France – La Rochelle, Cycling on the Île de Ré

Saint Martin-de-Ré on the Ile de Ré

“It has always been a marvel to me — that French language; it has always been a puzzle to me. How beautiful that language is! How expressive it seems to be! How full of grace it is!  And, oh, I am always deceived – I always think I am going to understand it.” – Mark Twain, a Biography

Postacrd Map Ile de Re

As a couple of highly amateurish and very self confessed part time cyclists, who wouldn’t know Lance Armstrong if he hurtled straight into us we were going to go for a bike ride.  We chose Île de Ré because we don’t do hills, we are used to the subtle undulations of the Lincolnshire landscape. So for us the prospect of Île de Ré, with its network of dedicated cycle paths and flat topography seemed absolutely perfect,

Our plan was quite simple – to hire bicycles and cycle along the coastal paths for as far as we could, or for at least as far as our bottoms would let us, so we made straight away for a bike hire shop opposite the bus stop in Saint Martin-de-Ré.

This was a real challenge because the bicycle-hiring clerk could speak not a word of English and I was a bit stumped as soon as I got beyond ‘Bonjour Monsieur, deux bicyclettes sil vous plait!’ which I had been practising to myself for about half an hour and was practically word perfect.

Unfortunately that was my french bicycle hiring vocabulary completely exhausted and I was then sucked into a linguistic wilderness where we spent another ten minutes or so pointing and gesticulating, shrugging shoulders in an increasingly theatrical way and using silly facial expressions to try and make ourselves understood as people do when they cannot speak each other’s language.

Eventually we choose our cycles and then set about paying.

Cycling 001

We had nearly completed this complicated and exhausting transaction when he enquired about a ‘cushion’, well the saddles looked a little uncomfortable so we agreed but our response seemed to perplex him still further. ‘Cushion, cushion,’ he kept repeating, ‘Qui, qui’ I kept responding until eventually the penny dropped and after all this time struggling to communicate he enquired ‘do you speak English?’  No of course not, we are just doing this to try and be bloody difficult!

He made a phone call to someone with barely more comprehension of the English language than his but at least we managed to establish that ‘cushion’ means deposit so we sorted that out, (a completely ludicrous eight hundred and seventy Euros by the way), took possession of our bikes and wobbled off into town.

After a few moments of bumping along on the cobbles and getting accustomed to our new form of transport we set off on a cycle track out of town that took us past the oyster beds and processing sheds, through barren vineyards that were preparing for summer growth, through pastures full of delightful wild flowers and a field of asparagus where young boys were illegally cropping.  We turned a blind eye and pedalled on.

These were proper cycle tracks too, not like those at home where despite their designation you still have to take a calculated risk before using them and compete with all of the traffic and the car drivers that find them a complete and irrelevant inconvenience.  It was hot so when we came across a restaurant adjacent to a beach we parked our bikes and enjoyed a leisurely lunch of moules et frits and beer.  The place had a casual unhurried mood in this pleasant expectant summer atmosphere.


Back on the bikes we cycled leisurely across the island to the village of La Couarde Sur Mer and then returned to Saint Martin-de-Ré via Le Bois Plage-en Ré and the town of La Flotte where we managed to cycle down a one way street in the wrong direction and on the way back had to tackle the only hill on the entire island.  We returned the bikes and cancelled the deposit transaction then calculated that we had cycled about fifteen miles, which was a respectable achievement for non-cyclists.

Our legs and bottoms were a bit sore by now and beginning to complain so we thought it best to find a bar and sit in the sunshine and enjoy a drink until it was time to wander back to the bus stop and get the ride back home.  The ride was uneventful but we hit the rush hour traffic and it took a while longer than the outward journey this morning.

At La Rochelle we left the bus at the main terminus and then walked through the town and back to the harbour where we sat for a while at another pavement bar and watched the yachts lounging lazily in the harbour, all wrapped in canvas suits and strangely quiet. seemingly abandoned and waiting for skippers to turn up and for the summer season to begin.

Actually although it was only April it felt like summer already and the weather was surprisingly hot as we enjoyed the last of the day’s dazzling sunshine and a gloriously blue sky.

Later we walked back to the harbour and the seafood restaurants and selected well and enjoyed a good three course meal and a bottle of wine before we returned to the hotel and retired to bed with a hint of apprehension about how sore some important parts of our bodies might be on the following day.

Ile de Rey Cycling La Rochelle


25 responses to “France – La Rochelle, Cycling on the Île de Ré

  1. Pingback: La Rochelle, Cycling on the Ile de Ré | Have Bag, Will Travel

  2. Pingback: Postcard From Île de Ré, France | Have Bag, Will Travel

  3. I wonder why our rear ends were never sore when we were kids. We would spend hours on our bikes, and my bum was far less padded back then!

  4. The Île de Ré is where the family from our French textbook used to go for their holidays. I can’t remember the two children’s names. Still, they’ll be fifty odd now, And Papa must have got the family cat down from a tree in the garden for the last time years ago.

  5. For some reason clicking on your Daily Digest post this morning, took me to this one from 2013, but I’m glad because it cheered me up no end. I’m sitting here drinking lemon & honey, scarf tight around my neck because of laryngitis and nursing the mother and father of all colds and the thought of France (despite their rudeness), April weather ihn La Rochelle, moules and frites, was like a bolt of sunshine. Plus the photos. Thanks.

  6. It sure looks like there should be a baguette in that front basket.

  7. He was saying « caution » not cushion but I understand how the confusion arose. Lovely spot to cycle around.

  8. That was a hefty deposit; I am glad the bikes were returned in pristine fashion.

    I’m like Sue, puzzled as to the change in our behinds that make them ache when we ride a bike for too long.

  9. Hope you’ve managed to stay dry, Andrew. It’s been an unpredictable week down here, but warm.

  10. I’d love to have heard your efforts to shop the boys scrumping asparagus

  11. The one and only time I hired a bike with my then upper-primary aged children was in Normandy and they were a great deal more competent than me. Bike-riding is over rated in my opinion.

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