Carnet de Voyage: Winter Isle

Carnet de Voyage: Winter Isle

Travel notes from the real France. Carnet de Voyage is a weekly personal travel story in France sent in by readers. If you’d like to write a story for Carnet de Voyage, head here for details on how to submit.

As I set foot on the charming Ile de Ré, a small island off the western coast of France, the winter winds whispered tales of a different kind of magic. Known for its bustling summer atmosphere, I discovered a quieter, more introspective side to this coastal gem during the off-season.

I had explored Ile de Ré a few summers ago with family and decided to return for a winter retreat on my own. The island, usually adorned with vibrant beach umbrellas and sunbathers, had transformed into a serene landscape painted in muted hues. The salty air hung lightly, carrying the scent of the sea. My journey began with a stroll along the cobbled streets of Saint-Martin-de-Ré, the island’s main town. Quaint shops and cafes, once bustling with summer tourists, now welcomed me with plenty of space as owners bestowed on me their short nod in greeting.

The historic fortress, a UNESCO World Heritage site, stood stoically against the backdrop of a gray sky, its stone walls weathered by centuries of tales. I climbed the ramparts, the chilly wind tousling my hair as I marveled at the vastness of the Atlantic stretching into the horizon. The winter silence allowed me to hear the gentle lapping of the waves against the fortified walls.

On one fine day, I cycled through the island’s network of bike paths and discovered a sense of liberation in the solitude. The salt marshes, usually overlooked in favour of the island’s famed beaches, now took centre stage. I enjoyed the muted colors of the marsh grasses and the distant calls of migrating birds added a touch of ethereal beauty to the landscape. I found myself pedaling leisurely, with only the occasional local passing by, exchanging another nod of acknowledgment.

At La Flotte, a charming village with its picturesque harbor, I stumbled upon a wonderful seafood market. The oysters, freshly harvested from the nearby beds, embodied the essence of the sea. Savoring them on a quiet terrace overlooking the harbor, with a blanket on my knees, I reveled in the simplicity of the moment – the briny taste of the ocean, the crisp winter air, and the distant sound of seagulls.

The island’s iconic lighthouse, Phare des Baleines, was my next destination. Standing tall against the dramatic sky, its beacon seemed to pierce through the mist, guiding ships to safety. The deserted beach surrounding the lighthouse bore the imprints of solitary wanderers like me, leaving behind footprints in the damp sand. It was a poignant reminder of the transient nature of time and the indelible mark we leave on the places we explore.

I thoroughly recommend taking an off-season trip to a summer hotspot in France. In the heart of winter, Ile de Ré revealed a different kind of beauty – one that thrived in the absence of crowds and noise. As I bid farewell to this tranquil haven, I carried with me not just memories of the landscapes but a profound connection to the island’s soul, discovered in the stillness of its winter embrace.

Read our other Carnet de Voyage entries here.

Lead photo credit : Winter view of the Baleine lighthouse on Ile de Ré © shutterstock

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  • Harry Jones
    2024-01-06 09:23:39
    Harry Jones
    Short on facts but lots of flowery poetic language.