We had enjoyed the spectacular mountain scenery of the High Pyrenees but Cary and I felt in need of some "seaside therapy". We had originally thought of going south to the Mediterranean but realised that that it was likely to be very busy and, also, would have meant having to travel even further home at the end of our holidays. We therefore decided to travel to the west coast of France. Ile de Re was a destination which appealed to us and so we decided to try and find a site with room there. Obviously August is the peak of the French Summer season but after a numerous phone calls, from the campsite payphone, to the many Ile de Re sites, listed in our Camping Guidebooks we finally managed to book a pitch at Camping La Providence at Les Portes-en-Re.
Early on the morning of Saturday 9 August, with the caravan in tow, we left Camping du Lac and drove through Argeles-Gazost and Lourdes before rejoining the A64/E80 east of Pau. We turned westwards and began our long journey up the western side of France to the Ile de Re. South of Bayonne we turned north on the A63/E70 which then became the E70 & E05 to Bordeaux. It was very slow going on the A63 which was very busy with holiday traffic. I should have known better than to travel that way on a peak holiday Saturday as I have been caught out on that road previously. (I believe there is now a new autoroute from Pau) We bypassed Bordeaux on the A630 and then continued north on the A10/E05. North of Santes we turned northwest onto the A827/E602. East of Niort we turned west on the A83/E03 towards Rochefort. Passing north of Rochefort we joined the D137 towards La Rochelle. After passing to the north of La Rochelle we took the N237 and the D735 to cross the bridge onto the Ile de Re. Once we had paid the high 27€ toll to cross the bridge onto the Ile de Re it was an easy journey, on good quality roads, to Les Portes-en-Re which is at the far end of the island. We arrived late in the evening having travelled 370 miles.
Camping La Providence is in the countryside outside the village of Les Portes-en-Re at the northern end of the Ile and within 50 metres of a lovely beach of fine sand. There are no views of this beach from the site, however, due to raised dunes between the beach and the campsite.
The site itself is pretty basic and there was a apparent lack of general maintenance whilst we were there. It has a number of seasonal units and when we arrived the site was very full and a bit untidy looking. Access and exit was by a card controlled barrier – a bit of awkward when driving alone as the card reader was on the “wrong” side for our right-hand drive car. The site has several toilet blocks, some unisex, which are of good standard and kept clean. La Providence, also, has a bar/restaurant and a club room where there was a limited programme of entertainment. There is no pool or other sports facilities, apart from boules. Bread is baked and sold in the bar. The staff were reasonably friendly although only one person on the Reception spoke English. Wi-fi internet access was available in the bar area but involved logging onto "Orange France" and paying a quite high fee.
We were given a very large pitch with reasonable access at the end of a short row. Our French neighbours were very friendly and helpful. On arrival the men all jumped up from their evening meal to help us manhandle our ‘van into position and then offered us drinks. The pitch itself was sandy with rather a lot of stones and little grass but it did have some shade from several mature pine trees. We had a 10 amp EHU on the pitch and fresh water at the end of our row. The site was quiet and peaceful at night. At £25.92 per night (2 adults, car, caravan and 10 amp EHU) I thought that this site was overpriced. But I suppose it is a popular area and there were only a few vacant pitches left when we arrived.
Les Portes-en-Re, about ½ mile from the campsite, was a not particularly pretty village but had a small range of shops, a bank machine and a Tourist Information Office, with very helpful staff. The Tourist Information Office, also, offered free wi-fi access, both inside on comfortable chairs during office hours and outside in the adjacent park after closing time. On several evenings I joined several other people sitting on the park wall with our laptops!! There was, also, a small "Shoppi" Supermarket in Les Portes-en-Re. The "Shoppi" sold a reasonable range of products but was a bit scruffy in its presentation. One disadvantage of Les Portes-en-Re was that its position at the extreme northern end of the island always meant driving or cycling to reach other parts of the island.
Ile de Re is a very interesting island. It is very flat and has lots of very good beaches. It has exploited its flat topography by majoring on cycling. There is a very extensive network of signed cycle routes which have the dual advantage of keeping bikes off the roads and providing car-free cycling routes to most part of the islands. There are numerous cycle-hire outlets and lock-up rails and racks at many of the beaches, supermarkets, etc. The network of cycle tracks and excellent beaches make this island an ideal holiday destination for families who enjoy cycling and traditional beach holidays. Some of the more exposed western beaches were ideal for windsurfing and paragliding and equipment was available for hire at a number of beaches. Some of the beaches were, however, covered in seaweed and this included some near to the major campsites.
We made good use of our own bikes whilst we staying on Camping La Providence and cycled to a number of different destinations including several pine fringed beaches of fine sand. Near to the campsite was an area of wetlands and that too was criss-crossed with cycle paths.
We particularly enjoyed cycling to the Les Phares des Baleines. These 2 lighthouses have a lovely position on the coast in a pleasant garden (free admission). The newer of the 2 lighthouses can be climbed. We climbed the steep spiral staircase to the lantern balcony and were rewarded for this effort with lovely views over the whole island and beyond. In the buildings at the base of the lighthouse there is a photographic exhibition retelling the recent history of the Island. The admission charge for the lighthouse covered both the photographic exhibition and access to the top of tower. There is, also, an interesting interactive museum adjacent to the older lighthouse although there are no translations of any of the displays into English. A separate admission fee was payable for the museum. There is a parade of interesting gift and souvenir shops and restaurants on the road leading to the lighthouses.
There are a number of interesting towns and village on Ile de Re and many of these have weekly markets. The capital St Martin-de-Re is a very charming town. St Martin is surrounded by the original Vauban city walls and the pretty harbour, marina and sea walls make for very pleasant evening strolling. There is, also, a small funfair near to the harbour. Two large supermarkets ("Intermarche" and "Super U") are situated on the outskirts of the town and we used these for our main food shopping and filled up on diesel. There is a catamaran service from the harbour at St Martin to La Rochelle and to other local destinations, including Fort Bouchard of the TV game fame. We had a very delicious meal at a quayside creperie on the island in St Martin's harbour on our last night on the Ile.
La Flotte is another pretty coastal town with an interesting Fort and atmospheric Abbey ruins nearby. We visited both the fort and the Abby and enjoyed looking around the ruins. There are regular nightime son et lumiere presentations at the Abbey on during the summer but we didn't get to one these. We spent one whole day driving around the coast of the island and visited as many places as possible.
We stayed at Camping La Providence for 12 nights from 9 August. I celebrated my 55th birthday during our stay there and it was a lovely location for a birthday. We thoroughly enjoyed our stay on the Ile de Re and would highly recommend it as a holiday destination.
Whilst at Ile de Re we planned for a visit to Parc Puy du Fou and phoned and booked our tickets before we left. On Wednesday 20 August we left Camping La Provident and set out for Camping Le Breteche in the town of Les Epesses, close to Parc Puy du Fou.
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