Is the Île de Ré just as Magical in Winter?

P7850062Spring visited here for a fleeting stay. She tickled our tastebuds and teased our senses and had us hanging up our jackets and baring our arms in t-shirts. The children went one step further donning shorts. But then she got firmly pushed to one side, we didn’t lose the warmth so much as it just got rudely elbowed out of the way by a cold and very boisterous wind coupled with more than our fair share of rain to add insult to injury.

Two weeks ago we were basking in record end of February temperatures, which soared into the 20’s (celsius that is). It was the end of the school winter holidays in our region and tempted by the heatwave, we thought a day of cycling on the Île de Ré was very much in order.

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Now we did do our homework, albeit in the car en route, but none the less, we checked that the bike hire shops would be open, seeing as it was still winter, and they were. Without a small truck it is impossible to ferry six or seven bikes and renting them makes far more sense, it is inexpensive and so much simpler!

With no summer traffic jams to worry about we were over the 3km long bridge and driving down familiar roads in record time. Our favourite hire shop in La Flotte was closed, no reason and no note given, but it was very firmly locked up. We drove onto the next, and then the next, it was the same story everywhere. Bicycles can be hired at virtually every turn on the Island, even in the height of the season there are plenty to go around, but no one was here to make the most of the balmy temperatures.

I’m not one to give up easily but even I know when to admit defeat. Pedal power would have to be postponed for another time. In the end we drove to a deserted beach in Ars-en-Ré. From here it would be good old Shanks’s pony. But first, we settled down on the warm sand for our picnic.

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Totally replenished, the rock pools beckoned us like magnets as we searched for tiny fish and crabs.

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Then we set off walking, a round trip hike of two hours along the beach to the lighthouse, the Phare des Baleines, which means Lighthouse of the Whales, built in 1849. At 57 metres it is one of the highest lighthouses in France and for breathtaking views you can climb the 257 steps to the top, except wouldn’t you know it, today it was closed!

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We scarcely ever visit the island in the winter and I was intrigued to see what it was like. Would it still hold its incredible charm without its spring and summer jewellery; the climbing roses adorning doors and fences, the wisteria covering ancient walls, the geraniums adding splashes of vibrant colour. There was plenty of pink and white blossom along the roads but the starkness of the heavily pollarded trees bore absolutely no resemblance to the wonderful shady canopies that instantly say France to me in the warmer months.

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There was no hiding behind abundant vegetation, every crack and crevice was there for all to see but despite its naked appearance the magic was still there.

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The village has a population of less than 2000 and is situated at the far north western end of the Island. The famous black and white spire on the church of Saint-Etienne can be seen for miles around and is often used as a landmark.

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The shops were open for business even if the bike rentals were not!

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An indulgent treat is spending a few minutes inside the local parfumerie. Here everything is guaranteed to be natural and parabens free and without realising it you could certainly walk out several hundred euros lighter but with a fabulous collection of parfumes for the home and body and scented candles.

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Perhaps a stop next door to buy one of the pull along shopping bags might be the best bet! These are used by all and sundry here, they are not purely a requisite for the elderly and even though I fully admit I have yet to purchase one I can certainly see their merits. They would be absolutely ideal for brocantes and save my arms and shoulders and the children’s too as we lug around heavy treasures! But even though I may sound convincing I have yet to completely shrug off the stigma attached to them and have yet to be seen with one in tow! In fact we won one once, a few years ago, it was a prize in a raffle during a huge village soirée, we all laughed, the kids ran up and down with it and then, perhaps I ought to whisper this, we gave it away!!

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Anyway we didn’t have any shopping to cart around and so exploring by foot was easy. Down little passageways, never quite knowing where we would end up, but also not worrying, nowhere is very far and one road aways leads back to another and there is aways that spire to guide us.

