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Three little known islands close to home.
Rest assured, those who have never heard of the French islands of Ré, Aix and Oléron will be forgiven. Perhaps that’s the beauty of them. Little known and located just off France’s Atlantic coast in the Charente Maritime, life on the islands is wonderfully peaceful. But French taste is not lacking. Oysters, fresh vegetables, cognac, vineyards and mustard flowers abound and life is ‘comme il faut’. And the good news is, the islands boast as much sunshine as the Mediterranean Côte d’Azur.
The Île de Ré, just thirty kilometers long and five kilometers wide, is joined to mainland La Rochelle by a three kilometer bridge making access easy. Hire a bike (there are over 100km of cycle lanes) and visit the beautiful beaches and dunes, pine forests and picturesque fishing villages with their colourfully painted houses or chill out in one of the street cafés in the capital, Saint Martin de Ré.
From here it’s easy to get to the Île de Aix where cars are banned. If you fancy a change from a push bike, go for a blast from the past and hire a horse and carriage to explore this small island, where de Laclos wrote parts of ‘Les Liaisons Dangereuses’, then head for the seafood restaurants on larger Oléron.
The islanders here have a passion for oysters and the oyster huts and canisters are evident. The other great culinary speciality is l’éclade de moules, or mussels cooked in the open air under pine needles. Go kayaking on the canals to digest, then relax in La Cotinière, one of the busiest and most typical ports in the region.
Take Eurostar from London to La Rochelle from £100 return, or fly there with Ryanair from London Stansted, Cork and Dublin. It couldn’t be cheaper and easier!