Tour de France 8 – Charente Maritime 1

Text read by Mary Peters

Genviève lingers in a different world.

It was a lovely, warm day and now the evening is mild. Just relax on the cushions, at a table made of recycled wood and savour the sunset with a delicious glass of wine. Whilst you are sitting, sniff the ocean air, filled with iodine, experience the “embrun marin”, the typical local “sea spray”. Then, taste the fresh mussels, with delicious French bread of course. At the same time, listen to the waves as they roll in from the Atlantic and follow the seagulls circling in the air above you, listening to their “caw, caw, caw”.

The tide is out. Let’s go to the lighthouse! It is four centuries old but was restored in 2014. It is 67m high, and there are 301 steps to the top. Once there, you are rewarded with a view of the estuary. The best way to visit the lighthouse is to go by boat, especially because visiting it depends on the tide. However, you can walk to the lighthouse, with a guide, during low tide. It takes 15-20 minutes. Just beware of the quicksand. It is a must place to see and admire the interior.

Or let’s try another adventure! Paddle in a canoe along the « Estuaire de la Seudre ». It is an ideal place for bird lovers to observe birds as it shelters a niche birdlife. But not just the birds, there are fish, reptiles, and otters which habit this magnificent estuary. 

Welcome to Charente Maritime, it’s a completely different world here.

Ile d’Oléron / Oysters / Wine/ Fort Boyard


What a selection. Let’s go! To reach the island from the mainland you cross the 3027m long bridge built in 1960s. The island is 175 km² making it France’s second-largest island after Corsica. There is no shortage of things to do and see here.

The island is well known for its oyster basins called “Les bassins de Marennes”. Oysters are in abundance. So, tuck in, fresh with a squirt of lemon juice. The island is rich with a diverse landscape.  There are many beaches, forests, swamplands, and nature reserves. Everything is protected to allow the peaceful cohabitation of fauna and flora. You have dunes, boulders, forest, vineyards, oyster canals and fish locks. A huge variety on an island of 175 km². To help you discover this island, there are over 130 km of cycling paths for you to ride on. The small artisanal Port de la Cotinière was modernized and is now the premier fishing port in the department. Great for a little rest.   


The historical citadels are worth visiting and are ready to tell their stories. An absolute must is the climb up the Chassiron lighthouse. You feel as if you are at the “end of the world.”  The compensation is a panoramic view of the île de Ré, the Antioche lighthouse and the fish locks at low tide.  

And then, of course, there is the “local star” Fort Boyard. It was originally built to protect the coast and served as a prison for a few years. Today, it has become infamous for the French TV series of the same name. It is like an escape room, but the prizemoney which is discovered is donated to charities.

Wine, (Auxerois, Cognac) Oysters, Fruits de Mer, Mills, Salt

Surprise! In the 18th century, the vineyards of Charentais were the largest in the world, covering an area of 200,000 hectares.  Sadly, at the end of the 19th century, phylloxera destroyed almost all the vines in the territory. Only the vines planted in the sand survived.

The local red organic wine is a blend of “Merlot Noir” and “Cabernet Franc”. The white organic wine made is made from “Colombard” grapes, one of the oldest in the region and the organic white wine, “Sauvignon”, the most grown grape variety in Charentais.

There are also many mills on the island. You should go to the windmill “Moulin de la Plataine” built in 1650 at Bourcefranc-le Chapus. A windmill has two grinding stones on top of each other. The other is the tower mill……….

Oh, don’t forget the saltworks of Marennes-Oléron. They still exist today. In the past the customs officials built “tourettes” to control the loading of the salt. Well, actually it’s a bit of a mystery. It is not known if it was for the control or storage of the salt. But then…

But I must stop here. I have oysters to eat and wine to drink. See you next time.


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