I glance up, gently closing my eyes as the early afternoon sun streams down onto my face, giving it a gentle warmth. I take a deep breath, letting the salty, invigorating sea air deeply fill my lungs and in that moment I think…boy, does this feel *good*. Unfortunately within seconds, I’m broken out of my reverie by one of my kids shouting to come and take a look at the oysters.
Oh well, it was nice while it lasted. It’s the final day of our summer holidays at the stunning Île de Ré, a small island off the coast of western France. My family and I were taking the time to have lunch and celebrate this at a waterfront restaurant specialising in seafood, most notably oysters.
We sat on the wooden benches overlooking the sea, ordered some white wine and a few dozen oysters to share (at very reasonable prices – around 15 euros per dozen for number three-sized oysters). When it arrived and my husband had poured the contents of the bottle into my glass, we cheers’d to the wonderful new memories we had created this summer (and as I’m writing this in the dead of winter, with grey, overcast skies in Paris, I can’t help but feel the warmth reliving these memories).
The best thing about Île de Ré was being able to take a bicycle and be free. You can bike your way around the entire island and as you do, the sights, sounds and smells reward your soul (if you’re not used to bicycling though, this might NOT reward your body the next day). As you cycle past a small town, you encounter markets and squares bustling with people. Perhaps a church bell rings in the distance as you start to make your way out of the town and down one of the many cycling paths.
And it is through these paths, interspersed throughout the entire island, where you feel like your worries are carried off into the wind in which you ride with. In one of the areas we stayed at, there are plenty of salt marshes and you can simply drop-in and purchase famous “fleur de sel”, which is still being collected with methods dating back to the Middle Ages.
You hop back on the saddle, your foot pushing against the ground as you take off once again, and this time, you are twisting and turning your way around pockets of estuaries, with beach grass as high as yourself making a gentle swish-swish-swish as the wind tickles them with its fingers.
If you cycle in the middle of the day, the sun beats down and it can feel unrelenting without any trees for shade and respite. And just when you think you can’t pedal any further, you are rewarded with what you came here for – the beach. Depending on which one you go to (there are over 100km of coastline), you are either met with soft, silky and fine sand between your toes, or rocky marinas and a wilder sea. Whichever you choose, it’s always a sight to behold.
So next time you are planning your summer holidays in France, skip the main places like Nice, Bordeaux and Paris, and instead take a charming bike ride on the Île de Ré.
I sure miss the sun and the summer months. While winter has its benefits (mulled wine, holiday atmosphere), nothing beats leaving the house without a jacket, scarf, mittens and cumbersome winter boots. How about you? Let me know, are you dreaming of a summer holiday destination and if so, where will it be?