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Life in Rural France

Living the French Dream….The Good, The Bad, and The Hilarious

A stretch of water with fishing boards and restaurants in Ile d'Oléron

A Weekend in Ile d’Oléron | An Hour from La Rochelle

The island of Île d’Oléron is the second largest on the French Atlantic and is located in the Charente Maritime.

Just over an hour’s drive from La Rochelle, it’s connected to the mainland by a long toll-free bridge.

You can easily drive around the island in a day, as at just 35km long and 12km wide, it really isn’t that large.

From the brightly coloured artist huts to the black and white lighthouse, this beautiful island has plenty to draw you in. 

The fauna and flora play home to over 300 different species of birds such as Purple Herons, Black Kites, Buzzards and Kestrels.

For those who love water sports the west side of the island has perfect conditions for surfing and sand yachting. Whilst the east side is populated by oyster farmers.

And of course, it has plenty of lovely sandy beaches to walk along or simply sit and sunbathe, such as the lovely Saint Trojan Beach.

We recently spent a long weekend on the island and had a wonderful time. We took our border collie, Lottie, with us. And as it was March, and out of season, she was able to have fun running in and out of the ocean.

We stayed in a little gite just behind Port de la Cotinière and were only a short walk from the beach.

We managed to pack in quite a bit in our three days but still had plenty of time to enjoy lots of lovely seafood and wine.

Here’s a look at our weekend itinerary and a little history of the wonderful Île d’Oléron.

Table of Contents

Port de la Cotinière

A stretch of water at Port de la Cotinière with fishing boats

Our gite was nestled in a little street behind the port, which meant everything was on hand and within walking distance. The first fishing port of the Charente Maritime, Port de la Cotinière, is a traditional working harbour.

With around 40 trawlers and 50 crabbing vessels, it’s a hive of activity with boats coming and going with the tides. 

All in all, over 5,000 tonnes of fish come into the port annually to be sold at auction with around 90 different species of fish.

I loved hearing the cry of the seagulls and seeing all the fishing nets and crab traps ready for action. 

As someone who grew up in the seaside town of Leigh-on-sea, it’s safe to say I enjoy seafood. Here at Port de la Cotinière seafood is a way of life.

Naturally, you’ll find the  Marennes d’Oléron oysters but that’s not all. There are welks, muscles, clams and even winkles. And we’ve not even mentioned sardines, mackerel and tuna.

In the summer you’ll find people sitting on the benches around the harbour enjoying some fresh fish and chips from Le Merluchon.

But there are also some great restaurants serving up the freshest and best seafood you can find on the island. 

You’re really spoilt for choice but our favourites would be La Sardinerie and L’Assiette du Capitaine. I indulged in some wonderful moules frites creme vin blanc (mussels with fries in a creamy white wine sauce) at La Gaieté.

With a wonderful view of the port, it was the perfect place to sit and enjoy some seafood. 

Port des Salines

Salt marshes at the Port des Salines in France
©lison BOISSARDE - La Rochelle Tourisme

If you really want to experience some of the history of Île d’Oléron then you absolutely need to visit Port des Salines.

The salt marshes have been a large part of the industry on the island, and the salt trade is still going strong at the Port des Salines. 

You can see the history of salt production through the ages at the L’écomusée (eco museum) where you tour through a series of huts. Each hut focuses on something different, from the maintenance of the salt marshes to the tools the salt farmers used. 

During school holidays, they have some great workshops for the kids, including “Meet the salt farmer”, where they learn to harvest salt.

It’s a lot of fun and a great way for the kids to learn.

But to really experience the salt marsh hire a boat and explore the landscape yourself. It’s a lovely way to see things and takes 45 minutes to do the full 1.7km tour.

Finish off with a trip to the salt shop at La Salorge so you can take home some salt as a memento of your trip.

Fort-Royer in Saint-Georges d'Oléron

Coloured huts scattered around on the grass in Fort Royer

Oyster farming is the other big industry on the island, and Fort-Royer in Saint-Georges d’Oléron, is one of the oldest producing villages. 

The famous Marennes-Oléron oysters are farmed here. They’re matured in claires (shallow clay ponds), which apparently adds to their value and taste. 

The village is picture postcard pretty, and there are around forty colourful huts sitting along the coastline dotted around in no particular order. Some are still used for oyster farming others are just for show.

Two coloured huts stood on grass in the salt marshes in France

Oysters have long been a delicacy in France, in particular with royalty. There are many stories of Louis XVI and Marie-Antoinette enjoying oysters in the court of Versailles.

Personally, I just don’t get it. I’ve tried to like oysters. Especially after listening to my French friends tell me how wonderful they are, but I just can’t see the attraction and don’t enjoy them at all.

However, it’s fascinating to hear about oyster farming techniques, and the village hosts a couple of different tours. Find out more here >>>

The Village of Boyardville

For me, Boyardville had one of the most lovely beaches on the island. It’s the perfect place to look for Fort Boyard, although it’s way out to sea and not always easy to spot.

