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Get away...explore Marennes Basin and the Ile d’Oléron

Get away...explore Marennes Basin and the Ile d’Oléron

We all feel the need to get away to a change of scenery, whether for a weekend or just a day, so here we explore the Marennes Basin and the Ile d’Oléron

The low-lying, watery world of the Marennes basin, situated on the coast between Rochefort and Royan, is abundant in both wildlife and heritage. Just a short hop over a 3km-long viaduct is the largest island off the Atlantic coast, the Ile d’Oléron. If you think a short break by the sea is just a summertime treat then think again; there’s plenty to see and do even in the quietest months of the year.


Ile d’Oléron and the Oyster

The saying goes that you can only eat oysters when there’s an ‘r’ in the month. While not strictly true, seafood-lovers will appreciate the fact that the Marennes-Oléron oyster is the only Red Label oyster in France, and their delectable taste is not only sought after, but world-renowned. You’ll discover many restaurants serving fresh oysters and seafood all over the island. Alternatively, browse the produce markets or visit the port of La Cotinière, where over 90 species of fresh fish and seafood are regularly landed, and where people select and buy their evening meal on Place Victorine. A list of markets, oyster farms and restaurants can be found at

La Tremblade

For keen aficionados of the oyster, a visit to La Tremblade is a must. The 2km-long row of colourful cabins of the oyster-farmers is quite a sight along
the Chenal de la Grève, the largest oyster port in the region. La Cité de l’Huître visitor centre re-opens on the 3rd April, when you can have fun
discovering oyster production (by bike, if you wish) and afterwards sample oysters in La Cité’s restaurant.

If you’d rather see some of the surrounding countryside, then you can embark on 25km of cycle routes through the pines of the Forêt de la Coubre, heading for the Coubre lighthouse on the extreme northern tip of the Gironde estuary. The current structure was built in 1904, but records of a lit warning signal go back as far as 1690. Open April - November, visitors can climb the 300 steps to reach the top of the 64m-high tower.


It’s worth meandering across the marshes on a winding road from Marennes for sightings of egrets, heron and storks. You’ll eventually come across the citadel of Brouage rising mysteriously from the marshes. In the Middle Ages land was claimed from the sea then transformed into saltings, which spurred a need to establish a trading post for this precious commodity. Ballast stones were soon piled into the marsh and construction began. However, by the late-16th century conflicts between Protestants and Catholics gave rise to an impregnable fortress which still remains today. On a clear day a bracing 2km ramble around the ramparts will provide views over the marsh and towards the Ile d’Oléron, but there’s plenty more to discover within the citadel, with guided tours taking place from April until September.

Find out more at

Where to stay

Hotel Restaurant Le Moulin de Chalons, 2 Rue du Bassin, 17600 Le Gua. Tel: 05 46 22 82 72,
Converted from a tidal mill, this beautiful 18th century building in pale stone welcomes guests to enjoy its peaceful grounds and calm setting overlooking a meander in the river. Ten guest rooms are contemporary in style, each with its own individual character and romantic in taste, while the restaurant serves seasonal dishes in a pleasant salon overlooking a large terrace. The hotel offers various packages to tempt you, such as the ‘Escapade Romantique’, which includes Champagne and flowers, dinner for two, room and breakfast – price from €335. Rooms start at €120 in low season. Note: the hotel is closed March 10th-24th.

Originally published in Living Poitou-Charentes February 2013  © All Rights Reserved