In fact, this is not how it looks like on departure day. Instead, rain and stormy wind ease my decision to get up and going – if not for the closed barrier at the campsite’s exit. It remains stubbornly closed until I place an early morning wake up-call for helpful staff with a key.
Hector takes the road under his wheels, turns up the music and off we go. 829 km further, we are back in summer temperatures and make Metz our home for the night. The camping municipal almost falls into the Moselle river with a mere 10 minutes-walk to the heart of the city.
Metz is not huge, but vivid and full of students, leading to all kinds of bars, cafés and restaurants spread over the alleys of the vielle ville.
The cathedral is the most prominent landmark around and most probably calm and impressing inside. I wonder if I should check it out, but get tempted by Hector’s cosy bed. 10 hours of driving have been less of an effort at the age of twenty-something…
The 533 km between Metz and Munich are a piece of cake. Being only half way through my pile of road music, I put Hector in parking position right in time for a welcome coffee at my neighbour’s place. Great to have both: a comfy apartment and the world’s best super-van.
I wake up in golden light with low tide at my feet. Today is my last day on Île de Ré and there is one village missing on my list.
My destination of choice, La Flotte, is a quick win: just a few kilometers against the wind and easy to find – as long as the sea is to my right, I can hardly go wrong.
It turns out that La Flotte is the most charming of all island villages. A cute little harbour, a handful of bars and restaurants and one or two tiny alleys with all sorts of shops. Today, it is topped by a dramatic sky.
I hurry up for some pictures with green water and heavy clouds. I very much prefer interesting skies to endless blue horizons – at least for the photographs.
I am realistic enough to prefer a table under a solid roof for lunch, making me look like a smart (and dry) girl. I am in the middle of my main course when the rain pours down and dozens of tourists hurry up to find better places before their wine turns into spritzers.
A half hour later, the scenery is picture-postcard again. In high season, the places might be packed with people, but in the mid of June with mixed-up weather, it is as relaxed as can be.
I stroll around and take my time to detect the facets of the place. I have the promenade at the shore all for myself, except for the toy boats (or so it seems) dancing on the water’s surface.
The view over the sea towards the horizon reminds me of one of my favourite songs: Au-delà des orages / je part en voyage / mon âme au vent / le coeur éléphant… It is about travelling, about a big heart and about the joy of living – and so appropriate.
A few steps further, I come to a small church. Despite the emptiness (me being the sole person in here), it feels vivid and inviting. The spirit of it’s regular visitors fills the air like the well-used song books fill the shelfs on both sides of the main aisle.
Some days ago, I have met a nice gentlemen who proudly talked about his life. How he feels at the age of 80, how he likes the exchange with others and how much he loved his wife. It is by far not the only encounter of these holidays, yet I still hear his warm goodbye: Soyez heureuse! / Be happy! I figure this may be the best bottom line for a fulfilled life, and I am willing to give my best following his advice.
By now, I am en route with Hector for about 16 days and it still feels wonderful. Along the way, I have met friends and strangers, surfers and tourists, pensioners and campsite workers. I have felt adopted by my camping neighbours, and I have tried my best to pimp the beach sunsets with some ukulele chords. The conclusion is: the world is better with open borders and open-minded people of all kinds.
If not for conversations and encounters, a voyage would be nothing more than just sightseeing. I love the unexpected moments that enfold, such as the fresh fish offered by the camper-next-door – just because of a nice “hello” on the way back from his afternoon’s kayak & fishing tour.
Finally, my last island-day comes to an end. But not without the most spectacular sunset: Hard to decide which scene I like best, so here comes the inflation of red-golden light in umpteen pics.
And, of course, Hector is the heart of it all.
Tomorrow, we will make our way over the beauty of a bridge, heading East for some hundreds of kilometers.
The bridge Pont de l’Île de Ré is the most dominant object in and around Rivedoux. Picking up the coast line, stretching in a smooth curve over the sea, it is a nice piece of a monument. The instable weather rewards me with fantastic light, luring me out of my van, with the camera in one hand and the tripod in the other. The outcome is a series of unfiltered holiday extract: golden and promising, calm and exciting, with a wide view that may or may not exceed the horizon.
Rivedoux is the perfect starting point for a day at La Rochelle. The bridge is toll-free for cyclists and the pistes cyclables enable a relaxed visit. No parking fee, no traffic jam. While the route along the shore is closed down for construction, the alternative is pretty okay as well.
In the banlieus of La Rochelle, architects have proved that playing with colours, with different heights and with open space and some meadows or trees beware the inhabitants of the cramped feeling ever seen so often in apartment blocks. I pass by several examples of different styles and forms and little parks in between, approaching the centre ville from the backside.
