Lost in France
'I was lost in France in love' sang Bonnie Tyler over 40 years ago, and this is the song ringing through my head on a recent break in La Rochelle. Being lost in France is easy, not physically but mentally. The pace is, well, French. No one is in a hurry to take your money or to tell you that you have 2 hours allocated for your booking. Food is not rushed or fast, food is served with love.
La Rochelle has a huge port and is still home to huge numbers of private yachts of all sizes.
Its white fading stone arches cradle your walk and shed your brow from the intense midday sun.
It has three neighboring islands, Ré , Aix & Oléron.
We spent the day on the largest of the three, Ré, its long and curved like a seahorse. It takes an hour to drive from nose to tail. The fine pure sand is soft and golden, there are hardly any sun beds and it's truly rural. Little wonder that many French celebrities and politicians choose to live here.
There are local food markets and tiny artisan shops.
They feast on oysters and fruit de la mare. Having the only sea urchin farms in France is pretty impressive. It's great to cycle around making you feel even more French.
It has salt lakes either side of the road. Hollyhock grows wild along with lavender. It's the Atlantic; it's refreshingly cold and great surf water. Arrive with half empty bags so that you can pick and choose your shells.
This tiny gem sits neatly on the West Coast, if you want you can take the train from La Rochelle south all the way to the capital of Aquitaine, Bordeaux . This takes just over 2 hours where it is the home of the cuisine of the Sud- Ouest. We stumbled like gastronomic warriors into La Tupina and feasted on the regional piece de resistance cassoulet!
This is the orchid of France! Miles of vineyards resulting in some of the finest wines the world can offer. Yes we were lost in France in love.
So we then find ourselves on Aix. We were greeted by dolphins halfway through our hour journey from La Rochelle. They seemed to be saying "it’s this way, come!” We were told many time to visit Ré but were not told of this little twinkle. From the moment we got off the boat we knew this was for us! We hired bicycles reluctantly as neither of us had cycles since childhood. We wobbled on the first few moments then took off into 1969! The freedom we felt with no helmets, no gears and only one bell between two was pure nostalgia. Off we went with the chalky path beneath us around the island would only take one hour. Lunch was of course the ubiquitous moules. So fresh,with no travel time we really had never tasted them so sweet.
As we passed the locals we shouted "Bonjour" at the top of our voices and even to the English as we wanted so much to be French (we think we fooled some). Ding ding we cried if the slope was too fast. ‘Mind your feet from the oysters in the sea’ said the local man but we didn't care.
For that day we were Ally McGraw and Paul Newman in Butch Cassidy and the Sundance kid.
I don’t think we will feel this young again. It's a magical mystical place in time and a secret hideaway for the day.
The patience and kindness of the French we encountered can be illustrated by our own experience when suddenly rushed into a deadline to meet our departing train home; there were no available taxis and a transport system that appeared incomprehensible. Luck would have it that we ventured into a local cafe to seek help. We were given the clearest and succinct tram direction. All went well until the crucial 3 mins before boarding, when we were plunged into further confusion. You really must learn French we kept telling ourselves but still we just about got away with it.
We stayed at a charming hotel called Residence de France http://hotel-larochelle.com/en/