The Perrotine channel crosses Boyardville and joins the Coureau d’Oléron, and on either side of the banks, you’ll see all the fisherman trawlers moored on either side.

There are a few restaurants as you walk along the bank and some pretty little cottages on either side.

Chenal de la Baudissière

Completely unexpected in amongst the oyster beds are these colourful artist huts. If you drive along the Route des Oyîtres in the municipality of Dolus d’Oléron, you’ll see them facing the Moëze-Oléron nature reserve.

From artisanal soap makers, hats and jewellery to art exhibitions and painting workshops, these reconditioned huts really do brighten the otherwise natural landscape.

Château d'Oléron

Fortified ramparts of the chateau d'Oleron in France
©Alison BOISSARD - La Rochelle Tourisme

A fortified city, it was built on the ruins of an old castle during the reign of Louis XIII. The impressive ramparts sit on the cliffs looking over the sea, and it became a strategic stronghold in the defence of the Atlantic coast.

It has a fascinating history. During the French Revolution, those condemned to hard labour were held there, and in 1870 German prisoners of war were imprisoned as part of the Franco-Prussian conflict. 

Under German occupation during the Second World War, it suffered from heavy allied bombing and was badly damaged.

It’s a big site with a lot to see, and pretty much all of it is free to enter.

The citadel of Le Château d’Oléron is listed as a historical monument. During the summer months, reenactments are held depicting life through the centuries.

A few things to look out for are the Porte Royale (Royal Gate), the chapel, the old powder warehouse and the arsenal building. Click here to find out more about and plan a visit.

Saint-Pierre d'Oléron

A architectural grey door and shutters in a French village

Saint-Pierre d’Oléron is the administrative centre of the island and includes the Port of La Cotinière and 28 surrounding villages. The town of St Pierre is delightful and full of rustic charm. 

Lots of great boutique shops offering local crafts and some really lovely buildings. 

We sat outside in the square at Place Gambetta enjoying a glass of wine and charcuterie board.

A whitewashed building with green shutters in Saint-Pierre

We sat opposite the Marie, a typical building of the area with whitewashed walls and emerald green shutters.

The best meal of the trip was at Auberge le Saint-Pierre on Rue de la République in St Pierre. The fish of the day was superb.

Saint Denis d'Oléron

Brighlty coloured blue and orange beach huts
©Charlotte BARRIERE - La Rochelle Tourisme

We sat opposite the Marie, a typical building of the area with whitewashed walls and emerald green shutters.

The best meal of the trip was at Auberge le Saint-Pierre on Rue de la République in St Pierre. The fish of the day was superb.

Lighthouse of Chassiron

A black and white lighthouse against a blue sky

As the lighthouse comes into view, it almost feels like you’re about to reach the end of the world. You can go no further as you come to the car park, and standing in front of you is the black and white lighthouse.

You approach the lighthouse through the ornamental gardens and walk up the long pathway to the main entrance.

It’s an amazing sight standing 46 metres high overlooking the ocean.

Built in 1836, it replaced the original lighthouse of 1685, which was only 30 metres high.

The original colour was white and the black stripes were added in the 1920s to help with visibility. 

It’s worth climbing the 224 steps to get to the top as the views are breathtaking and you can see Ile de Ré, the Ile d’Aix and Fort Boyard.

Winding steep staircase inside the Chassiron Lighthouse in France

For just €4 you can climb up the lighthouse and also visit the museum. You’ll learn about life on the island, in particular, the oyster farming, and the films have English subtitles.

The gardens surrounding the lighthouse are beautiful and designed to be like a compass. They show all the different produce grown on the island. 

You get a great panoramic view of them from the top of the lighthouse.

It was lovely walking along the cliff as you could see the lighthouse from a different perspective.

You’ll also see one of the fish locks that you learn about in the museum. They’re part of the fishing heritage and were a way to keep the fish in. Then at low tide, the fisherman could go in and catch them.

They required a lot of maintenance, and anyone who fished was expected to help with their upkeep. Today there are only 17 left, but originally, there were over 200.

For more information on opening times and prices click here >>>

Itinerary for a weekend in Ile d'Oléron

Château d’Oléron – visit the ramparts of this fortified town overlooking the ocean

Chenal de la Baudissière – look around the artist huts sat on the salt marshes

Port de la Cotinière – the first fishing port of the Charente Maritime

Saint-Pierre – wander through the streets and enjoy lunch at one of the restaurants

Port des Salines – buy some salt and tour the salt marshes

Village of Fort Royer – take a look at the oyster farm and colourful huts

Plage de Boyardvillestroll along the beach and catch a glimpse of Ford-Boyard

Saint Denis d’Oléron – enjoy a walk through the fishing village and see the fish locks

Chassiron Lighthouse – climb up the lighthouse and take in the view from the top

Have fun exploring and I’d love to know what you discover.


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About Me

I’m Kylie….

And I live in the beautiful Charente region of France having made the move back in 2016, and I’ve never looked back.

Now, I’m sharing everything I’ve learned about living in rural France. From visiting wineries & chateaux to negotiating French admin and learning the language.


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