And there’s a place on the Côte de Beauté, roughly an hour’s drive south of La Rochelle, that still has this sense of easy living: that’s Royan.
Come with me for a weekend visit to this one-of-a-kind resort that was very much the architectural laboratory for post-war reconstruction. It’s also a journey into the world of Jacques Tati... Just follow me!
The Central Market is the first place to see as we begin the immersive experience of this weekend stay. Everyone agrees that it’s the heart of the town. By all means admire the quality of the stalls and the friendliness of the stallholders, but spend a little time too on appreciating the arcades and undulating arches of this entertaining star-shaped structure designed by architects Louis Simon and Andrew Morisseau. As you look, it becomes clear that its reinforced concrete structure is a giant shell. There are no pillars to spoil the view or interrupt the business of the market: a complete surprise of a building.
Then stroll down the Boulevard Aristide Briand. It will take you directly to the impressive 600-metre seafront facing the beach. Find yourself a seat on a restaurant terrace and take in the view over Grande Conche beach.
After enjoying an ice cream at master confectioners and ice cream makers Confiserie Lopez, where it’s definitely worth your while to spend some time, move on and discover some more about this unusual town.
Walk down the seafront as far as the Conference Centre, the impressive seaward-facing concrete and glass building designed by architect Claude Ferret.
Walk a short distance along the Façade de Foncillon to discover an entire district whose architecture takes you straight back to the mid-1950s. Make sure you don’t miss: the Hôtel Beau Rivage on the corner of the Rue Foncillon and the house known as the ‘Toaster’ with its vertical blue wave. Now, as you continue along the Rue Foncillon towards the Church of Notre Dame, you’ll pass a number of residential blocks whose design is typical of the French modernist architectural movement.
My advice is to lose yourself among the streets of this district, because you’ll be amazed at the architectural jewels you find!
A little higher, the Church of Notre Dame is THE masterpiece of modern architecture! Built in just 3 years and consecrated in 1958, the church and its 60-metre tower dominate the town. Inside, you’re sure to be struck by the finesse of its architectural details and natural daylight. The building is so tranquil, you’ll soon forget that this church is built entirely of concrete.
It’s a unique place, and one that shouldn’t be missed for any reason!
N.B.: Neither should you miss the nearby Protestant church.
Then retrace your steps towards the beach and enjoy the soft warmth of the day’s end.
My recommendation is to spend the night in one of the 1950s villas available for rental, and furnished in wonderful period style.
Starting at the Seafront, make your way towards the Galerie Botton shopping centre. Allow a little time to admire the soft curves of the Auditorium.
As you walk along the Cours de l’Europe, you’ll see the now-familiar façade of the Church of Notre Dame.
Further on, visit the Galerie Louis Simon in what was once the bus station This 20th-century heritage building is well worth a visit, not only for its architecture, but also for the contemporary art exhibitions it hosts. A little further on, the uncompromisingly straight lines of the municipal stadium soar skywards.
Break for lunch at the 1950s La Croisette hotel and restaurant nearby. The lunch menu is simple here, but offers excellent value for money and equally good hospitality. They also offer typical 1950s rooms, so make a note for your next visit!
Wander down the narrow streets back towards Grande Conche beach.
Return on the Boulevard Frédéric Garnier, where each architectural design is even more surprising than the last. Stop outside the Villa Hélianthe, whose main façade embraces the sun’s rays and the coast: look for perforated grid sunscreens, walkways and azure blue painted details. Every inch the 1950s seaside villa.
Continue your voyage of discovery with the houses and apartment buildings of the Boulevard. Apart from the few 1920s villas to survive to the Second World War bombing, everything here is modernist, from the pastel colours to the wide picture windows looking out to the ocean. The villa at number 22 of the Boulevard is absolutely worth the detour, with its pierced screens and pastel orange walls. You’ve gone back in time, without really noticing it.
At the Family Golf Hôtel on the junction with the Rue des Flots, head for the Rue des Semis via the Avenue du Parc. The handsome modernist houses in this road will transport you straight into Jacques Tati’s Mon Oncle.
Make sure you take a look at numbers 12, 18, 20, 33, 42 and 52... but as you stroll, you’re bound to find others you like just as much! As I said earlier, Royan is full of surprises.
So call by 9 Allée Georges for a visit to the Villa Boomerang. This surprising villa shaded by tall pines is well worth the detour. Designed as a bungalow, its nickname refers to its plan and shape. Perhaps its biggest surprises are its visual lightness and shimmering colours, which immediately make you want to stay there.
The end of your walk takes you to the Trident Thyrsé Hotel, where I strongly recommend you spend your last night.
This stately family-owned hotel is right on the beach. Everything here, from the exterior to the furniture, staircase and crockery, is 100% vintage and 100% original. I suggest you spoil yourself with one of the sea-facing bedrooms with terraces, which are extremely comfortable.
And before you turn in for the night, take a last stroll on the beach and, as you breath in the sea air, think of Monsieur Hulot’s Holiday; a gentleman who I’m certain you would have liked to have been your uncle as well...