French Perfection
Practical Caravan|May 2017

Nigel Donnelly and Jenny Owen take an off-season tour of the place the French flock to for their holidays.

The word ‘authentic’ is one whose meaning has been somewhat hijacked. Its simple meaning was that something is real, rather than fake. Increasingly, however, authenticity is now considered a measure of quality or good taste.

Today, it is not enough simply to eat pasta to get a flavour of Italian life, for example. You need fresh pasta, but even that is a bit half-hearted. Ideally, you need to make pasta using special flour and posh olive oil. After all, you wouldn’t catch an Italian eating pasta that wasn’t authentic, so why would you?

Authenticity in travel follows a similar pattern. The holiday equivalent of posh pasta is going where the locals go. If a destination delights the locals enough for them to hang their annual two-week hiatus on, there is no higher accolade. It’s a good indicator that it is where you should be going, too.

For many French tourists, the destination de jour is a sandy, low-lying island anchored off the mid-Atlantic coast. The Île de Ré has a population of around 20,000, but in holiday season that swells to 200,000. Reasoning that 180,000 French holiday makers could not be wrong, we set course.

Tour de Ré

A few things about the island strike you at first glance. As you drive over the magnificent bridge from the mainland, the lack of elevation is obvious. The island is pancake-flat. You’ll also notice that there are bikes everywhere, their proliferation no doubt helped by the aforementioned lack of hills. As well as bikes, there are lots of places to park them, plus paths and places to rent them from, too.

It didn’t take us long to take to bikes, too. The main motivation was a day of driving a Range Rover through the tiny towns that litter the island. The big Brit is at roof level to some of the smaller properties lining the lanes, and a day of dodging Renault 4s – and shrieking as trailers of oysters kissed the door mirrors – urged us to give the car time off.

Our chosen site, Camping Les Grenettes, is centrally located, which made it a good base for exploring on two wheels. Neither Jen nor I are natural athletes but, once we’d adjusted the saddle heights of our hire bikes (around €10 per day from reception), we wobbled off towards nearby Sainte-Mariede-Ré, starting on local roads, before picking up the cycle paths toward Rivedoux Plage.

Our initial enthusiasm for cycling was quickly replaced by slight breathlessness and the need for some refreshment. We pedalled slowly up to the handsome Le Platin café in the town, where the owner hurried out to show us the cycle parking to the rear, and to offer us a table in the sunshine of the sheltered garden where we could recharge our batteries. We both settled on a galette complète – a ham and cheese pancake topped with a fried egg – and washed it down with glasses of very cold, dry white wine and a beer, because we knew how important it was to take on fluids during exercise.

Rivedoux Plage is a great place to do a little shopping, but some sprucing up of the little high street over the past few years has ensured that the beachside town is short on old-world charm. Clean and handsome as it is, any traces of island history are all but buried beneath fresh whitewash, new tarmac and pristine shop fronts. Even the traditional market is a sea of glass and painted metal.

That order all changes within a few hundred yards as you head west toward La Flotte. A grubbier collection of shops and cafés overlooks the sand, with a great view of the bridge back to the mainland, and things immediately felt more relaxed. A handful of old gents were out on the sand, harvesting the oysters that are available across the island. We grabbed a few snaps of a scene that, aside from the tractor and the bridge, has changed little over the past 50 years.

La Flotte is one place where arriving by bike is better than arriving by car, because it allows you to use the seaside pathways rather than the main road, which is blinkered by whitewashed walls. The little harbour is picture-perfect, but we had only recently stopped so we kept moving, walking the bikes between the shops, peering in the odd window before carrying on to the island’s main urban attraction.

Capitale de Ré

Continue reading your story on the app

Continue reading your story in the magazine

MORE STORIES FROM PRACTICAL CARAVANView All

Following In The Footsteps Of The Fallen

100 years have passed since the Battle of Passchendaele. Niall Hampton heads to Ypres to find out more and pay his respects.

