So, I’m in Ile de Ré, a small (33 square mile) island just off of the west coast of France (more on that below). Because of the local colour scheme and the often cool mornings and evenings, I bought this cornflower-blue and white striped cashmere poncho specifically to wear here. When I saw it in a shop a few months ago, it screamed ‘Ile de Ré’ to me. See what I mean? I’m practically camouflaged in my surroundings!
One thing I love about Ile de Ré is the architectural consistency; all of the shutters and doors on the island are painted in washed out shades of blue, green, or grey. The island is authentically quaint and un-messed-with. Even though it is a very expensive place to buy property now, it retains a cozy, luxuriously slouchy vibe. Some refer to it as the French version of Cape Cod. The houses are mostly modest fishermans’ cottages (or ex-fishermans’ cottages) with a ramshackle quality that is enhanced by the wild flowers allowed to grow anywhere their roots can find purchase. They don’t do manicured gardens here; everything is meant to look slightly wild and unkempt. The island isn’t fancy or glamorous (no celebrities, no oligarchs, no super-yachts, no Ferarris), but it has an understated beauty and a unique style that is completely Ré. My husband’s family has been coming here every summer for over forty years; after my four summer holidays here and plans for next year, it looks like this is becoming my tradition too!
In August, Ile de Ré is packed to the rafters with Parisian families in SUVs and on bicycles, all flocking to the beaches, markets, and restaurants, and choking up the small two-lane roads that snake through the island. The rest of the year (including September, my preferred month here) it relaxes back into its unassuming, friendly, weather-worn, tranquil ways. The beaches are quiet, the roads are open, and the markets are calm. The people who vacation here are mostly French; I hear a few Spanish or British accents from time to time, but it is rare. The local population in winter is around 20,000 people, but in summer this goes up to 220,000! There are 10 different villages (or ‘communes’) dotted along the island; my favourites are Les Portes, Loix, and St Martin, so my photos are all from there.
Ile de Ré doesn’t produce a lot; it is an island of salt and seafood, with some donkeys (historically, for transporting salt) and goats (for cheese) thrown in. They also grow grapes for making wine, but the wine is horrible. Other foods (and better wine) are brought in via the 2 mile narrow bridge that connects the island with mainland France (lower right in the map above). Here are some photos I took to give you a sense of the place.
If you ever find yourself on Ile de Ré, be sure to have the artisinal ice cream at La Martiniére (on the corner in the photo below). Their version of the island specialty ‘carasel’ (shorthand for ‘caramel au beurre sale’, salted caramel) is amazing. The island also grows very flavoursome little potatoes, so there is a potato ice cream too. I once even tried oyster and caviar ice cream here; I wouldn’t have it again, but it isn’t as awful as it might sound! They also have other unique flavours like poppy, strawberry-pepper, and peach-lavender alongside staples like coconut, dark chocolate, and rum raisin. They usually have around 70 flavours on any day. Did I mention they make their own cones? They’re so delicious my son eats them like a cookie, with no ice cream!
Ile de Ré is an off the beaten track destination (unless you’re French), but well worth the trip… especially if you’re not a fan of beaches (I’m not) because there is so much else to do. What lures me back is the superb style… I’m a sucker for anywhere that doesn’t feel like everywhere else, and I don’t think anywhere else has the same unique French cozy/luxe fishing-village style as Ile de Ré.
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