Following a drive south-west from Nantes to Île de Noirmoutier, we were looking for an antidote to the delights of the city with an island escape, marshland and hopefully some wildlife and birds. The narrow spit of land is barely big enough for a road but at the end of the causeway it broadened out at the end near the saline lagoons. Soon we were struggling along the sea wall against a very strong headwind as we walked out between salt marsh and lagoons on one side and the tidal river on the other. After 45 minutes we made it to a pretty village with a turreted castle just visible over the fortified walls, we commented the boats now sitting like beached whales on the mud and added a few waders to our bird list. Having beaten blown to bits on our outward walk, I didn’t relish the return and it seemed an age before we got back to the welcome shelter of Bessie.
Abandoning our plan to stay nearby, we decided to proceed inland arriving at Aubigny Les Clouzeaux, the idea of a restful campsite with calmer weather was much more appealing. Set in the a rural location with two lakes we enjoyed relaxing for 2 days, walking, swimming and reading in the sun.
On the move again through vast flat lands that stretched into the distance with uninterrupted vision to the horizon. Occasional groups of wind turbines punctuated the scenery, tractors traversed the fields busy with Autumn work following the harvest. Eventually trees became more evident, tall green and gold poplars leaves shaking in the wind, mixed deciduous woodland and a long avenue of huge mature trees either side of the road.
Taking the scenic route cross country we headed once more for the coast and Ilê de Ré connected to the mainland at La Rochelle by an elegant bridge nearly 2 miles long (3km) and 138 feet high (42m); it took around two years to be built and opened in 1988.
Ilê de Ré is apparently where all affluent Parisians go to chill out in beautiful surroundings, with quaint harbours and good shopping. There are 62 oyster farms providing much work in this region and the delicacy can be tasted at many restaurants. St Martin is one of the prettiest places to visit, relax with a meal or a drink and people watch while seating around a harbour, yachts are moored all around and there are two bridges to wander over for a different view point.
Having parked on Rue de Rampart we realised we were right by the old city walls, massive stone fortifications with two moats, numerous towers and old city gates. The perimeter is 8.75 miles (14km) of ramparts over a 9.4 miles (15km) radius, built by Vauban an engineer for Louis XIV; it was large enough to safely enclose the island’s population in times of trouble. It is now a UNESCO World Heritage site and quite stunning with its scale and preservation.
From the top of the local church tower we could see the details of the building and wonderful views of the city spread beneath us. The three massive bells rang out very regularly so our decent was timed to avoid the deafening sound.
We also stayed at the far end of the island in St Clement de Baleines. We walked along the sea wall with the yellow sea poppies glowing in the sun, the sea crashing on the rocks and throwing seaweed up to where the turnstones could feed on the accumulating insects. People were fishing on the edge of the sea standing on submerged rocks, cyclists raced ahead of us as we walked to the furthest end of the island which has many salt pans, large rectangular pools that are left to evaporate and the salt is collected before being flooded again. The lighthouse, Phare de Baleines was built in 1849 and is 57 meters high and one of the tallest in France, it is on the tip of the island, together with a tower and museum.
We didn’t want to spend a lovely day inside so walked along the cycle path with pine and deciduous trees, teases and yucca looking glorious against the clear blue sky.
Local to the area is a different kind of donkey called a Poitou Donkey; bigger, stronger and with a long shaggy coat that hung in tatters like a sheep waiting to be shawn. With strong hooves and lots of stamina they were good for working on the salt marshes and their owners made cloth ‘leggings’ to stop the flies biting them. Now they give donkey rides to the public and still get dressed up for the occasion, there are even beers named after them, ‘Bier des Flibusters’ – guess who bought some!
Listening to the sea and the birds on our way to Port en Ré then back across the salt marshes using the bicycle trails. We saw many birds including marsh harriers, kestrels, vast flocks of avocets and black tailed godwits, a snipe and greenshank fed out in the open, lots of mallard, herons and little egrets, black headed gulls and a single Mediterranean gull. When we eventually got back after walking 10 miles (16km) I felt quite exhausted but our total disas 17 miles (27.3km) on Ilê de Ré so I was very pleased.