There’s an unseen line on the west coast of France – cross it and life becomes easier, warmer and full of simple joie de vivre. This is our cruising guide
Cycling on Île de Ré
You can easily hire bikes in St Martin and there are miles of cycle tracks all over the island. First head westwards to La Couarde-
sur-Mer, where some of Ré’s finest beaches face the Atlantic.
Then continue west along coastal lanes to Ars-en-Ré, a historic salt-trading village whose fascinating harbour is reached near
high tide by a shallow channel from the east coast.
This end of the island is a labyrinth of lagoons whose levels are controlled by sluices and feeder canals. A few still produce sea salt, but most simply provide soothing watery vistas as you explore the tracks between them. From Ars, pedal out to the hexagonal stone tower at the island’s west tip, a beautiful example of French lighthouse building.
DON’T MISS Savouring a dozen Île de Ré oysters at the Auberge Paysanne de la Mer, about 2km west of St Martin Marina on Chemin de la Galere.
Continuing south from St Martin-de-Ré, you pass under a three-mile bridge linking the island to le continent. South of the bridge
and a massive commercial jetty, turn east towards La Rochelle, whose approaches are surprisingly shallow for some way out.
But an hour or two after low water, you can follow a buoyed fairway to the 4,500-berth marina at Port des Minimes.
La Rochelle is true Blue Line country. All kinds of boats zip about in the enticing waters behind Île d’Oléron, their crews revelling in
the pleasures of being afloat in warm sunshine. Ashore, waterfront languor is honed to an art on the brasserie terraces around the Vieux Port, where lunches linger long into the afternoons.
The facades are very south of France, with sun-bleached stone, creaky shutters and tangled red roofs where even the pigeons are drowsy. It’s curious
that folk here don’t really understand the idea of relaxing – they are totally unwound already.
Port des Minimes
Approaching this vast marina you pass the ‘Bout du Monde’ light-beacon, an ornate, hexagonal timber hut on stilts which is almost a logo for La Rochelle’s yachting scene. Port des Minimes entrance is opposite a prominent red tower and the visitors’ berths are straight ahead near the capitainerie. Catching the sea breezes, these pontoons are cooler than the Vieux Port, and a passenger launch runs between Les Minimes and La Rochelle.
DON’T MISS Tasting the luscious local aperitif Pineau des Charentes, made by spiking grape juice with Cognac. Usually quite sweet, Pineau can be produced as a white, rosé and sometimes a near red.