We took a ferry to a (very) small island off the coast of France this afternoon. It was only a short ride of 20 minutes. The island is only 3 kilometres long and looks like a croissant. I’m pretty certain it’s paradise.
The island is Ile d’Aix and it’s not that far from La Rochelle which we visited for lunch. Visited is probably too strong a word. Ile d’Aix isn’t that far away from Lesson, where we staying with Mr & Mrs Charroud but Mirinda wanted to see La Rochelle as well so that’s the way we headed.
There was a bit of a problem when directions went a bit awry and I wanted to be let out of the car to fend for myself but, eventually, we found the brilliant park and ride system at Jean Moulin car park. It’s called ‘yelo’ and everything is yellow. They use 100% electric vehicles (buses and boats) and it is a much better system than people driving into the small centre ville and parking.
Of course, it gets a lot more expensive next month and August (being the high season) but for the rest of the year, it’s superb. Judging from the number of cars in the park & ride car park, I’d say it’s well used too.
Once in La Rochelle, you immediately realise why it’s so popular. It must have at least two restaurants per head of population and half as many souvenir shops. However, disregarding these very important considerations, La Rochelle has a harbour, something which attracts millions of people.
La Rochelle is one of those French towns that has sometimes been under French control and sometimes English. When Eleanor of Aquitaine was married to Louis VII, it was, of course, French but as soon as she gave him the elbow and moved on to Henry II, the whole place suddenly became English.
According to most early sources, the population of La Rochelle has always been very diverse. In 1224 it was noted that “Out of the 560 identifiable origins…at last 177 came from even more distant countries.” This would be because it was such a fabulous trading place, complete with harbour. And a lot of the early trade was in salt. This was all well and good until the crown changed the Salt Laws, making things untenable for the salt producers. They wound up revolting and being violently repressed.
If the Salt Revolt wasn’t enough, La Rochelle was strongly protestant during the awful Wars of Religion.
But that’s enough history…we liked La Rochelle because it’s on the coast, has great pizza and excellent ice cream. There’s also some lovely boats in the harbour.
However, all joking aside, this has to be my favourite place in La Rochelle…
Lunch and stroll over with, we soon headed back to the park and ride car park for the trip to Pointe de la Fumee where you catch the ferry to Ile d’Aix. This is a very simple drive down the coast with one turning off the highway so nary a hint of argument was apparent.
Our ferry was the noble Pierre Loti, named after the French author who was also the inspiration for the room we stayed in many years ago near Rennes (Chateau de la Pin). And a very hardy and reliable ferry she is, too.
Mind you, it was rather windy on the top deck where everyone took the air for the 20 minute passage. While Bob and I (and everyone else) simply removed their hats, Mirinda thought it best to tie it round her head.
And so we stepped ashore on the Ile d’Aix. Most of the people who had visited the island for the day were leaving as we arrived and the whole place had an air of quiet solitude. While Mirinda had a much needed rest (sleep), I went for a walk, discovering a bar where I sat with a beer and joined the locals in watching Portugal beat Ghana in the World Cup. I must say, it was totally idyllic.
We’re here all day tomorrow and I’m going to totally enjoy it. Just in closing, I must say that I have finally had a perfect creme brulee. It was in the Restaurant Josephine, on the island, and scored 10/10 – unheard of but perfectly delicious.