My first glance at the older parts of La Rochelle is into the market hall: unfortunately, all closed down. So much for the recommendation of best food and choice of delicacies.
Leaving the market behind, I stroll around until I get to the most touristic part: the vieux port. Famous for ancient towers and known as “white city” due to the white stone of most buildings, it usually attracts thousands of tourists. June 2021 is different: despite some foreign languages here and there, La Rochelle is far from being overrun by travelers from abroad.
In the late morning, cafés and restaurants are still empty and hence inviting for a cup of coffee or two. Stress-less sightseeing at its best!
I continue my way along the old city walls and the basin of the old port. Having read a bit about the towers and their various functions over the time, I wonder if a visit inside one or another is worth it.
Given the hilarious prices (min. 9,- EUR for the small one), I skip it and rather invest my holiday savings in a solid lunch break.
With the afternoon, darker clouds approach. I admit that the ancient La Rochelle is pretty and vivid, yet I am not the most excited city hopper and rather get back to my island of happiness.
On my way back, a lady whose age is some years ahead of mine, takes a visible effort to ride an old version of a racing bike. With my super-speedy Brompton bike Prince Harry I overtake her easily. For about three times. I may be faster, but she definitely knows some tricks and abbreviations.
Back on Île de Ré, I realize that the rain clouds decided to keep to the mainland. Best conditions for a couple of hours at the campsite’s 20m pool, finally getting me into some swim training and a bit of a teint.
It is unusual for Hector to stay in one place for such a long time. Today, we move on and settle down in Rivedoux, the village right at the beginning of the island. Le Pont = the bridge is always in sight.
My wonderful van yearns for the beach, and even though our campsite is located on the northern side of the island, we are pretty close. Before I soak in the endless view from Hector’s perspective, I take a look at Rivedoux downtown. It consists of a few hundred meters of a promenade at the shore, with a part of it reserved for the “Aloha Festival”.
A real festival! With stands and merchandise and people dancing on stage (or: in front of the stage), with masked spectators and live music. Haven’t seen such a thing in years!
Later on, I fight the strong wind, making my way to Sainte-Marie-de-Ré, looking for the fantastic restaurant my sister detected a couple of years ago. Not sure if we have talked about the same Sainte-Marie: fact is, the village is deserted. Around the church: parked cars, no trace of their passengers. The streets: empty. Further streets: empty. Few, solitude shops: closed down, either for today or for good.
At least I have a bit of movement and get rewarded with a fantastic stormy hairdo. Back in Rivedoux (looking vivid and alive, compared to the other spot), I talk the waitress of my restaurant of choice into a glass of wine on the terrace and look for the sea. Gone for the time being…
Thanks to the wind, Hector’s lounge sofa is the place to be for the chillout-evening. Lucky me that I have such a view right out of my living room!
With sundown, it becomes more spectacular. And it looks so much more attractive and warm when witnessed from Hector’s couch, well parked on the island’s shore.
Far from being spectacular, La Couarde sur Mer is charming and an excellent base for my stay on Île de Ré.
The tiny center consists of a handful of shops, a church and the place des voisins sympas = square of pleasant neighbours. The square counts a carousel, a café and a salon de thé called “Z’adore”.
Just in case that dark clouds approach when strolling through the alleys (more precise: the one alley with shops, ice cream and food options), the best place to end up is the salon de thé.
Beside tea and coffee, they offer a variety of cakes and tartlets and cup cakes and further patisserie in the most delicious way. And, best of all: About half of the offered fancy cakes are gluten-free!
Some coffees and cupcakes later, the heavy showers have passed by and I take a look at the beach, the weather and the entire situation.
Looking south-east: not convincing.
The weather in north-western direction is promising enough for another bike tour, deepening the look and feel of the island on my way to Loix.
In former times, Loix has been an individual island. Nowadays, it is part of the Île de Ré. This afternoon, it has lost a part of its charm when low tide took away the blue sea.
A bit further along the way, some of the maritime feeling remains. Still, Loix is another refuge for those seeking calm and solitude. I skip my intention to look for the perfect ice cream shop and find my way back to La Couarde and Hector / Camping Remondeau.
Another perfect day for a bike tour enfolds on Île de Ré. Today, Prince Harry (the currently unfolded foldable bicycle) aims for the far end of the island: Les Portes-en-Ré.
Road signs, cafés, shops or any other trace of civilized diversion is rare in the north-east. Still, the typical white houses and small alleys are pretty despite all boredom.
