From car-free calm to unspoilt sandy beaches

Cathy Packe is captivated by the region’s other island idylls

Getting close to nature: Ile d’Oleron

The second-largest French island after Corsica, the Ile d’Oléron is an attractive mixture of unspoilt sandy beaches and bustling harbours, forest and marshland, and a mild climate not unlike that of the Mediterranean.

A main road cuts through the island, from Château in the south to the rocky headland of Saint-Denis and the Chassiron lighthouse in the north. Saint-Pierre is the main town, but La Cotinière, on the west coast, is a livelier centre for visitors, its colourful harbour bustling with fishing boats. Fresh fish is sold from stalls and kiosks, and there are restaurants and cafés overlooking the harbour. From here, too, there are boat trips around the island.

The Ile d’Oléron is a centre for oysters. Much of the industry is focused around the port of Le Château, a collection of colourful huts lined up in the shadow of the citadel that was built in the 16th century to protect the mainland.

Further north, Fort Royer is a typical oyster-growing village: large mud flats enclosed by a sandy coastal strand, dug out to make basins and channels in which to cultivate the shellfish. The village is one of a number of ecology centres on the Ile d’Oléron dedicated to protecting the environment. Among the others are the Port des Salines salt flats near Petit Village, and the Marais aux Oiseaux, an extensive marshland area south of Boyardville. Here visitors can follow a trail through the marshes and observe a large variety of water birds at close quarters.

With some 50 miles of coastline, water-based activities are one of the main reasons for visiting Oléron. Sailing, jet skiing, kayaking, body-boarding and kite surfing are all popular summertime activities, and although there is plenty of choice all over the island, the biggest centres are on the beaches of Saint-Denis and Dolus.

It’s also a holiday island, so there is accommodation to suit all needs, from campsites to a new four-star hotel – the highest classification on the island – which has just opened at La Rémigeasse on the west coast. Located on a long, unspoilt section of sandy beach, the Hôtel Le Grand Large has an indoor swimming pool, fitness room and jacuzzi, and an excellent restaurant overlooking the ocean.

The Ile d’Oléron is connected to mainland France by a two-mile long bridge that starts at Bourcefranc-Le-Chapus.

The Hotel Le Grand Large (00 33 5 46 75 77 77; has rooms from €135.

Serenity and sunset: Ile d’Aix

The Ile d’Aix, shaped like a croissant, is less than two miles long from one tip to the other. Although it is only a 25-minute boat ride from the mainland, the peace and quiet of the island makes you feel as if you are stepping into another world. Two features stand out as you walk up the jetty: the ranks of bicycles lined up beside the water, and the solid walls of the fortress designed to shield the island – and the mainland beyond – from attack.

No motor vehicles are allowed on Aix, which makes it both quiet and unexpectedly relaxing. Most of the 200 or so permanent residents live close to the jetty in a tiny village still enclosed within the original ramparts. The houses are a mixture of one- and two storey buildings, their red roof tiles and brightly painted shutters providing a splash of colour. Hollyhocks grow wild; in front of one house an old rowing boat has been planted with flowers. The focal point is the Place D’Austerlitz, a grassy space where people meet as they go to and from the ferry, or sit in one of the cafés looking out to the ocean. The island’s only hotel, the Napoléon, is located here. Faded on the outside, its interior is chic and comfortable, a relaxing place for a night or two away from the crowds.

Napoléon made two visits to the island, and his legacy is imprinted on the landscape. He ordered the building of Fort Liedot, still an impressive structure, to protect the north of the island and to complement the earlier fortifications along the north coast. And the Emperor’s final days in France, before going into exile in St Helena, were spent in the house that is now the Napoléon Museum, containing a collection of furniture and artefacts from the time. But the island has plenty of natural attractions, too. There are sandy beaches and dense forests, rock pools and hidden paths to explore. Perhaps best of all – but often missed by those who only visit on a day trip – is the chance to sit by the water at the end of the day and watch the sun setting over the ocean.

n There are several sailings to the Ile d’Aix each day from the Pointe de la Fumée at Fouras. The return fare is €13.20 until the end of September, €8.60 October-March.

Timetables are available at

Rooms at the Hôtel Napoléon (00 33 5 46 84 00 77; are available from €85; breakfast costs €12.

Pebbles and picnics: Ile Madame

As the smallest of the islands of Charente-Maritime, the Ile Madame – linked to the mainland except at high tide – is a pleasant mixture of shingly beaches, salt marshes and farmland. Walk across the Passe aux Boeufs causeway and head north to the Rocher des Palles, an ideal spot for rock-pooling. Then have a seafood snack at the Ferme Auberge Marine, or take a picnic and enjoy the windswept surroundings and the views of the ocean.

