For most of July we have been on the island of Ile de Re and then on the mainland in Fouras for the last week. What a luxury! No driving, lots of walking and bicycling. In mid-July schools in Europe went on holidays and things have gone crazy! We were expecting it, but have still been shocked. The population of seaside villages increases more than 10 times and prices more than double. The campgrounds are packed and have ‘animations’ such as discos and karaoke. Fortunately the mornings are cool and the campgrounds are quiet and the kids seem to get put to bed fairly early. The crowded camping grounds can make maneuvering our behemoth camping car (7.5m long x 2.3m wide x 3.1m high and 3.5 tons) a bit tricky. We have done 8.7k KL in France over the last 5 months and we have had our first speeding fine.
We based ourselves in the village of Ars en Re on the Ile de Re. The Ile de Re has 10 villages and this one is about three quarters of the way up the island.
The main industries of the island (besides tourism) are salt, potatoes and seafood and they dabble in wine. A huge area is devoted to the salt-pans and the large tides mean the oyster beds go for miles offshore as well. There are also vineyards and market gardens.
All this makes for very pretty bike rides along the many miles of cycling paths, which rarely cross a road. July has been a lot about cycling. We bought one electric bike and hired another bike with a doggy trailer. It was the first time Sue had really ridden a bike and it’s a daunting skill to learn at this late age – especially on cycle tracks crowded with families and kids. We have loved riding the cycle paths to other villages, having a wander around and exploring the village before going to lunch (very important in France). We found a couple of excellent oyster/seafood restaurants on the beach that we loved.
Now we both have electric bikes that go on the back of the camping car and Grubie has her own doggy trailer, so we’re all set to be trailer trash vagabonds.
Ars en Re often features in lists such as ‘The 10 prettiest towns in France’. It is quite Mediterranean with its cream plaster or stone buildings, terracotta roofs and coloured shutters. There are hollyhocks everywhere, as well as lots of ‘cottage plants’ lining the laneways. It has a beautiful square with an old church, whose steeple is painted half black and half white to assist with visibility from the sea in different weather conditions. It’s very effective, with the black really standing out against a blue sky. The town also has a pretty port lined with restaurants.
The other thing we have enjoyed is the wonderful market at the port. All the towns on the island have markets but this one is very busy and varied. Fantastic seafood and prepared foods from the charcuterie, as well as wonderful fruit and veg. We have been incorporating new vegetables in our menu, such as leeks and celeriac. And the fruit is amazing, especially the apricots, flat peaches and berries. Then there are all the other stalls – clothes, kitchen items, bags, shoes etc. The stalls change every day so sometimes it can take quite a while to do the shopping!
There are quite a few art galleries/artist studios and we have had a look in most of them. There are two that we particularly like. It’s a very good thing that we’re vagabonds now, otherwise we would be buying up big!
We have been to Fouras (between La Rochelle and Rochefort) three times now. It is an interesting village with very mixed architecture, from stunning castle-like seaside villas to tiny little bungalows. It has a huge tide but four beautiful sandy swimming beaches for when the tide is right. Unfortunately the weather for our last visit has been cool and all the tourist spots are really hurting.
We’ve been having quite a social time this month. The WBG pop-up has been getting quite a work-out with aperitifs or dinners and we have really missed the dish washer! We drank our last bottle of WBG red wine, a 2012 cabernet.
We fare-welled our new friends Peter (Spike Milligan doppelgänger) and Maureen from the UK after a few epic dinner parties and boules contests. We enjoyed a visit from Tom and Marnie Raggat from Adelaide. It was great to catch up with Adelaide news and pick their ‘travel brains’. Thomas Hardy drove to Fouras to see us and we whiled away a rainy day with a long lunch. Through Grubie we met a lovely young couple of 30-something locals, Tom and Virginie. They invited us to their home for aperitifs one Sunday evening and it was so much fun. They brought out a cognac fruit drink that was 32% alcohol and then lent Sue a bike to ride home. Risky!!
Grubie hasn’t had a wonderful time over most of the month. She is finding France quite a challenge to her health. She has had two operations to remove grass seeds from her paws. Then she developed what we finally figured out was an allergy to one of the sea grasses and it made all her paws sore. Just when we were getting that under control we found another big tick sore. In spite of all this she has enjoyed herself. She loves her little doggy trailer. It’s funny for Sue to ride behind Michael and Grubie because all the riders coming the other way are laughing and talking about the ‘petite chien’. She looks so cute sitting there with her head poking out, her ears flying back and looking like she’s smiling! She has developed a liking for lunch and aperitifs. Fish and mussels are her preferred foods. Michael says thank goodness she doesn’t like wine and oysters! Grubie has become used to her home being a defined camping pitch and she now ‘free-ranges’ most of the time, meaning that she will stay put without being tied up. Her two favourite places to catch forty winks are under the camping car and under the ‘dining room’ table.
We have finished our ‘summer holiday’ on the Atlantic Coast and getting back to serious tourist business before we hit the Mediterranean for what we hope will be some very hot weather. We plan on exploring the villages of the Armagnac area and having a look at the medieval Carcasson on the way.
Enjoyed the last couple of days in Jarnac catching up with Thomas Hardy over lunch, dinner and a red or two….If you are coming to France and you're looking for a very good tour guide then contact Thomas Hardy through his websit at www.picwine.com.au