The beaches are deserted and the culinary possibilities limited. I regard an hour in Les Portes-en-Ré sufficient time for a coffee and the search for the cycling path back. Once found, I head home. I assume that in high season an almost lost place like this will work as refuge, tempting only a handful of birdwatchers when other villages burst with tourists.
It has been a challenge to get used to >30°C, but with a bit of surfing here and a bit of siesta there, it was not that bad. In fact, summer temperatures start at 28°C only, so I have been more than happy in my first holiday week.
However, this is about to change now. The sky hangs low and the quantity of sunscreen usage decreases significantly. Sounds like perfect conditions for bike tours and city hopping!
The tricky part on the highly frequented 100km pistes cyclables on Île de Ré is the mass of users. Unsporty tourists hop on e-bike-monsters without any routine in cycling, leading to a significant number of bike accidents throughout summer season. Now with the drop in temperatures, quite some tourists departed, leaving the cycling paths for the tough ones only – lucky me!
My dear “Prince Harry” = a decent Brompton bike takes me wherever I want, with not so much of an effort. Today, it is Saint-Martin-de-Ré with its church that presents ancient stones half-demolished, half-rebuilt.
The fortress-like village comes with the typical local charm, topped by a small yacht harbor that may or may not imitate St. Tropez. Similar to the Côte d’Azur hotspot, an endless row of cafés and restaurants frames the pier. Fortunately, it differs in pricing and quality. I settle down for a solid English breakfast with eggs, bacon, potatoes and sausages and enjoy perfect service in relaxed atmosphere and a very fair amount on the bill.
St. Martin has been designed as fortification by Vauban, including a contorted harbor, a nice “vielle ville” and a calm park with meadows, trees and a cute lighthouse on the shore. Once you accomplish it with a white-sanded beach, you could sell it as the perfect image of a touristic place-to-be.
All in all, it is a nice mixture with vivid life and worth a visit.
After some rain during morning hours, the day develops more and more towards a veritable summer’s evening. Perfect setting for a nice sit-in with the neighbours next-door (next-van) and for another ukulele beach concert. I resume that bad weather around here is bearable, as long as it comes with sun and gentle 24°C.
The past days have been filled with surfing and all the excitement about the progress I have made on the board. With life being all about balance, it now is time to lean back, relax, se reposer.
Consequently, I hang around between Hector and the beach, with a chat here and there, with good books and with a bit of live music. Thanks to heartful neighbours, the tranquility comes along with vivid talks and apéritive ensemble.
Life can be sweet and cosy on Île de Ré these days 😊
Ah, finalement! I knew all along that Île de Ré is not surfer’s paradise, yet I had hoped for the best. As this island is a bit like the French version of Sylt, it is more about wind surfing than about wave surfing. Still, I am willing to bite my way through any obstacles until I get there.
First, I approach the catamaran / wind surf location close to my beach at La Couarde. I learn that surfable waves are available in winter time only… June may not be appropriate, then.
Next, I go to the village called “Le Bois Plage”. Internet research has detected a surf school, and when a French site is all about “surf”, then it is about waves. It is all a bit of a flexible scene here, depending on tide and timing, with no such thing as a building to address to – but in the end, I find a cabane at the far end of the beach, opened for some hours each day, and I manage to rent a board for an hour.
Three years have gone by since my last time on a surfboard – and I am the happiest person on the beach when already the third trial works out. I am up on the whitewash, pushed by nothing else than the ocean’s water. I keep to what I know best (broken waves) and work hard for about 45 minutes. In the end, I may not be “queen of the whitewash” again, but close.
When I give back the board, I make sure to be listed among the handful of people up for surf lessons the very next day, all but secretely aiming for surfing au large = in the open.
The next day comes with a bit of nervousness. 90 minutes surfing, now, really? At my age?? Not sure at all, but at least I will give it a try.
When they put one of their smallest boards in my hands, I feel like a real surf pro for about a minute or two. The smaller, the better – once, you learn how to control it, that is. It turns out that most of the others are even more impressed by the challenges of today’s lessons. I take advantage of all I have learned (thanks to Vincent/Vieux Bouceau), and within 15 minutes, I manage to ride my first “vague lisse” = wave at it’s breaking point.
Oh, what delicate feeling, when the upper half of the board is right in the air and the wave pushes gently from behind! Conditions are perfect for beginner’s luck, I’d say, but anyway, I am flashed by the enhanced experience. From now on, I forget about the whitewash and only go for the open!
Being well aware that bigger waves, deeper water or any other change in conditions will put me to the test any other day – still, I am entirely fascinated and more than willing to move on with surfing whenever I can!