Now that we are getting into the psychology of actually living in Paris and not being here on vacation, I figured it was time for a French-style holiday. Every five weeks the kids get two weeks off school, and this was the Toussaints vacations (All Saints) the last two weeks of October. I booked us on a TGV (translation: fast train) to La Rochelle on the Atlantic Coast. From there we would cross the 3.5KM bridge to L’Ile de Ré, and island of 10 small towns connected by bike paths and known for its oysters, strawberries and sea salt. The town we stayed in, Ars-en-Ré, was described to me as a real French fishing village – where men wore espadrilles and the Saint James mariner shirts instead of Versace. Sort of like St. Tropez before the mega yachts and Paris Hilton showed up.
It was better than any of us could have imagined – white cobblestone streets, most for bikes and pedestrians only, and whitewashed buildings with green or pale grey shutters. An Instagrammer’s heaven. Every day we rode our bikes to a different village (15kms round trip) and despite a few spills on the part of the kids, we had a great time. Cycling through the salt marshes, buying Fleur de Sel at an honour bar on the side of the road, picnicking on the beach, bartering at the market…we almost felt French! Our hotel, Le Senechal, is owned by an architect and his wife who have converted fishermen’s shacks into family-sized apartments with stone walls and plank floors and a living room with a fireplace. The whole thing was configured around a small courtyard with vines and climbing flowers. It could not have been more perfect, with its ultra modern amenities and authentic charm. We built fires and ate mussels cooked in the local lager, and even tried the local specialty – a sort of round sponge cake with a burned top called Tourtois. We came home after three days with two of the massive vintage linen tablecloths from the region (they were embroidered with Murray’s initials, how could we say no?), a crate of oysters, two bags of sea salt and a vintage wine bottle carrier. Now our only question is: where to next?