It may only be tiny, but Île de Ré on the French Atlantic coast is big on history, natural beauty and a laid-back holiday vibe.

Île de Ré is the backdrop for an idyllic coastal life for the Dumond family, who live in a converted family shop dating from 1890. The territory lies like a long crocodile off the Atlantic coast of France, a holiday haven for the French (very few tourists go there compared with the south of France), especially popular lately with people from Paris.

Île de Ré is often referred to as the “Long Island” holiday retreat for Parisiennes. For nature lovers and sun worshippers, the island has protected coves, white sandy beaches and parasol pines, like the Riviera. The interior is dotted with woods and vineyards, while on the coast, ports and fishing villages hug the perimeter. From the middle ages the island was targeted by pirates and, by the 16th century, the first forts established a trend that continued into the 20th century.

One of the most popular and charming ports is the village of Ars, where many of the houses that used to belong to fishermen are now converted homes for weekenders and local residents. Fanny and Jean-Baptiste Dumond and their three girls, who lived in Paris, had always rented houses when holidaying in Île de Ré and were gradually spending more and more time on the island. “After so many years renting, we finally decided in 1999 to look for our own house to buy,” Fanny recalls. “I have always been interested in real estate and decorating, so I was dying to find a challenge.”

By pure chance, when reading the local newspaper they saw what was described as a village shop and house that faced a small, quiet street. It included living quarters, a shop and courtyard, with adjacent buildings. “We loved it straight away, especially the fact that not a lot had been done to it and it was so dilapidated,” Fanny says. The potential for turning it into what they wanted was immediately obvious. Their great friend and local contractor builder, Denis Chatin, understood exactly what they envisaged and started on the renovations.

The house is situated near the well-known church of Ars with its landmark dramatic spire that can be seen from miles away. “It’s very familiar to all the sailors out at sea,” Fanny says. “Everyone cycles around the island so you hardly ever see or hear a car. I cycle to market every day and buy all local produce. Fish is the specialty from the port, which adds to the feeling of living in another century here.”

This story was originally published in Australian Country 15.4.

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Words Nerida Piggin/Narratives
Photogr aphy David Parmiter /Narratives