Three Nights on a French Island, Ile D’Oleron.
Ile D’Oleron may not be the first French island that comes to mind, but this charming island is famous for fruits de mer (seafood) including huitres ( oysters) and moules ( mussels). It is on the West Coast of France and a huge favourite for many. We set out to find why? During our three days on Ile D’Oleron we planned to explore her history, taste the local delicacies and sail a catamaran around an island fort.
Autumn in France is a perfect time to travel as the crowds are thinning out and children are back at school. The weather is generally mild and sunny in September with blue skies and cooler nights. Beaches are virtually empty of the hoards of summer tourists and finding a seat at a restaurant or bar is not difficult.
Easily reached by a causeway from the mainland (free from tolls unlike Ile De Re!), Ile D’Oleron is situated on the Charente Mariteme coast and just south of her more famous sister island, Ile de Re and close to the historic town of La Rochelle. It was just over 3 hours drive from our home, The Croft, half way between Poitiers and Limoges.
We were delighted to accept an invitation by Les Jardins D’Alienor, a gorgeous boutique hotel and gourmet restaurant, to stay for three nights to explore Ile D’Oleron.
This small and elegant family owned boutique hotel is in the heart of Le Chateau, one of the most beautiful towns on the island. The hotel has only 8 rooms which makes it very intimate and comfortable.
Owners Laetitia and Marc have created an interior which is welcoming and full of French charm and character. A delicious breakfast is served in the dining room or you can choose to indulge in breakfast in your room or terrace. Marc is chef at their gastronomic restaurant which is proud to serve local and seasonal produce.
The town of Le Chateau is on the south east of the island and has a wealth of history. Originally utilised as a protective fortress, then famous for salt mining but now her oysters take the top export position.
Alienor D’Aquitane (Eleanor of Aquitane) first ordered castle to be built to protect the island from the mainland in the 11th Century and later, in the 17th Century, a fortified citadel was constructed on the grounds of the medieval castle to protect the Cardinal’s salt cellar.
It is now home to art galleries and a host for festivals and concerts.
Walking around the external walls that surround Le Chateau, it is interesting to observe the intricate stonework constructed centuries ago still in excellent condition. The tidal coastline gives spectacular views across to the mainland
Huitres, Moules et Fruits de Mer
Oysters and mussels are a wonderful delicacy and fresh from the ocean here on the island, Fish markets are plentiful and a wide range of produce is available
Oleron oysters are matured in oyster ponds, small basins dug out of clay in the ancient salt flats. This is what makes their flavour unique and sought after.
Moules et frites (mussels and fries) are served in many restaurants and bars on the island with a variety of sauces ranging from moules marieniere to moules avec rochefort and even a curry sauce! Absolutely delicious and we feasted on these ocean fresh, sweel mussels for two of our nights on the island.
Fort Boyard by Catamaran
An evening cruise on an amazing catamaran whilst sipping Pineau (a local aperitif similar to sherry) We were delighted to accept an invitation by Ile ou Aile Catamaran to join a sunset trip around Fort Boyard. On what turned out to be a spectacular evening with high tides and light breeze, we departed from Boyardville, a town half an hour away from Le Chateau,
Since our canal cruise in Burgundy, we feel quite the “boaties” and were really looking forward to the experience on a catamaran and to feel the wind and fresh air again.
Fort Boyard is known to the French and many other Europeans as the setting for a reality TV game show of the same name, We had no clue about this show but as it has been running for 20 years so it must be very popular!.
History of this unusual island fortress was intriguing. Built during the time of Napoleon and manned with canons, Fort Boyard was built to protect the estuary of the Charente River and the ship building town of Rochefort,
Our charming skipper, Simon, provided commentary and a top up of our Pineau as we sailed around the fort.
This cruise was a wonderful way to experience the open seas and view an amazing and curious piece of history.
Our last day on Ile D’Oleron was met with rain! We had planned to hire bicycles and explore areas around Le Chateau but instead wandered around the many tourist shops then visited the colourful fishing shacks that are now home to many local artisans.
We decided to drive to the top end of the island to St Denis and view the historic Chassiron lighthouse, a beacon for shipping and the open seas. Despite the intermittent rain, we were surprised by the beautifully landscaped gardens around the lighthouse. Vegetable gardens were interspersed amongst the flowers in the garden and would have been an important source of food for the original keepers on this remote post. For a modest fee you are able to climb to the top of the lighthouse and enjoy the view over Ile D’Oleron and over to Ile de Re.
As we headed home after these three interesting and relaxing days, we reflected on the history and charm of Ile D’Oleron and the wonderful experience of staying as guests of Les Jardins d”Alienor and the opportunity to sail around Fort Boyard.
Ile D’Oleron is a fabulous island and a terrific place to spend a week. High summer may be a little too crowded for our liking but autumn was just perfect. Easy to navigate around, plenty to see and do and a perfect example of a working fishing island juxtaposed with a tourist destination to enjoy beaches, history and local fresh seafood.
Although we stayed as guests at Les Jardins d’Alienor and enjoyed a complimentary cruise with Ile ou Aile Catamarans, all opinions and comments are our own.
For more information on Les Jardins d’Alienor
Rooms are available from 100 Euro per night.
To book your own catamaran adventure with Ile ou Aile Catamarans
A variety of cruises are available starting at 25 Euros per adult.