The Ile Madame is accessible on foot from Port-des-Barques when the tide is out. Tide tables are available by calling 00 33 5 46 84 87 47, or visit

Suggested Topics
Homeless Veterans charity auction: Cook with Angela Hartnett and Neil Borthwick at Merchants Tavern
charity appeal
Arts and Entertainment
Strictly finalists Simon Webbe, Caroline Flack, Mark Wright and Frankie Bridge
tvLive: Simon Webbe, Caroline Flack, Mark Wright and Frankie Bridgeface-off in the final
Ched Evans in action for Sheffield United in 2012
footballRonnie Moore says 'he's served his time and the boy wants to play football'
Life and Style
A still from the 1939 film version of Margaret Mitchell's 'Gone with the Wind'
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
ebookHow to enjoy the perfect short break in 20 great cities
The Tesco Hudl2: An exceptional Android tablet that's powerful, well-built and outstanding value

Sarah Silverman (middle) with sister Reform Rabbi Susan Silverman (right) and sister actress Laura Silverman (left) at Jerusalem's Western Wall for feminist Hanuka candle-lighting ceremony
peopleControversial comedian stages pro-equality Hanukkah lighting during a protest at Jerusalem's Wailing Wall
After another poor series in Sri Lanka, Alastair Cook claimed all players go through a lean period
Arts and Entertainment
The Bach Choir has been crowned the inaugural winner of Sky Arts’ show The Great Culture Quiz
arts + ents140-year-old choir declared winner of Sky Arts' 'The Great Culture Quiz'
Independent Travel Videos
Independent Travel Videos
Simon Calder in Amsterdam
Independent Travel Videos
Simon Calder in Giverny
Independent Travel Videos
Simon Calder in St John's
Independent Travel Videos
Latest stories from i100
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Independent Dating

By clicking 'Search' you
are agreeing to our
Terms of Use.

ES Rentals

    iJobs Job Widget
    iJobs Travel

    Investigo: Finance Analyst

    £240 - £275 per day: Investigo: Support the global business through in-depth a...

    Ashdown Group: Data Manager - £Market Rate

    Negotiable: Ashdown Group: Data Manager - MySQL, Shell Scripts, Java, VB Scrip...

    Ashdown Group: Application Support Analyst - Bedfordshire/Cambs border - £32k

    £27000 - £32000 per annum: Ashdown Group: Application Support Analyst - near S...

    Recruitment Genius: Class 1 HGV Driver

    £23000 - £27000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: This successful group of compan...

    Day In a Page

    Homeless Veterans appeal: 'You look for someone who's an inspiration and try to be like them'

    Homeless Veterans appeal

    In 2010, Sgt Gary Jamieson stepped on an IED in Afghanistan and lost his legs and an arm. He reveals what, and who, helped him to make a remarkable recovery
    Could cannabis oil reverse the effects of cancer?

    Could cannabis oil reverse effects of cancer?

    As a film following six patients receiving the controversial treatment is released, Kate Hilpern uncovers a very slippery issue
    The Interview movie review: You can't see Seth Rogen and James Franco's Kim Jong Un assassination film, but you can read about it here

    The Interview movie review

    You can't see Seth Rogen and James Franco's Kim Jong Un assassination film, but you can read about it here
    Serial mania has propelled podcasts into the cultural mainstream

    How podcasts became mainstream

    People have consumed gripping armchair investigation Serial with a relish typically reserved for box-set binges
    Jesus Christ has become an unlikely pin-up for hipster marketing companies

    Jesus Christ has become an unlikely pin-up

    Kevin Lee Light, aka "Jesus", is the newest client of creative agency Mother while rival agency Anomaly has launched Sexy Jesus, depicting the Messiah in a series of Athena-style poses
    Rosetta space mission voted most important scientific breakthrough of 2014

    A memorable year for science – if not for mice

    The most important scientific breakthroughs of 2014
    Christmas cocktails to make you merry: From eggnog to Brown Betty and Rum Bumpo

    Christmas cocktails to make you merry

    Mulled wine is an essential seasonal treat. But now drinkers are rediscovering other traditional festive tipples. Angela Clutton raises a glass to Christmas cocktails
    5 best activity trackers

    Fitness technology: 5 best activity trackers

    Up the ante in your regimen and change the habits of a lifetime with this wearable tech
    Paul Scholes column: It's a little-known fact, but I have played one of the seven dwarves

    Paul Scholes column

    It's a little-known fact, but I have played one of the seven dwarves
    Fifa's travelling circus once again steals limelight from real stars

    Fifa's travelling circus once again steals limelight from real stars

    Club World Cup kicked into the long grass by the continued farce surrounding Blatter, Garcia, Russia and Qatar
    Frank Warren column: 2014 – boxing is back and winning new fans

    Frank Warren: Boxing is back and winning new fans

    2014 proves it's now one of sport's biggest hitters again
    Jeb Bush vs Hillary Clinton: The power dynamics of the two first families

    Jeb Bush vs Hillary Clinton

    Karen Tumulty explores the power dynamics of the two first families
    Stockholm is rivalling Silicon Valley with a hotbed of technology start-ups

    Stockholm is rivalling Silicon Valley

    The Swedish capital is home to two of the most popular video games in the world, as well as thousands of technology start-ups worth hundreds of millions of pounds – and it's all happened since 2009
    Did Japanese workers really get their symbols mixed up and display Santa on a crucifix?

    Crucified Santa: Urban myth refuses to die

    The story goes that Japanese store workers created a life-size effigy of a smiling "Father Kurisumasu" attached to a facsimile of Our Lord's final instrument of torture
    Jennifer Saunders and Kate Moss join David Walliams on set for TV adaptation of The Boy in the Dress

    The Boy in the Dress: On set with the stars

    Walliams' story about a boy who goes to school in a dress will be shown this Christmas