The beautiful island of Île-de-Ré has much to offer visitors to the Charente Maritime and the Île-de-Ré donkeys are one of its most popular attractions.
Having visited the island many times over the years we have encountered these delightful donkeys more than once and each time it is a delight. Children and their accompanying parents and family all adore them. So what makes these Île-de-Ré donkeys so special? Well, there are several things that make these donkey stand out from the crowd.
Île-de-Ré Donkeys – Unique Features
First of all, they are no ordinary breed of donkey – you are looking at the Poitou donkey. Larger than the average donkey, these donkeys have large heads, ears and legs and were specifically bred this way in order provide a sturdy stock for the breeding of mules. Secondly, they have an unmistakably unique coat of long, shaggy hair which emphasises even further their above-average size.
The Poitou donkey has had these unique features for at least 300 years. Indeed, in 1717 an advisor to the King of France (Louis XV) wrote that had seen Poitou donkeys and described them as being ‘as tall as mules … almost completely covered in hair a half-foot long‘ and it’s believed they were something of a status symbol amongst the Poitou aristocracy.
Their size and strength led them to being used to work the land, particularly the salt marshes of the Charente Maritime. It is said that in order to protect their legs from mosquito and other bug bites, their owners made special ‘leggings’ for them which were strapped on before each day’s work began. Some owners even furnished their donkeys with straw hats for added protection! The donkeys didn’t seem to mind and adapted to this ‘dress’ quite readily.
Thankfully these delightful donkeys are no longer seen working the salt flats but their friendly and docile nature along with the tradition of wearing leggings have been brought together in a way that seems to suit them and all that see them today. The best place and time to witness this is in the summer months at the Parc de la Barbette near the Citadel on the seafront at St Martin de Ré where they give rides to children around the park.
When you first catch sight of them slowly but happily walking around in their colourful, striped leggings you think they’re wearing pyjama trousers!