Lost In Limoges

From the sheep-dotted pastures of France's underpopulated Southwest, Limoges rises in all its grey glory. The city's claim to fame: fine porcelain. The half-timbered houses of the Medieval center are surrounded by strip malls and McDo. Land-hungry Brits descend with flailing pocketbooks (thanks, RyanAir). The weather is remarkably cool year-round. Sure, I live on rue de Nice, but this is NOT the Cote d'Azur. Welcome to Limoges, "the middle of nowhere"-- or as Pierre says "everywhere"-- France.

Wednesday, December 05, 2007

L'île de Ré

I was content to wander around the port but Pierre insisted we get back in the car. La Rochelle was not the surprise! We circled past the little airport, where RyanAir now dumps thousands of pasty-white passengers for a quick dose of sun, and suddenly an enormous bridge loomed into view. This bridge is an impressive, modern construction; it seems to span out endlessly over the sea, soaring over the mud flats and brilliant blue Atlantic. On the other side? L'île de Ré.

The toll is hefty-- some EUR 16.50 in the summertime (EUR 9 in the winter)-- but it doesn't slow down the tide of tourists who venture out to this island. This long piece of land jutting out into the sea has become quite the posh summer getaway for Parisians. And apparently the traffic in the summer months is obscene. So we couldn't have picked a better time to come. A Sunday night in the middle of October-- we had our pick of the lovely hotels on the island.

St-Martin de Ré is the island's main town. Surrounded by 17th century fortifications, it's a picturesque fishing village of white-washed houses sparkling in the sun and a harbor full of wonderful workboats, sailboats, every kind of boat. You'd think we were on the Mediterranean coast. And I thought La Rochelle was nice. On L'île de Ré I was in hog heaven.

Biking is the best way to get around the island, and it couldn't be easier to rent a bike. (In fact, it's the preferred method of transportation. Check out the adorable elderly couple in the pic.) Scenic trails, a network of paved bike paths, cut in every direction. Just as quickly as we arrived and checked in our hotel, we were already on bikes, pedaling like maniacs, the sea on one side and miles of vineyards on the other.

Even while racing Pierre, I gripped the camera to snap the little hamlets as we sped by. And the burros. There is a tradition on the island to wrap up the legs of the donkeys to protect them from mosquitoes as they work. Absolutely hilarious.

We biked through small seaside towns where the traditional houses have green shutters and flower boxes full of geraniums. We noticed the mudflats where boats were stranded in low tide, the salt evaporation pools (the region is famous for its salt), the nature reserves for birds. The smell of the sea is everywhere. When we biked through fields and saw hunters camped out in camouflage, lingering at the end of the vines, Pierre obnoxiously sounded the alarm with his bicycle bell.

We paused for cokes at a café and soaked up the sunshine. Mid-October was actually hot. What a great way to spend a birthday. I didn't have time to think about the passing of the years...

At the end of the day, we pedaled back into St-Martin just in time to watch the light fade orange across the harbor's cobblestoned paths. Kids swarmed around a merry-go-round. A line snaked behind the kiosk for churros. We paused at the harbor's edge to have a kir at sunset.

Pictures: Notice the fortifications; the town of St-Martin is actually protected from both the land and sea. Also, check out the cat keeping watch outside an art gallery in St-Martin. Pierre loved the colorful paintings there.


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