In the arrondissement of La Rochelle, the tiny island of Il de Ré hides on the west coast of France but shouldn’t be forgotten if one happens to find themselves on this side of the Continent. At the instruction of my well-travelled mother, we embarked on a day trip from the larger La Rochelle to its footprint-shaped neighbour.
Highly contested throughout the centuries between French and English rulers, this area is so tiny that just 300 soldiers and 100 sailors were required to seize it by the Huguenot Soubise in 1625. Still, what the island lacks in size is made up for in points of interest, history and quirk. Il de Ré is home of Cognac, Saint-Martin (added to the World Heritage Site list in 2008), and the same number of hours of sunshine than its counterparts in the south of the country. Cars appear seldom used and the resident’s transportation preference for bicycles is helped by the essentially flat landscape; the highest point on the island rising just 20 metres above sea level.
After arriving in La Flotte, one of the ten small communes that the island divides into, we walked through the bright, silent streets for ten minutes before seeing much other signs of life. The flourishing roses growing up around most houses provided the only splash of bright colour to be seen against the Mediterranean-influenced houses. Quite by chance, our steps then suddenly brought us into a vibrant market place.
The unanticipated contrast was stark, and at first disorientating, but the lure of the fresh fruits de mer stall quickly drew us in. The homards that had made it to the stall (tradition is for fishermen to sell a small amount of their produce straight from the catch, allowing them to purchase a drink from the various establishments around the quays) danced alive in their tank, proving a great attraction for potential customers.
Almost unquestionably, it was this; the contrast between simple tranquility and bustling dynamism found just minutes apart, which seemed to be what made Il de Ré so richly captivating for us.