A Glimpse of the French Countryside, All Before Lunch

Noon, March 18, Ile de Re

The Ile de Re is a gorgeous, windswept island off the west coast of France. Situated across from the medieval fishing town, La Rochelle, it is both an ideal spot for the city weary looking to find the idyllic countryside and yet like the Hamptons, it is a place to be seen during the height of the season. Apparently, in the past ten years, it has become the place to own a summer home, but due to the number of nature preserves on the island, people can’t build any more houses and the ones that are there are in such high demand, it is hard to actually buy one.

As it was the middle of March on a random weekend, we found ourselves in the height of French countryside life, rather than the summer social scene. Taking the high speed train to La Rochelle and then one of the four buses to the town, Saint Clement des Baleines (or St. Clement of the Whales), we found ourselves at a lone bus stop next to a two lane highway. We hiked through several small streets and instantly became lost.

Perhaps it was because everything has a precise uniformity. Medieval streets, giant swaths of fields and marshes, and the constant sound of a roaring sea. We were told that the island has rules about the colors one can paint their house. Most of them are white with a wide variety of blue shutters, ranging from pale sea green to vivid teal. Occasionally, a house would appear that clearly broke the rules–it’s sides being a beige or gray.

Walking down the Road
As we looked at our map, we suddenly realized that there was an old woman staring at us. She stood at the same height, but inside her house. She didn’t even blink as we stared back, her hand gripping the curtain. I smiled and she smiled back and continued to watch us until we disappeared down the road.

We arrived at our destination, the House of the Three Figs, a beautiful countryside house, with three fig trees in its cobblestone courtyard and a completely modernized interior. We settled in, each in our own bedroom, and decided the next most important item of the day was lunch.

This of course meant we needed to go into Saint Clement, which Ana reassured us was only a 20 minute walk away. We headed down the main highway, marching through the grassy ditch along the road. But when we arrived in town, it was clear everyone else had a better idea of how to spend their day. Every shop and cafe was closed and wouldn’t be open until at least 3pm. It was 1pm and we were starving.

We were told the next town, Ars-en-Re, would have plenty open, “near the harbor.” But take the bike path, the man told us, “Il est moins dangereus.”

“It’s less dangerous” kept echoing through my head. He probably meant the cars on the road were dangerous, but now I think he meant that he could see we were Americans hell bent on eating our way through France and a long good would do us more good than we could know.
Windswept Fields, Ile de Re
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