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Discover Royan!

Discover Royan!

Labelled is 'the most 50s town in France', Royan has plenty to offer the holiday maker and local visitor. Home to 18,000 people, of which two- thirds are retired, its numbers swell to 40,000 in the summer months.


Royan-charente-maritime

The 'Pays Royanais' is the area of land forming Arvert peninsula: a finger of intriguing villages and beaches that separate Europe's biggest estuary - the Gironde from Europe's smallest estuary - the Seudre. The capital of the thirty communes that make up the Pays Royannais is of course, the popular seaside resort of Roy, which is an absolute must for fans of the 1950s era.

For the uninitiated, Royan on the Coté Sauvage could appear as a soulless holiday resort full of concrete buildings and lacking in historical architecture. This is why it is important to understand the town history and explore the hidden delights cts backstreets before judging its architecture merit.

Gateway to the Gironde

A military town controlling the passage into the Gironde estuary from the 12th century onwards, Royan became a stronghold for Protestants and thus a target for the Catholics during the Religious wars of the 17th century.  On the order of King Louis 13th, the citadel, fortifications and port were flattened in the 1620s. Yet Royan rose from its ruins with the advent of the sea-bathing fashion in the early 19th century and became highly fashionable by the late 19th century, attracting Emile Zola, the Prince of Wales and the Rothschild family among others, and leading to the building of a series of magnificent villas and three stunning casinos.

Then World War II arrived. In a night of bombardments by the allies in 1944, the centre was razed to the ground and 85% of the town was destroyed. Three years were spent clearing away the ruins, and then the  reconstruction began with the building, in the 1930s style, of the boulevard Briand-one of the principle axes of the town that leads from the long seafront beach to the covered market. Before the rest of the town could be rebuilt in the same style, the architect responsible, Claude Ferret, saw a report in an architecture journal featuring the Brazilian lakeside resort of Pampulha, designed by Oscar Niemeyer. The structures in Brazil were modern and purist, based on universal shapes such as the cube and sphere; these became the influence for the continuation of Royan's reconstruction.

Guillaume Gillet

Although the church was supposed to be rebuilt in the 50s Brazilian style, the mayor decided in 1954 to ask the architect Guillaume Gillet to work with an engineer to create a huge church on the high ground of the Foncillon district. The result is the technical concrete masterpiece - now a listed building - that characterises the town today and which is worth a visit inside to appreciate the sheer magnificence and stark beauty of the project. With the church desperately in need of restoration, the association ADER has been created to raise the funds necessary, with restoration underway.

The result of Royan's catastrophic history is a town that combines the 19th century individual villas with 1930s street design and a heavy 1950's influence. Designed to be 'open towards the sea', the town is an ideal place for wandering on foot or by bicycle to spot the 50s concrete buildings, the red-and-white striped 'Belle Epoque' houses and the lavishly decorated stone villas. The tourist office offers an audioguide that will help you with your identification through the town's different districts, and which points out the most stunning works. such as the shell-shaped covered market at the end of boulevard Briand. This 1955 work of art inspired the building of the CNIT at La Defense in Paris.

Les conches

Alternaltively, you can visit the Royan museum in Pontaillac for a detailed discovery of Royan's history. Other than the architectural aspects of Royan, there is the obvious attraction of the five child-friendly beaches- known as 'conches' - ranging from the 2600-metre long Grande Conche to the Casino dominated Plage de Pontaillac. The winding road and footpath that lead to Pontaillac are perfect for cycling and walking, and will allow you not only to admire the villas, but also to pop down onto the Chay, Foncillon and Pigeonnier bays for a spot of bathing along the way. In the 19th century you would have seen groups of goats on the beaches: these were brought along to provide the 4 o'clock 'gouter' for the children!

Notable along this portion of the coast is the Thalazur thalassotherapy centre - which has the particularity of offering evening tickets to the public, who can enter a around 4pm and enjoy the wellbeing facilities for an hour or two; what better way to spend the late alternoon after a winter walk along the promenade? And if the walk doesn't provide enough exercise, you can work out in the open-air circuit training area between the Foncillon and Chay beaches, enjoying the a view over the Atlantic coast; or have a game of tennis at the Garden Tennis complex nearby.

