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France

Tour de Re

Monday 12th - Thursday 22nd June 2017

As we drove over the magnificent bridge to the Ile de Re, the sky was clear blue, wonderful sunshine and a panoramic view of the coast and sea. On arrival at the camp site our leaders presented us with our own rally mugs decorated with photos of the island and these were immediately filled with a very welcome drink. After a comprehensive briefing alongside individual, well presented, information folders we prepared ourselves for the first cycle ride the following day. Everyone sensed that we were about to experience a great rally. Ile de Re is an island off the west coast of France and is 30 kilometers long and 5 kilometers wide. It boasts 100 kilometers of coast line and 200 kilometers of cycle path - mainly flat! It is connected to the mainland by a spectacular bridge which was finished in 1988. We paid €8 for a return crossing. The history of the island lies in its salt, wine, fishing, and oyster industries but the present day economy relies heavily on tourism.

Our base was the Le Platin campsite in the very pretty village of Rivedoux Plage with great sea views, swimming pool, local shops, restaurants and beach access not forgetting the wonderful cakes and pastries of 'Fred la Boulangerie'.

Each cycling day we were divided into two pelotons for safety with two leaders and a back marker. The morning of our first cycle ride was breezy but the day soon became perfect for cycling with sunshine and a thin cloud cover. A welcome coffee and cake break in the village of Sainte Marie de Re followed by a stop in La Flotte with time to explore this lovely town. La Flotte is prized as one of the "most beautiful villages of France" with its marina, attractive houses along the seafront and a half covered market with its medieval architecture. Time to head back via the ruin of Abbaye des Chateliers, a listed historical building founded in the 12th century by Cistercian monks. After completing the 14 mile ride, showered and dressed in our finery, we assembled in the Restaurant La M overlooking the oyster beds where we enjoyed aperitifs followed by an excellent meal with wine.

Destination Saint Matin de Re was our second cycle ride of 16 miles round trip, stopping on the way at a working oyster farm for coffee. St Martin is the historical and commercial capital of the island and we had free time to explore the town and its history or to enjoy lunch in one of the many restaurants around the picturesque port. St Martin is a magnificent fortified town surrounded by a set of star shaped ramparts built in the 17th century by Marshal Vauban the prominent French military engineer. Later the Citadel was used as a prison for convicts on their way to penal settlements. Probably the most famous prisoners were Alfred Dreyfus on route to Devils Island after being convicted of treason. Also Herni Charriere, also known as Papillon (film with Steve McQueen 1974). It is still used to house prisoners - allegedly dangerous ones- with two escaping in 2015. The old city of Saint Martin and the fortifications became a UNESCO World Heritage Site in 2008. There is also a great ice cream parlour and it would be true to stay that its profits rose throughout this tour!

The following day we enjoyed a slightly longer cycle ride to La Couarde to the beautiful tree shaded restaurant of La Balaou for lunch. We cycled through vineyards and wheat fields each interspersed with bright red poppies. After a stop for coffee, we arrived in La Couarde sur Mer described as a family beach village boasting seven kilometers of golden sand. After a superb lunch the peloton returned to the campsite for a well-earned happy hour having covered 26 miles.

Our following free day concluded with an excellent beach side BBQ with locally made sausage and a musical quiz.

An early start the next day and, after coffee at St Martin, we rode along the winding roads through salt marshes to our destination, the village of Loix. En route we made a stop to view the sparkling salt stacked neatly in pyramids. Due to its somewhat remoteness, Loix has fortunately retained some of its authenticity. There was time to explore the town or to enjoy an appetising fish lunch in the church square. This area of Ile de Re is a bird watchers paradise and on our journey we spotted herons, egrets, swans, black wing stilts, black kites, marsh harriers, etc.etc. A very hot journey back to the campsite but a great achievement of 33 miles round trip.

En route the following day for a beach lunch we made a brief stop in La Flotte for coffee before heading to the beach. Plage de Montamer is a large beach with an adjacent grass and tree area providing welcome shade on this super-hot day. There were opportunities here to picnic on the beach or under the trees or take a dip in the ocean. Afterwards we returned to the campsite for happy hour drinks nibbles and conversation. That day we had cycled a total of 22 miles.

As we cycled next day towards Ars en Re on the northwest side of the island, we spotted the famous bell tower in the distance. This serves as a "daymark" - an identifiable landmark for maritime navigation. The black part of the tower visible in bright daylight and the white part visible at night and during dull conditions. The town also houses the largest harbour on the island. Four of the group decided to extend their journey with a visit to Phare des Baleines - Lighthouse of the Whales, so called after the many whales that beached there in the past. It is one of the highest lighthouses in France at 57 metres high and it is possible to climb 257 steps to the top for the spectacular views. On our return ride we made brief stops to purchase the special salt, photograph workers on the salt marshes and do some bird spotting. Our stop was rewarded with sightings of avocets and black winged stilts with their chicks. A round trip of 32 miles plus at least a further 8 miles for those who visited the lighthouse.

Our final cycle ride was to Fort de la Pree for a short morning tour. Our rally leader, in appropriate costume, gave us a brief (somewhat risque) history of the fort. Built in 1626/27 on the authority of Louis X111 (Catholic) during the England and France wars to assert his authority on the Protestants of La Rochelle. The Duke of Buckingham landed on Ile de Re with approx 80 ships and 6,000 men to capture the French Fortress city of Saint Martin. So began the 'Siege of St Martin'. After three months Buckingham was defeated and withdrew. It is an impressive fort which at the end of the 17th century was modified by Vauban. The fort was occupied by the Germans in WW11 protecting the German submarine base at La Rochelle. It was an enjoyable and interesting visit and we gained an insight into some previously unknown English history.

Accounts completed and a surprise refund before we assembled for the Farewell Meal. Our venue was the splendid setting of the Rivedoux Restaurant where we enjoyed aperitifs, a delicious meal, prizes distributed to competition winners and a huge well deserved thank you to the Rally Leaders.

Time to say goodbye. In the opinion of all participants this was a indeed a first class rally. Great leaders, well organised and interesting cycling, excellent weather, marvelous French food and good companionship (forget the sore bottoms). Well done ICA. A huge thank you to Clive and Sue and Sandy and Jo for a superb experience.

Denys and Christine Edwards

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