Can you post some ugly pictures of France?
    That way I can show my wife she should be happy for leaving there to be with me.

    • The ugly pictures, I can think of several places, all man made, the outskirts of big cities before you get to the old part in the middle is where I would start! Perhaps I should do a post on this, but I wonder would it draw people in or send them scurrying away?? xx

  • A fascinatingly ‘breathless’ day on an island of which I have heard but where I have never been ! Love the narrow streets and, naturally, am highly amused by those ever-so fashionable donkeys whose garb may have begun with necessity . . . . well, busy day or not – scrolling up to repeat a really fun ride from the lazy comfort of my work chair . . .:) !

    • Thanks Eha, it was a fabulous day and one I would happily repeat today or tomorrow, it was that good. The donkeys just add to the atmosphere although I am sure even now, away from the salt marshes, the pjs do help with the flies and bugs (thanks to readers for the explanation!). If you come to France, you must add this to the wishlist of places to visit, it is just so beautiful. It never ever fails to inspire me and we go several times a year and it is still a firm favourite. xx

    • Yes it was really crowded, but even with the crowds it was fantastic and I avoid crowds and touristy places like the plague normally. Somehow it works on the island, perhaps it is because the bikes keep everyone grounded, it really is the Côte d’Azur but without the bling! xx

  • That looks like a wonderful day to be had – warm weather cycling on flattish scenery has to be a blast, especially somewhere where cyclists are welcome. Do the locals all cycle as well, Susan? I see a stop there for a day is going to have to be at least contemplated, if not arranged. Where would you recommend to stay on the island? Stunning photos too, I shall have to blindfold Amy in St Martin for sure…..

    • Yes the locals all cycle too, of course there are lots of roads and cars, but the cycle tracks are not just for tourists, it is the easiest way to get around. If you just drive as a tourist you will miss half of the charm and a lot of the prettiest routes for sure. I would look to stay somewhere in La Flotte, because it is smaller than the capital and just as pretty, in September it will not be so busy so it really is the perfect time to stay. You must try and include at least a night there, you won’t be disappointed. xx

    • Most definitely a place for your wishlist, it is fabulous and one not to be missed. We go several times a year as it is so close to us and we always have a great day and want to go back for more, it is just that sort of place! xx

  • I am exhausted just reading this, good for you and your girls, they are young to have cycled so far, but it looks like a great day out.

  • You really should be an ambassador for France, you do nothing but promote it so beautifully, Hats off to you and your hard work.

    • Thanks so much Lisa, there are thousands of other people who also promote France too, I think we all just do it because we love it here, I know I feel privileged to be able to live here and raise our family here, so perhaps that is what shines through, my passion for the country. xx

  • As often the case I have saved your last two posts for my lazy Saturday morning. As always I’m completely delighted bh summer figs, convertibles, Bentley the dog and bike riding adventures. On this chilly Australian morning trying to remember Summer thank you! 💐

    • Despite your chilly Australian morning I do hope you are having a lovely weekend. Soon enough we will be moaning about winter and you will be enjoying a glorious summer! But for now I am enjoying the figs and the fresh produce and the lovely warm weather! xx

  • We are due a visit back there!
    Hopefully it will less crowed by mid September though!
    Only did a whistle stop tour last time and only drive around.
    Lovely photos and looks like a good day was had by all!

    • You must go back there, in September it will be heaps quieter, but riding a bike really is the only way to see the island properly and to get a true feel for it, plus you can stop at incredible little out of the way restaurants! See you really soon now!! xx

  • We were there last July and this brought back many memories. I laughed though to read that you decided to go to Ars for ice cream when the best ice cream place on the island is in St. Martin! LOL Still a fun day for sure

    • I know, but it was more about the cycle ride and the day out than the actual ice cream!! I don’t eat ice cream and to the children, to be honest, an ice cream is an ice cream!! Brilliant day and one we repeat every year at least once!! xx

  • Susan, we just got back from vacation and I simply had to read the backlog of posts I have missed. I can see we should have stayed in France on the Île de Re, it looks like absolute heaven, any advice on hotels please?

    • It is absolute heaven, I think the fact that we keep going back, admittedly it is only 40 minutes up the road and we are on the island but still, we go back and do the same thing at least twice a year, we love it that much, it never gets boring. There is a gorgeous chambers d’hotes/hotel right in the centre of Saint Martin de Ré called Le Corps de Garde. I would highly recommend this, we have never stayed there but I have looked around inside and just loved what we saw. It is also highly convenient, you can rent a bike and never use your car once. xx

      • Thanks so much Susan, from the website it looks perfect, am discussing dates with my husband and planning a vacation in your area for next year. Can you also please email me details of your gîte which I think I have read about somewhere but I cannot find anything!