Walking in the opposite direction along the Grande Conche seafront brings you to the stream called 'Le Riveau' that marks the border with St Georges de Didonne. A pleasant walk inland along its banks will a sea frontllow the children to feed the ducks and take you away from the beach and towards the park and its playground.

Jardins du Monde

Another attraction for children and adults alike is the Jardins du Monde, just a 10-minute walk from the town centre. This is a 7-hectare floral and leisure park including both a huge indoor greenhouse full of tropical plants and, notably, orchids and bonsais, and a series of outdoor gardens themed by country: Japanese, English and Mediterranean. The children will love both the fishpond and the butterfly enclosure where they can see butterflies emerging from their chrysalises and watch the 500 butterflies alighting on plants and people alike - make sure you wear red to attract them best! While strolling around the grounds, they'll be delighted to see games including go-karting, trampolines, bouncy castles. a bamboo labyrinth and an enclosure where they can caress the family of goats. It's the Jardins du Monde that also contains the trendiest bar in town - the Butterfly bar. Open only from April to September: this open-air bar has chic marquee salons and a resident DJ - and you can wander around the gardens that are artistically lit up once darkness falls.

Visiting Royan also means making the most of the fresh seafood brought daily into its modern computerised fish market. Royan's sardines have a formidable reputation. locals liking to eat them raw, and the 'meagre' fish (maigre) is also much appreciated. This fish makes a grunting noise during reproduction, and the fishermen used to lay their ears against the bottoms of their boats and listen out for this before dropping their nets into the water to catch them.

Sweet side

Other specialities in Royan include the hot lollipops (sucettes) made by sweet manufacturer Lopez and the chocolate sardines produced in La Royannette chocolate shop. You can also visit the tourist office website for a series of recipes to make your own local specialities. While you're in Royan you may like to take a boat trip to one of the destinations offered by several boat companies. Popular journeys include taking the ferry to the Pointe de Grave on the far side of the estuary. or sailing up the estuary to see the caves at l'vleschers-sur-Gironde. Recently automated, the Cordouan lighthouse is still inhabited by a warden - the only lighthouse in France in this situation -and can be visited in the summer at low tide. A listed building, it has the particularity of housing a majestic chapel and a flat known as the king's apartment.

Nearby attractions

Discovering the Pays Royannais will take far longer than a day. as there is a wealth of interesting sites outside Royan itself. The golf club. with its gastronomic restautrant, and the riding centre are situated near St Palais-sur-Mer, while there is an aviation school in Medis and a zoo in La Palmyre.

The Gironde estuary boasts 'Le Parc de l'Estuaire', an educational park near St Georges-de-Didonne - the town that attracts British film lovers due to the Relais cinema's projection of English language films. Meschers-sur-Gironde is known for its Regulus and Matata caves, and the charming listed village of Talmont-sur-Gironde is further upstream.

St Seurin d'Uzet is the home of the caviar conservatory and Mortagne-sur-Gironde has a hermitage that can be visited. To the north is Cozes, with its medieval market and annual African festival known as ' Plein Sud', the spa town of Saujon and the oyster village of La Tremblade with its educational park called 'Le Cite de I'Hultre'.

Whether you're visiting for a day or a whole holiday, you can be sure to spend a series of agreeable moments among the treasures of this part of the Charente Maritime.

 

Annual spectacles

May: International Contemporary Art festival. +33 (0)5 46 06 32 82

June: jeudis Musicaux. Each Thursday evening from June to September there are concerts in the 31 churches of the Pays Royannais.

www.pays-royannais·patrimoine.com

June: Le Reve d'lcare. Every two years this festival of all flying things takes place on the Grande Conche beach for 10 days. 

www.lerevedicare.com

July: International Show-jumping competition at the magnificent horse-riding centre. 

www.jumping-royan.com

July: Un Violin sur le Sable. Open-air concerts on Royan's Grande Conche beach.

www.violonsurlesable.com

August: Spectacle PyroSymphonique. A superb firework show on a historical theme at the Grande Conche beach to celebrate the 15th August.
+33 (0)5 46 22 55 36

November: Installation of an ice-rink on the Grande Conche beach for 3 months.

www.agglo-royan-tourisme.fr

 

 First published in Living Poitou-Charentes February 2010 © All rights reserved


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