Sometimes, the best holidays, when you can’t go on holiday, are the ones in your memory. One of my all-time favourite trips away was to the French island of Noirmoutier. My son was really tiny and going anywhere without a carload of baby things seemed impossible. A friend told me about this place that had the most stunning secluded beaches, specialised in oysters, and because it was so flat – a landscape covered with salt marshes – you could cycle everywhere. It sounded blissful.
So, we booked our ferry crossing – pretty nightmarish with said very small child – and embarked on the drive from Caen to Noirmoutier. We stopped overnight in Rennes – cue middle of the night disaster when the old metal cot collapsed. Exhausted, we carried on to Île de Noirmoutier, which is reached either by bridge or the Passage du Gois, a slipway that emerges and submerges with the tide twice a day. There are giant danger signs showing cars underwater, urging people to cross with care. When you drive across, the water licks the sides, urging you forward before the road becomes engulfed. It feels like you’re journeying into a secret. Its more famous cousin, Île de Ré, slightly further south, is where the tourists flock. But Noirmoutier hides itself away, a little gem of rugged coastline, with shacks by the beach, where they serve oysters on paper plates with a wedge of lemon and a tumbler of white wine for six euro and a one-euro machine serves you a Nespresso at the end of the meal. We stayed at a campsite on the beach that was all white wigwam tents and wooden lodges. At six o’clock – when the baby woke up – we would stroll down to the beach and watch the sunrise. In the evening we’d cycle to the oyster beds and buy fresh clams and oysters for dinner back home. And in the day we’d visit the Bois de la Chaise, a forest of oaks and firs fringed with stunning old fretwork mansions, some newly renovated, others in various stages of summerhouse decay. A forest path took us through the trees to the Plage de l’Anse Rouge, a sandy cove watched over by a lighthouse and backed by rows of white bathing huts on stilts. It’s picture-postcard perfect. And one of my all-time favourite holiday memories.
In my book, The Summer We Ran Away, the main characters end their journey in Noirmoutier and I got to relive the experience in all its glory. They stay in the house I dream of staying in, and bask in the warm pine-scented sunshine. I hope it will give you the escape we all need at the moment – the holiday of your dreams. The joy of closing your eyes and feeling the sun on your back and the waves lapping at your feet.
If we can’t escape in person, let’s escape into the pages of a book.
The Summer We Ran Away is out now!