Even if it had rained all of last week, I'd still count myself as a lucky person. Happily that was not the case during the trip we had planned awhile back for the kids' spring vacation -- a week of bike riding along France's Atlantic Coast. The fleece and long sleeved shirts never left my duffle; even the windbreaker I was usually wearing as we set out each morning pretty quickly made its way into my saddle bag. Truly it was nothing but blue skies, fields of yellow rapeseed, canals and cows, wide expanses of sandy beach, miles of little travelled country roads and bike paths, the occasional 17th century fort, lots of ice cream for the younger set, and a good honest feeling of being physically tired when my head hit the pillow each night.
Among the several guidebooks to France that are on my shelf, this region gets relatively little play. But a trip to the American Library yielded a Michelin green guide to Poitou Charentes which answered our questions about local history and lore. We will remember La Rochelle for its three towers and amazing artisanal ice cream, Île de Ré for its picture postcard towns (although I can well imagine the crowds and traffic jams in July and August), and Rochefort for its funny Pont Transbordeur, a late 19th century cross between suspension bridge and ferry. Most memorable was the lovely day we spent with a childhood friend and his family on the Île d'Oleron, including a picnic in the forest, sipping the local aperitif, pineau des Charentes, on the dunes of Les Sables Vignier, and walking among the rocks and sealife in the ecluses they maintain, a centuries old technique for trapping fish at low tide.
My only regret is that my camera gave up the ghost our third day out, apparently a victim of the volcanic dust to which it was exposed a couple of weeks ago. So unfortunately, I have but a few snapshots to share.
When the tide goes out in this region, it goes way out, leaving behind boats resting on their keels and plenty of work for clammers and oystermen.
Île de Ré is cute as a button and well equipped for cyclists. But I'm glad we were there in April, not during the summer when it becomes the 21st arrondissement.