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Looking on the bright side, walking rather than cycling meant I could stop and take photos with enormous ease. I could imagine a little study in this turret, I bet the views are fabulous.P7850066

I wonder what courtyard gardens were hidden behind so many of the doors.P7850069P7850082P7850093

I could marvel at shuttersP7850080

and smile to myself as I watched so many people enjoying the hugely welcome heatwave in the small cafés which surround the harbour.P7850109

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There were plenty of bikes to be seen, propped up outside houses, all privately owned by lucky locals of course. No one chains them up, it’s not that sort of place and isn’t that fantastic?P7850074P7850089P7850092

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Then just as it was time to think about heading for home, as the sun was beginning to  drop lower in the sky and the evening had started to turn just a tad nippy we found a cycle hire shop which was open! Oh well, we know where to go the next time we get an unseasonably hot winter break!P7850079

13 thoughts on “Is the Île de Ré just as Magical in Winter?

  • It so different in the off season, with a gentlier type of beauty. Huge congrats to G….in fact to all of you. It takes a village…
    Ali xxxx

  • Well THANK YOU so much, lovely Susan, for taking me on the trip to Ile de Ré we couldn’t do, due to ‘know what’….. If you would do the same for La Rochelle and maybe include Hero Husband’s missed-out Birthday Lunch we so looked forward to 😉 That would be really kind!
    Although as of 11am today I feel much better, and at the same time fearing the next night, I’m deeply thankful that we could come to visit this week. It still was ‘short holidays’ and what’s best is that our love and appreciation of your wonderful family has even increased. Being unwell and near-bed ridden on one’s ‘vacances’, brings home the little things which make our life better, be it ‘observing and partaking’ your hosts’ life, the kindness with which they treat their family and animals, the attention they pay to use natural ressources and not going for harmful chemicals where possible, and much more. I do regret that I spent my short week in between waiting for the car to be repaired and hobbling around (if at all) in the gîte, but it was still a peaceful time and HH & I already discuss the possibility of maybe another stay at Your French Oasis 🙂

  • I’d also like to throw in a HAIL MARY for those pull shopping trolleys. You should come to our very ‘fashionable’ living quarters where ladies in their best gear have fancy shopping trolleys and proudly pull them behind. So do I – I only ever get less laid-back when I arrive at home and know that I now have to unpack everything in large bags and lug THEM all those stone stairs up to our house!!!! Takes a bit of the clever smirking off the face – but honestly, if you saw my shopper, you’d be delighted. It’s a shiny black with white large Polka dots – you can’t go wrong!!!! And the space is amazing, I can buy all of the market AND still have space enough for the flowers…. 🙂
    You might be a bit ‘looking down your nose’ on them because you are mostly around by car, and must only schlepp your stuff to the vehicle. I do all my shopping mostly on foot and believe me, a trolley makes it far easier on the shoulders and arms than those heavy-weight bags. Or, as my mother in law says: Sometimes things mustn’t be only beautiful, but practical! 🙂 (not that I cite her too often but when she’s right, she is right!)

  • Hi Susan, I’ve oft wondered what the island is like off-season, and now I know…just as enchanting! Thanks for sharing, Suzi

  • It’s a pity you weren’t able to secure a bicycle, but my goodness how you were rewarded for exploring on foot: Your photos are wonderful! Love especially the tiny winding streets and the contrast of the bleach-white buildings against that brilliant blue sky. Lovely post!

  • As always, a delightful posting. What a super, crisp, clear day.
    And what a laugh to find a bike shop (trading) right at the end!
    Maybe it was meant to be…

  • Thanks so much again for your photos! Enjoy them so much. I love the passageways & as always the shutters. Lovely day!

  • Funny me – I do believe I would like to visit just when you did . . . how very beautiful without the crowds! One actually sees the place and does not have to listen to or walk around people . . . and shopping trolleys: goodness gracious me – what have these to do with age 🙂 ! I have happily used one for a couple of decades methinks! Living on the ground floor just pull it into whichever room the bought goodies belong and empty !!

  • I can only picture it in the busy periods! How lovely on an uncrowned winters day!
    Looking forward to returning n June.

  • Lovely out is season glimpse of one my favourite places. Must come back this Spring – would love to see you again too xxx

  • As I live on an island off the coast of Queensland a shopping trolley is a must. Everyone uses one. When shopping on the mainland for specialty food – everything has to be taken on the ferry. So much easier than carrying heavy bags. We have the heavy groceries delivered by a major supermarket. Love your posts.

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