Thursday, February 5, 2009

St Martin de Ré ..... UNESCO World Heritage Site ... and shopping !!

Previous Blog Entry - dateline 23 July 2008

In early July this year 13 new French sites were added to the list of Special World Heritage Sites by UNESCO.

These were all part of the impressive Vauban fortifications built by the French Military in the late 1680's to protect la Belle France against a potential future invasion .. by the English !!
In the South West we had two of them, The fortress citadel of Blaye on the Gironde ( to protect the approaches to Bordeaux) and the star shape citadel of St Martin de Ré, on the Ile de Ré, (guarding the channel entrance into La Rochelle).

It was such a beautiful day on Sunday that we decided to take a drive across to the Ile de Ré, and have a look around St Martin. For those of you unaware of the Island, where have you been !!!! It is the favoured hideaway destination for the smart Parisian jet set, as well as British, Dutch and German holiday makers. A haven for wild-life fanciers and bicycle riders ( of which there were thousands, happily riding around the mostly flat island on a very generous network of superb cycle paths)

The inner port of St Martin is really quite beautifully picturesque, with the traditional low-rise buildings fighting with the mast-heads of the expensive sailing boats moored along its quays.





We lingered there long enough
to enjoy a long cold french beer
at one of the many quayside bars,
before we headed up towards the
old Cathedral area and the maze
of interesting shops and back-streets.



Our first port of call was the delightfully named
"Donne Moi La Lune" ... just up from
the harbour ...run by a charming and
very helpful young French lady ... which
specialises in Arts and Crafts Produce
imported from Equador






..................... Donne Moi la Lune 11 rue Sully donnemoilalune@gmail.com

We bought several "presents" for friends ( yes okay, some were actually for ourselves !! including a simple but effective hammock chair ( well the sun is here after all ... and our trees up on the land at home just needed something hanging in their shade !!)

Further up the Hill, we came across up-market ( and very expensive !!) chic shops often hidden away within their own shaded courtyards - such as this one -


or tucked away up small alley ways, in old outbuildings ...

........................ Some of these streets have an amazing "higgeldy-piggeldy" look, with many of the buildings leaning quite disturbingly at all sorts of angles. ( the result of sandy soil foundations and the occaisional earth tremor - this is a classified earthquake zone, although only of small magnitude.)


.. Leaning Buildings. ...............

............................................................................................................ and a view of the Old Cathedral, rising above the streetscape.

The area around the old Cathedral is quieter and less commercial, and well worth the walk up from the port. White-washed stone houses , with their traditional green painted shutters, nestle side by side and project oddly shaped pantiled outbuildings at all angles into their neighbours.

So take the time to make a visit next time you are in the La Rochelle area. The toll ( granted it is almost 17 Euros at this time of year !! ) is certainly well worth it. It is not every day that you get the chance to see a World Heritage Site ... and do some fabulous shopping !!

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