Foraging for clams at low tide to make campfire spaghetti vongole
Driving through the margarine sunflowers of Charentes-Maritimes I get to possibly my favourite place in the world….the Ile de Ré, a pale sunlit island off the Atlantic coast of France, a lengthy bridge ride from former Huegenot stronghold La Rochelle. If you don’t have access to a holiday home, visitors can camp cheaply on the isle, in shady pine-scented forests next to champagne coloured dunes; you can hear the rolling sea as you sleep. There are flat paths lacing the island where you can cycle safely. The villages are chic, populated by willowy tanned rich people wearing blue and white stripes and straw fedoras. Around the small white cottages tall crimson and dusty rose hollyhocks sprout like weeds. The starry night sky hums to the rythmic rotation of the lighthouse beams at the end of the islet.
For a food lover, this place caters unique ingredients:
- Go to La Martinière in St. Martin for one of France’s five top artisanal icecream makers.
- Taste the salted butter caramels (recipe in MsMarmitelover’s Secret Tea Party)
- Buy the celebrated fleur de sel, reminiscent of violets.
- Crunch the yellow butter with large salt crystals, the creamy cheeses.
- Don’t miss the local wines which match well with fish and seafood
- Sip Pineau de Charentes, a local sweet wine, as a chilled aperitif.
In the morning, walking on the deserted beaches, you can forage your own shellfish: mussels, oysters, crabs. I like to go out at low tide (try Plage de Trousse Chemise) and dig up clams, you can spot them by the little breathing holes they leave in the sand as they burrow down. Here, in my first column for the Hampstead and Highgate Express newspaper, is my recipe for campfire seaside spaghetti vongole.