4 days, 4 islands: my Charente island-hopping tour

The Atlantic Coast is studded with unexpected gems to discover, and the islands of the Charente are just some of them. There are four in total, each with its own style, feel and colour. Their individual attractions include protected conservation environments, a remarkable historical and architectural heritage, vibrant resorts, enormous sandy beaches, a broad range of water sports and activities, pretty harbours and renowned local produce.

Come with me on foot, by train, by boat and on two wheels to explore and discover their unique worlds.
4 days, 4 islands: my Charente island-hopping tour

Day 1 the Île de Ré... The White Island

The best way to explore this island is on two wheels! Its 110 km of cycle paths are the obvious way to discover Ré la blanche, just a few minutes from La Rochelle. I set off on the small paths among single-storey, green-shuttered houses, hollyhocks and dunes.
The lifestyle here has proved perennially successful and popular.

Things to do:

  • visit the island’s 10 charming villages
  • picnic in the pinewoods
  • fly a kite at La Conche
  • taste the local produce: potatoes, Pineau, Cognac, beer, jam, oysters… and much more
  • stroll among the salt marshes at dusk
  • go shopping on the quayside in Saint Martin
  • scale the heights of the Phare des Baleines lighthouse
  • visit the Lilleau des Niges Nature Reserve

There are activities here for everyone: cycling - of course - but also supervised swimming, sailing, jet skiing, surfing, kite-surfing, water skiing, fishing and boat trips, horse riding... and more. Ideal for active sun and sea holidays. Families will love it!
For me, it’ll be all about relaxing on the beach at Le Pas de Boeufs… and an ice cream from La Martinière.

4 days, 4 islands: my Charente island-hopping tour

Day 2: The Île d’Oléron... The Island Of Light

I’m taking you now to the largest island of the French Atlantic coast, where I spent my childhood holidays. Wilder and less developed than its sister island the Île de Ré, it’s the land of family holidays!

Things to do:

  • visit the island’s 15 villages
  • build sandcastles on one of the enormous fine sandy beaches
  • have fun in an adventure park
  • visit the Citadel at the Château d'Oléron
  • go horse riding through pine forests and evergreen oak woodlands
  • go birdwatching on the wetlands
  • cycle around the island’s vineyards

My tip: Take the Saint Trojan miniature railway... it’s a local institution! It's the only tourist train on the Île d'Oléron, and has been in service since 1963. It crosses the south of the island diagonally, passing through the national forest and along the Bay of Gatseau to Oléron's least-developed beach: Maumusson (it's 5 km long and can’t be reached by road). You can make the trip every day from the beginning of April to the end of October; you don’t need to book and there are facilities for those with reduced mobility. Kids love it!

Some other things that you should definitely not miss: Oléron Marennes oysters. No gourmet worthy of the title could possibly resist the indisputable taste and quality of these oysters! It’s also the only oyster in France to have been awarded the coveted Label Rouge stamp of excellence.
My top food tip: the crêpes from Crêperie Clémentine in La Cotinière… what a treat!

4 days, 4 islands: my Charente island-hopping tour

Day 3: The Île D'aix... The Authentic Island

For this trip, you have to go by boat, but that’s just the beginning of what is a journey to another world!
Less than one nautical mile from the mainland, this modestly sized, enchanting island has a very Mediterranean feel.

There’s nothing like a visit - no matter how brief - to this tiny jewel of simplicity to really recharge your batteries. The icing on this particular cake is that the boat trip to Aix takes you close to the famous Fort Boyard!

On arrival, you can expect the distinctive scent of pine woods, pretty coves with fine sandy beaches, the Vauban fortifications watch over you… and the shadow of Napoleon, who stayed here briefly. This is the place to forget about cars, whose movements are strictly minimised, and instead enjoy the pleasure of walking, cycling or indulging in a carriage ride. Allow between three and four hours to circumnavigate the island.

For families: embark on a crab hunt on the Baby Beach of the Île d’Aix. But make sure you replace the rocks as you go!

4 days, 4 islands: my Charente island-hopping tour

Day 4: The Île Madame... The Unspoiled Island

This final trip takes you to the smallest of the Charente-Maritime islands. What makes it particularly unusual is that to get there you have to wait until low tide and walk along the natural causeway of sand pebbles called la passe aux boeufs (the bullocks’ channel). So check the tide times before you go! www.ilemadame.com

When you get there, you’ll be immediately struck by the coves, the panoramic views of the Charente estuary and the Fouras Peninsula... all of these sights are well worth the walk!
While you’re there, don’t miss the oyster farm at the heart of this very natural and unspoiled island.

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