      • It really is a lovely place Bev, I am sure you wont be disappointed and it is in a great location. I have sent you an email with details of the gite, and very much look forward to welcoming you here! xx

      • Thanks so much Susan. I see you are already getting booked up. We had better make some plans fast!

      • It’s a pleasure Bev, we tend to get a lot of bookings mid September as people return from this year’s holidays, so you are probably safe for another couple of weeks! xx

  • Lovely post again…..we bought bikes after seeing them again in La Rochelle….folding bikes that can just fit in the car…but after 40+ years it is a bit hair raising to get back on a bike especially as the one I had in my teens did not have gears. I would be buying material at the shops above
    and bringing back on my bike!

    • Folding bikes are brilliant Denise, Roddy swears by his, did he show you his when you were here? He takes it everywhere, as you say it just folds up and pops into the back of the car, so simple and yet they are so sturdy, he took his to the Ile de Ré as he finds it more comfortable! Hope you bring them over here, you could spend days in the marais on them. xx

  • What a lovely day trip. I think kids never tire of riding bikes even when they are older.

    I have the cutest lime green adult tricycle here in the States and ride it in a golf course community that is fairly flat. My husband bought it for me because I broke my ankle very badly a few years ago and am fearful of stepping down off a bike with that ankle. So this is very safe. I actually love that bike and ride it a lot. My neighbors know it’s me! I have yet to decorate it with a big sunflower, but I should. I just wish there was a gourmet grocery in my community and then I could use the excuse of needing the basket.
    I do want to tell you that it is more difficult to steer because the chain only operates one of the
    rear wheels. Others have tried riding my bike and feel it is harder that a regular bike to ride, so it is a very good workout. Your bikes for hire are probably not as well cared for as my precious green bike though.
    I need a name for it. Susan, Perhaps some of your readers or your children would suggest a clever name for my lime green tricycle. I should send you a picture.
    I would have loved to join your crowd on your great long bike ride. Wonderful story Susan. THanks! Patty

    • Hi Patty, please do send me a photo of your bike by email, I shall show all the children,plus all the extras we have staying at the moment, we are a house of a great many people this week! I am sure between them they can come up with a witty name! It sounds like a truly trusty stead and a fabulous colour and I am sure a great deal better cared for! What a great way to get around the community and very sensible, but you really must paint the sunflower on it! xx

  • I love this story. It reminds me of so many bicycle traditions with my own family. And I’m adding Ile de Re to my list of places to visit. Do they have famous potatoes there? But I’ll try to go in May or September to avoid the crowds! Thanks for playing along with Dreaming of France.

    • They do indeed have their special Île de Ré potato, famous for it’s slightly salty taste. May and September are fabulous months to visit the island, way less tourists and yet still warm and lovely. We have been many times in October and spent a day cycling and swimming. Looks like you are going to be visiting lots and lots of different areas! Have you decided precisely where you are going to live yet? xx

  • I could spend hours browsing in those tiny shops. I particularly loved the one with the two deck chairs and those stripy cushions, pure heaven.

    • I could spend hours browsing too! One does have to sort out the imported stuff from the real locally made items, but it is very worthwhile spending the time looking, there are some beautifully handmade items for sale that are completely unique one off pieces. That’s the sort of thing that I love xx

    • It is very French and very lovely, normally we go in September and October when it is quieter, but we had friends staying who really wanted to visit the Island and so we decided to brave the August crowds and it really was fine, a lovely relaxed atmosphere. xx

  • What a lovely little island! We didn’t visit when we were in France some years ago, but I shall have to add it to the ever-growing list of places we need to go to! The pictures are truly stunning, I’m not sure how you do it Susan as I can barely make a camera go click! The pajamas on the donkeys are quite funny, although I saw someone above mention that it’s to prevent mosquitos — quite ingenious in my opinion! As always, keep up the good work! Xxx

    • Thanks so much Josie, you must visit if you come to France again, it is one of our favourite places to spend a day and cycling is a must! The pjs are a brilliant idea and I would imagine help with bugs even away from the salt marshes. Have a lovely end to the week xx

  • Hi Susan, not sure how we missed this post! Stunning photos as always and love the idea of a squadron English cavalry on bikes thundering towards the shop at dusk! Another must-do destination, I think……

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