10+ mins read
Practical Caravan
January 2018

​Always Happy In The Lakes

Gary Richardson returns to a much-loved holiday destination and discovers some stunning new beauty spots to add to his memory bank.

4 mins read
Practical Caravan
October 2017

Britain's Other Lake District

Claudia Dowell discovers a freshwater paradise in a less-travelled corner of stunning Snowdonia.

10+ mins read
Practical Caravan
October 2017

A Four-Week Fix Of Dane Relief

Having been Denmark-curious for a while, Andrew and May Clark decided to get up to speed with a 30-day tour of this fascinating country.

8 mins read
Practical Caravan
September 2017

Beyond Suburbia In Surrey

The secrets of the Surrey Hills lure Bryony Symes out of the city and into some spectacular countryside.

5 mins read
Practical Caravan
September 2017

The Fountain of Friendship

A trip to one of the finest historic sites in Yorkshire provided Sam Johnson with a chance to meet up with old friends, and make some new ones!

6 mins read
Practical Caravan
May 2017

These Hills Were Made for Walking

Susie Kearley and her husband Vic are no strangers to Shropshire. They love to return for the beautiful countryside and rich cultural pickings.

7 mins read
Practical Caravan
May 2017

French Perfection

Nigel Donnelly and Jenny Owen take an off-season tour of the place the French flock to for their holidays.

10 mins read
Practical Caravan
May 2017

Vauxhall Insignia Sports Tourer 2008-17

With plenty of examples to choose from and keen forecourt prices, the Insignia is worth a second glance.

3 mins read
Practical Caravan
April 2017

Putting A Roadsman Back On The Road

Memories of childhood caravanning inspired the Hembrys to buy this classic equipe, says Bryony Symes, but bringing it back to life was a labour of love.

5 mins read
Practical Caravan
April 2017
RELATED STORIES

GHOSTWRITER PENNED BEN'S J.LO LOVE NOTES!

LOVE-HUNGRY Ben Affleck wooed former fiancée Jennifer Lopez with romantic notes to trigger their recent reunion — after enlisting writer pals to help him up his game, sources snitched to The National ENQUIRER.

1 min read
National Enquirer
May 31, 2021

Jennifer & John: BACK ON!

The actress and entrepreneur are taking a second chance on love.

1 min read
Star
May 31, 2021

BEN & J.LO'S REUNION IS SOOTHING BRUISED EGOS!

AFTER the crash of their recent romances, ex-lovers Jennifer Lopez and Ben Affleck have cozied up again, but insiders claim the reboot is a hoax to keep them in the limelight!

1 min read
Globe
May 24, 2021

JEN TO JUSTIN: MOVE ON!

Thank you, next! Jennifer Aniston wasn’t exactly touched when Justin Theroux gushed about how much he still loves her in the new issue of Esquire.

1 min read
Star
May 10, 2021

The Dreams We Shared

Was there any way I could bridge the gap between my daughter and me?

6 mins read
Guideposts
May 2021

Sometimes You Just Needed a Break. (And Even Those Could Be Fraught.)

THE SMOKE BREAK

10+ mins read
New York magazine
April 26 - May 9, 2021

A-ROD CRYING FOUL AS J.LO FLAUNTS FLINGS!

Shameless slugger wants respect – but was caught texting reality TV beauty

1 min read
Globe
May 17, 2021

MARIAHVS.J.LO: THE NEXT ROUND!

A PAIR OF DIVAS!

1 min read
Star
May 17, 2021

JEN'S HEARTBREAK: CUTTING THE CORD!

CONCERNED mom Jennifer Garner is struggling to cement her relationship with daughter Violet now that the 15-year-old is barreling through the turbulent teens!

1 min read
National Enquirer
April 05, 2021

Hospice Industry INFLUENCERS

Attending to a person in their hour of death is one of the most honorable and sacred things we can do for one another. Through state-of-the-art technology, education, and a deep devotion to compassionate care Maxwell Healthcare Associates aims to forever change the way we live our final days.

5 mins read
The BOSS Magazine
April 2021