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Holiday on the Island of Oléron in the French Atlantic Coast

Holiday on the Island of Oléron in the French Atlantic Coast

Have you ever thought of having a holiday on the island of Oléron? While many international travellers flock to the Côte d’Azur in southern France, the locals from areas such as Paris or Bordeaux spend their holidays on the Island of Oléron (Île d’Oléron). Being the second-largest island of France on the Europe continent, the Island of Oléron is connected to the mainland by a bridge and is home to roughly 22,000 inhabitants.

Oléron has very contrasting landscapes, from a seaside resort to an oyster farming hub, from a pine forest to the salt marsh landscape, and even from sandy beaches to rocky foreshores. During our family holiday in Bourcefranc-Le-Chapus, we did a few activities there, such as visiting the beautiful oyster huts and having a boat trip through the salt marshes. It is also worth mentioning that the island offers many campgrounds, such as Sandaya campsite, which welcomes you throughout the season!

Eight municipalities of the island offer many family activities on the Île d’Oléron. Some of them are unique to the area and are truly memorable. Where to go on holiday on the island of Oléron?  Here are some activities to plan when you have a Holiday on the Island of Oléron:

  • Spend half-day at Fort Louvois
  • Hiking and cycling around the island
  • Stroll around the imposing ramparts near the citadel of Le Château-d’Oléron
  • Visit the Salt marshes in Le Grand Village Plage
  • Relax on the beaches
  • Explore colourful oyster huts

Spend half-day at Fort Louvois

On the way to the Island Oléron from Bourcefranc-Le-Chapus, the first sight is Fort Louvoi on the right side of the bridge. This 17th-century maritime fortification is easy to reach at low tide on foot and by boat at high tide. However, the street to the fortification is covered by seaweed and therefore very slippery. You can explore its barracks or join a novel tour that takes you back through time with the whole family. And, you can also participate some games to have fun or have an interactive experience. 

Hiking and cycling around the island

Since the island has an average elevation of 1 metre, it is a fantastic place to cycle around. The island has many shady areas, so even in the summertime, cycling is also a popular activity for the whole family.

Our family loves hiking. We discovered one hiking trail at the northern tip of the island around the lighthouse, the Phare de Chassiron. The lighthouse, built on the cliff, was initially painted in white like its similar-looking ‘twin’ the Phare des Baleines on the Ile-de-Ré. Confused by sailors and potentially dangerous, in 1926, the three six-metre-high black bands were painted to distinguish the lighthouse, the Phare des Baleines.

The round walk around the lighthouse rewarded us with rocky coastal views. We went there late in the afternoon in stormy weather. However, the sunset was still struggling through the rainy clouds, giving us a lightning chance to capture the views. Some places have warning signs since the cliff has erosion. Therefore, we had to take precautions walking on the cliffside. Despite of the unpleasant weather, we had a good coastal walk.

Stroll around the imposing ramparts near the citadel of Le Château-d’Oléron

The citadel and ramparts surrounding the medieval district of Le Château-d’Oléronare are accessible year-round. The ramparts of the site offer a panoramic view of the Natural Reserve of Moëze-Oléron. It is interesting to watch how the tides change the landscape of the port. At the low tide, I noticed a narrow channel, Chenal du Château crossing the sand bank to the sea. This waterway guarantees the traffic route for the fisherman’s boats.

The vast site includes many buildings with free access, such as the arsenal, the Powder Magazine, and the Royal Bastion. You can join a guided tour or take a small train excursion to discover the citadel and the ramparts.

Visit the Salt marshes in Le Grand Village Plage

Salt marshes and salt farming have contributed to the Charente’s landscape. The salt farming industry used to be the livelihood in the Middle Ages but declined after the salt marshes dried up from the end of the 19th century. 

In recent years, salt farming is revival, and several salt producers welcome visitors to share their passion, offering tours to introduce salt farming works and history. Nowadays, visitors can also explore the salt marshes on their bikes or hire a boat at Le Port des Salines, like we did. It took us about 45 minutes to complete the boat trip. There is a small shop selling salt at different stages. As an iconic part of Charente-Maritime’s heritage, a salt marsh is a worth-see place if you have a holiday on the island.

Relax on the beaches

To reach several sandy beaches, you first pass the vast pine forests via small roads, for example, the Forest of Saint-Trojan. However, only some of the beaches are supervised by lifeguards during the summertime. Other beaches offer water sports from surfing, sailing, fishing, kayaking, canoeing, and sand yachting. In the Springtime, the water is too cold for swimming, but the endless sandy beaches, especially during the low tides, are perfect for walking!

Explore colourful oyster huts

Not far from the citadel, at the cross of the Chenal du Château and the Avenue du port, there are many colourful huts, Cabanes de créateurs(the designer huts). They used to be the oyster huts. To avoid the old houses being dilapidated local town hall rents them to artists. Now, artists and craftsmen decorate the places with their creativity and bring the old oyster huts back to life. When I strolled in the port of Château-d’Oléron, my eyes were drawn to a blue hut, a red one, and a yellow one at the waterfront. The artists, from sculptors, and jewelers, to cutlers, have been developing and repainting the places for years. The site is one of the best places on the island for photography.

But, if you want to visit the working oyster huts, head to the century-old oyster-farming village of Fort-Royer in Saint-Georges d’Oléron. Those multi-coloured huts there is the witness of traditional oyster farming.

Travel tips for a holiday on the Island of Oléron (Île d’Oléron)

Where to stay

There are plenty of choices from good hotels to holiday resorts and camping sites, for example, Camping Signol, a 4-star campground which is 150 metre from the city centre and 800 metre from Boyardville Beach.

How to get there

  • By road: Ile d’Oléron is reached by a toll-free bridge from Bourcfranc-le-Chapus on the mainland. There is no cycle lane on the bridge so take precautions. From Paris or Bordeaux, take A10 to Saintes and then drive 45 km to Bourcfranc-le-Chapus. 
  • By water: From La Rochelle, take ferries to the island. Please visit www.inter-iles.com to get the detailed information.
  • By train: Local trains run to Saintes, Rochefort, and La Rochelle, and nearby Surgères connect with the TGV to Paris (three hours).