Four charming fishermen islands await just off the coast of central France in the Charente-Maritime department. Easily reachable by boat or car from the coastal city La Rochelle, the islands beckon Parisians come August who leave their city dwellings in search of clear blue skies, pristine waters, mouthwatering seafood, and warmer days. I had not intended on visiting the area this summer, but when an invitation came my way from a Parisian friend, I didn’t hesitate to accept! On the first of August, I hopped on the TGV and was soon sitting in the captains chair of a large ferry (thanks to my friend who used to work with them) on my way to Île d’Olérons!
The next few days were spent exploring the region, including some of the coastal villages on the mainland. Île de Ré is the most popularized islet of the group; many celebrities and socialites have purchased luxurious vacation homes each white-washed with green shutters and red terra cotta tiled roofs. Fishing is the main industry in the area, as is salt which gives rise to the most delicious caramel au beurre salé made from fleur de sel (salt flowers). Despite the arrival of the tourists, locals are still hard at work selling their produce and seafood at the markets and to restaurants. On one occasion, we walked out along a narrow passage surrounded by the Atlantic waters and watched as the fishermen harvested wild oysters and muscles, sometimes finding some wild fruits de mer for ourselves. In just a few hours the rocks would be completely submerged with the arrival of high tide, disappearing from sight.
After long afternoons of bike riding along well-worn paths by the sea, through pastures and past salt beds, I returned to my host’s home exhausted. “Isn’t it great?” my friend asked after another big yawn. “To be tired like this? Instead of intellectually tired?” Having both felt the fatigue and burn-out upon completing our dissertations, I knew exactly what she meant. My first genuine vacance à la Parisienne was turning out to quite the luxury.