Spring 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.
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.
Totally replenished, the rock pools beckoned us like magnets as we searched for tiny fish and crabs.
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!
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.
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.
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.
The shops were open for business even if the bike rentals were not!
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.
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!!
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.
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.
I wonder what courtyard gardens were hidden behind so many of the doors.
I could marvel at shutters
and smile to myself as I watched so many people enjoying the hugely welcome heatwave in the small cafés which surround the harbour.
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?
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!