For 15 years, my family and I have spent each summer on the French Atlantic coast. More specifically, Ile de Ré, a small island merely a bridge away from La Rochelle. Let’s have a look at our latest post in The Travel Diaries series…
A regular feature in summertime trendy hotspots, Ile de Ré distinguishes itself by its unique vibe and casual chic nature. Unlike other holiday beach destinations, this island isn’t about partying the night away in clubs, yachts, champagne and private beaches. On the contrary, its all about family, cycling/surfing, eating local seafood while wearing stripy sailor tops and near-empty wild beaches.
One of the main components of Ile de Ré’s charm is the uniformity of the island and the way it has been protected by the local authorities. There is no graffiti, no traffic lights, no advertising other than local events, regulated architecture and over 100 km of cycle paths. The island has not always lived from tourism though and continues to generate income from other activities, with the most notable being salt.
Rétais salt marshes produce a high quality regular salt, but also fleur de sel (flower of salt), which is the finest most delicate salt of all. The north of the island is filled with active salt marshes and when you cycle by you can see the pyramid-shaped piles of salt between the sections of the marsh. Local donkeys, baudets du Poitou used to work in the marshes and in order to protect their legs from the mosquitos and salt, they wore handcrafted trousers, which can still be seen during donkey rides in the island capital of St Martin.
Fishing and oyster farming are also a huge part of the islands life and the seafood there is truly unparalleled. It can take almost an hour to cross the entire island, depending on traffic, from the first village in the south to the Phare des Baleines (Whales Lighthouse) at the northern tip of the island. At the foot of this lighthouse, there is each year a jazz festival that brings together incredible performers such as Earth, Wind & Fire and Jimmy Cliff, who play for a handful of attendees by the Atlantic Ocean. The villages also each hold firework shows for Bastille Day and other occasions, as well as hosting nightly markets and bands, complete with dancing on the port.
I could wax lyrical about this small piece of land for hours and don’t think Id ever run out of things to say. There truly is something for everyone and now, you need to go and discover it for yourself.
Read more of our Travel Diaries on the La Fête Blog here.
Known for its chocolate, watches, finance, technology and international organisations, Geneva, and Switzerland in general, is known globally for its high-end exports and position on the world stage. But Geneva is so much more than the city itself: the Canton of Geneva is filled to bursting with rural villages, forests, vineyards and rolling fields as far as the eye can see, framed by snow-topped mountains.
The city is built around the Lac Léman, which houses one of the most famous landmarks of Geneva, the Jet d’Eau. This powerful manmade fountain has become a symbol of the city and its presence attracts many tourists, keen to experience it in person. But don’t count on seeing it in the dead of winter, the fountain is often switched off when the temperature drops too low in order to avoid it freezing!
Despite the newer part of Geneva hugging the banks of the Lac Léman, the old city is built 25 metres higher than the level of the lake. It is packed with antique shops, galleries, libraries, museums and restaurants. The cobbled streets and the facades hark back to a rich history, from the site of the Roman market to the Reformation Wall portraying Calvin, Cromwell and Knox among others. The Vieille Ville (Old City) also showcases canons (that my sister and I would always climb on as children), Maison Tavel (the best museum to visit if you want to learn about the history of Geneva) and of course, the St Pierre Cathedral; which is not just historically interesting for its religious past, but also for the archaeological site beneath. Indeed, you can see the remains of the 4th century churches that the cathedral was built on, as well as indicators of how Geneva’s occupants used to live.
The Vieille Ville truly comes alive once a year during the celebration of l’Escalade(The Climbing) on December 12th. This event commemorates the Duke of Savoy’s failed attempt to take over the fortified city of Geneva in 1602. The story has many ins and outs and I truly recommend researching it, as it is a tale that people are still extremely proud of. In order to commemorate the people of Geneva’s fight and victory, there is a period costumed parade each year, as well as an organised run through the Vieille Ville.
My favourite part of the festivities though was the one involving chocolate of course! It’s customary for each family to purchase a chocolate cauldron, (Marmite de l’Escalade), available in every kind of size imaginable, fill it with marzipan vegetables and then the eldest and youngest in the room smash it with a hammer whilst saying, DzThus perished the enemies of the Republic.dz This originates from a woman known as Mère Royaume (Mother Kingdom), who having been awakened by the attack on Geneva poured the vegetable soup she was boiling over soldiers climbing the city’s walls.
Geneva is full of traditions but also technology and new developments: the CERN is a prime example of that. I could keep talking for hours, but now it’s your turn to go and experience the history, the innovation, the architecture, the scenery and the food. You won’t be disappointed!