“Let’s be honest with each other,” I told my mom when I came back from a beach walk on the aptly named Grande plage. “I’m 37, you’re 63… just between us, have you ever seen a fifty-something guy completely naked but with a face mask on?”
“I guess I stumbled upon a nude beach down there. As for the need to wear a face mask when it’s just you and your wife—also naked but without COVID PPE, mind you—, well, I’m not sure.”
We started giggling like teenagers.
It felt good.
The late-July heat wave apparently took everyone by surprise. However, thanks to my Canadian training, I do check the weather often and I had noticed the few hotter-than-usual days with temperature of 37 °C. This was just the excuse we needed to go somewhere, and the closest “somewhere” was Saint-Gilles-Croix-de-Vie—just as hot but by the seaside and easily accessible by train.
Of course, we weighed the pros and cons both because we’re French and decisions are made after hours of dither and also because, well, the pandemic.
I checked international, national, regional and local news—“Saint-Gilles” wasn’t in the news, which was good news.
I bought a day pass for €30 and the next day, we took the 11:17 a.m. regional train. After stopping in Bouaye, Port-St-Père, Sainte-Pazanne, Machecoul, Challans and Saint-Hilaire-de-Riez, we finally arrived in Saint-Gilles-Croix-de-Vie—you can’t miss it, the station is just a few metres from the port and you see the ocean from the train.
An easy trip. Just what I needed after agonizing over border closures for months.
I don’t have childhood memories in Saint Gilles. I vaguely remember a surf trip with friends as a teen but “our” little sandy corner of the Atlantic Ocean was in Saint Michel, closer to Nantes—back then we had a car and the house was packed with relatives all summer long.
I rediscovered Saint Gilles with Feng and Mark a few years ago and I loved it. It’s big enough, walkable, picturesque and even though it’s a tourist spot, it’s affordable and locals are lovely. In fact, it feels deliciously old-fashioned in a comforting way. Even Mark read a paper book during the 75-minute train ride instead of using the tablet (… and I wasn’t going to take it to go to the beach, anyway!).
We enjoyed the hot and sunny afternoon on the beach until the 5:43 p.m. train back to Nantes and came home with sandy feet, just like it should be.