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; le-grand-large.fr) 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 service-maritime-iledaix.com.

Rooms at the Hôtel Napoléon (00 33 5 46 84 00 77; hotel-ileaix.com) 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 rochefort-ocean.com

Suggested Topics
Life and Style
love + sex
Life and Style
Tikka Masala has been overtaken by Jalfrezi as the nation's most popular curry
food + drink
News
people
Voices
A propaganda video shows Isis forces near Tikrit
voicesAdam Walker: The Koran has violent passages, but it also has others that explicitly tells us how to interpret them
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Travel
ebookHow to enjoy the perfect short break in 20 great cities
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
and  

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

ES Rentals

    iJobs Job Widget
    iJobs Travel

    Recruitment Genius: Product Advisor - Automotive

    £17000 - £23000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: Due to the consistent growth of...

    Recruitment Genius: Sales Administrator - Automotive

    £18000 - £25000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: An opportunity exists for an ex...

    Recruitment Genius: Renewals Sales Executive - Automotive

    £20000 - £30000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: An opportunity exists for an ou...

    Recruitment Genius: Membership Sales Advisor

    £18000 - £26000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: The fastest growing fitness cha...

    Day In a Page

    Syrian conflict is the world's first 'climate change war', say scientists, but it won't be the last one

    Climate change key in Syrian conflict

    And it will trigger more war in future
    How I outwitted the Gestapo

    How I outwitted the Gestapo

    My life as a Jew in wartime Berlin
    The nation's favourite animal revealed

    The nation's favourite animal revealed

    Women like cuddly creatures whilst men like creepy-crawlies
    Is this the way to get young people to vote?

    Getting young people to vote

    From #VOTESELFISH to Bite the Ballot
    Poldark star Heida Reed: 'I don't think a single bodice gets ripped'

    Poldark star Heida Reed

    'I don't think a single bodice gets ripped'
    The difference between America and Israel? There isn’t one

    The difference between America and Israel? There isn’t one

    Netanyahu knows he can get away with anything in America, says Robert Fisk
    Families clubbing together to build their own affordable accommodation

    Do It Yourself approach to securing a new house

    Community land trusts marking a new trend for taking the initiative away from developers
    Head of WWF UK: We didn’t send Cameron to the Arctic to see green ideas freeze

    David Nussbaum: We didn’t send Cameron to the Arctic to see green ideas freeze

    The head of WWF UK remains sanguine despite the Government’s failure to live up to its pledges on the environment
    Author Kazuo Ishiguro on being inspired by shoot-outs and samurai

    Author Kazuo Ishiguro on being inspired by shoot-outs and samurai

    Set in a mythologised 5th-century Britain, ‘The Buried Giant’ is a strange beast
    With money, corruption and drugs, this monk fears Buddhism in Thailand is a ‘poisoned fruit’

    Money, corruption and drugs

    The monk who fears Buddhism in Thailand is a ‘poisoned fruit’
    America's first slavery museum established at Django Unchained plantation - 150 years after slavery outlawed

    150 years after it was outlawed...

    ... America's first slavery museum is established in Louisiana
    Kelly Clarkson: How I snubbed Simon Cowell and become a Grammy-winning superstar

    Kelly Clarkson: How I snubbed Simon Cowell and become a Grammy-winning superstar

    The first 'American Idol' winner on how she manages to remain her own woman – Jane Austen fascination and all
    Tony Oursler on exploring our uneasy relationship with technology with his new show

    You won't believe your eyes

    Tony Oursler's new show explores our uneasy relationship with technology. He's one of a growing number of artists with that preoccupation
    Ian Herbert: Peter Moores must go. He should never have been brought back to fail again

    Moores must go. He should never have been brought back to fail again

    The England coach leaves players to find solutions - which makes you wonder where he adds value, says Ian Herbert
    War with Isis: Fears that the looming battle for Mosul will unleash 'a million refugees'

    The battle for Mosul will unleash 'a million refugees'

    Aid agencies prepare for vast exodus following planned Iraqi offensive against the Isis-held city, reports Patrick Cockburn