The island of île de Ré, or Rhea in English, lies just off the coast of France near La Rochelle and is a popular destination for many reasons. The population swells to ten times its normal size in the summer when tourists flock here to relax on the sandy beaches and make the most of the warm micro-climate and gentle breezes. They also come to see the best dressed donkeys in the world.
The Poitou breed of donkey is named after the area of France from where it originates, and is one of the largest in the world, hence why they were brought to work on the islands in the first place. They are also famous for their long scraggy coats, which hang down in dreadlock like strands.
They were used in the salt industry, which can cause painful damage to the skin, so a local woman had the ingenious idea of designing trousers for their front and back legs. The pants were made from old striped or chequered material, giving them the name Anes en Culotte (donkeys in panties) and protected them from bug bites and wounds.
The Poitou donkeys no longer work in the salt marshes, but they do continue to wear their trousers. They are now an endangered species with just over 300 left in the world, and 19 on Île de Ré, who now enjoy an easier life giving rides to children and posing for photos.
Many families spend their whole summer holiday on Île de Ré, and there are plenty of campsites and hotels, as well as an excellent network of cycle tracks. It is also justly famous for seafood, and a completely new type of oyster has been cultivated here in the salt marshes, which give it a unique taste.
There is now a toll bridge to the island, which costs between €8 and €16 depending on the season, making it the most expensive road in the country. There are also regular buses and taxis which leave from La Rochelle, which is well connected to other cities in France.