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Charming Les Portes en Re, Ile de Re, France

Out and About

Charming Les Portes en Re, Ile de Re, France

William Hindmarch

One hour in the air from Gatwick, you arrive in the provincial little airport that is La Rochelle. Even from the air, the sight of the La Rochelle airstrip is rather beautiful set aside from the sparkling waters along the coast and the arching bridge that connects you with that little slice of heaven that is awaiting you. The airport is literally 3 minutes drive from the bridge. Just across the bridge from the mainland of western France, lies the salty isle of Ile de Re.

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As you cross the bridge, one is immediately hit with the briny air that is the unmistakeable indication your vacation from reality has begun. Almost as soon as you catch your first whiff of salt air, you are already plotting your resignation from normal life and your subsequent year long sabbatical where you will wear navy and chalky whites exclusively and some form of weather-beaten canvas smock. You catch sight of your reflection in the wing mirror and already you look healthier, more tanned, freckly and are actually convinced you might be getting better with age. It feels as though it is all doing you good.

You are met on the other side by the small little fishing village of Rivedoux as the road peels off to the right and left. And for a moment you can see the sea on both sides. It doesn't really matter which way you go as each route will pass through the string of small beautiful villages, each with the perfect church spires which serve as a compass throughout your stay on the island. They are invaluable in fact, especially when out riding a bike through the salt marshes but more of that later...

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The island of Ile de Re is approximately 22k in length and we are heading to the furthest and chicest village on the island - Les Portes en Re. You can't go too far wrong in staying in most of the other market towns (St Martin - the main town and port, Ars en Re - always provokes much juvenile hilarity and Bois Plage for a more family orientated beach location). Perhaps wise to avoid St Clements de Baliene and Loix as they lack the charm and sophistication that is in abundance elsewhere. The wonderful thing about Ile de Re is its uniformity in architecture - crisp white mainly single storied stuccoed houses adorned with the Ile de Re trademark grey shutters and sunweathered terracotta tile roofs. It is unusual to spot any building that is unsightly, doesn't conform or in need of TLC. I find it tremendously calming to not have to look at anything ugly the whole time you are there. It can get tiresome to have to constantly be at the ready with your camera however. Les Portes offers a wonderful balance of beach, delicious daily food market, a smattering of chic little boutiques and a few picture perfect restaurants and cafes, centred along a pedestrianised and picturesque heart of the village. Everywhere you look there is a lesson to be learnt in how to live life more chicly back home and you swear it there and then you will live life differently on return.

The island is as flat as a pancake, and as such - a cyclists dream. Ile de Re positively discriminates in favour of velos and has thoughtfully provided bike routes throughout the island that connect each village with one another. This being said - the second most popular mode of transport - The ubiquitous beaten up, open all sides Mehari might mow you down if you are not paying attention. Again, one wonders how the Mehari might cope with the rain sodden streets of London and you convince yourself, probably brilliantly. There are well maintained bike rentals outfits all over the island that cater for every age and ability. Bike parking is in abundance and so one can pretty much dump the car on arrival and go everywhere on two wheels.

The beaches are typically 'Atlantic' and can sometimes feel Baltic. It doesn't seem to put off the thrill seeking water sport enthusiasts or children, but if you, like me only enter gin clear, bath temperature, white, sandy bottomed, turquoise bodies of water; then it's best to view the action from your turkish towel. I shan't lie - on the five occasions I have visited Ile de Re, I have purchased one or two raincoats and cashmere sweaters to fortify myself against the often changeable weather. In other words - I have not felt the need to buy any additional bikinis to cope with the demand. But what it lacks in unadulterated sun and lolling on a sun lounger, it makes up for in a myriad of ways that are equally good for the soul....

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...Like cycling across the salt flats from Les Portes over to Ars en Re. A journey of about 8k across a patchwork of slightly whiffy shallow ponds and marshy grassland, crisscrossed with windy paths that snake you past the occasional vineyard, marshland small holding and stables. It's the perfect distance to make one feel as though you have achieved something without losing the will to live. If you are an ornithologist, I bet there is a lot that might catch your eye along the way too. Ars en Re is home to a beautiful church spire that changes position wildly the entire cycle ride there. But once there, you are greeted by the market, which, although not the prettiest, one can certainly find the occasional stall that sells you delicious soaps, rumpled linen beach shirts or block printed tablecloths or quilts. If you investigate further you discover the indoor/outdoor food market where our chef had been sourcing all the ingredients for our nightly feasts. Ile de Re is renowned for their spectacular oysters and seafood. I came across the most pristine, fresh and inviting fishmongers I had ever seen, where the fish glistened with sparkly, clear eyes and firm flesh atop mounds of crushed ice. Ile de Re salt of every variety and hybrid was in evidence as were the infamous sea salt caramels which must come home with you. Why is it that fruit and vegetables from a french market miraculously make you want to start cooking and eating more healthily? 

Watercolour by Jane Tims

Watercolour by Jane Tims

Ars en Re

Ars en Re

Travelling provides so much inspiration when it comes to designing a collection and I am always thinking how my pieces can work in a multitude of destinations and climates, whether they can multi-task and indeed whether they answer the hi/lo dressing question. Always easy to throw over, never trying too hard and looking equally at home on the beach, in a city, during the day with sandals, in the evening with heels. My collection had already taken me seamlessly through 7 weeks spent at my Pop Up on Kings Road in London from May till July and then on for 3 weeks in 90% humidity in Harbour Island in the Bahamas late July and now on to blustery, windswept Ile de Re in August. I was excited to see I had found a brilliant formula that worked no matter where I was and what I was doing. 

I found myself one day in a pretty little antiques shop that you could only find in France. Outside this little treasure trove hung an antique cotton gauze dress draped with old glass beads, fishing hooks mounted within a linen lined shadow box, an assortment of horn and silver tipped riding crops and other tantalising ephemera. Once inside, I spied stacks of antique monogrammed French linens, cabinets of tarnished jewels and a tiny rusty rail hanging from which were a few odds and ends. Amongst them I found a once in a lifetime discovery of the most perfectly cut vintage white double-breasted, white tie waistcoat that I knew had to find it's way somehow and in some incarnation into a future Wiggy Kit collection. I found small bolt of vintage chalk white rough linen sackcloth which got my creative juices flowing...

I believe being a good buyer can also make you a pretty good seller...