A beauty all of its own
It’s such a beautiful island, with a settlement protected by Vauban fortifications, and then a wilderness, with forest and beaches... Its ecosystem is very fragile, and the region is fighting a hard battle against climate change, which threatens its existence.
The island is, first and foremost, a military stronghold, not the fishermen’s island you’d think it would be. Originally, it defended the Charente estuary. Then the time came when Ile d’Aix could no longer ensure this defence alone, and so they built Fort Boyard, one of the area’s major attractions.
No cars roll off the ferries, here. The local mode of transport is the bike... or your legs. If you really make an effort to dawdle, you can walk around the island in two hours tops. Bikes are perfect for exploring the island’s 100 or so hectares and taking in the different biomes, with their breath-taking landscapes.
The island is also known as the last place Napoleon lived in France before his exile to St. Helena in 1815. Here, it’s impossible to forget the Emperor. A museum pays homage to the man, as do many streets and squares in the town. And with good reason: it was a descendant of General Gourgaud, a major dignitary in the French Empire, who rediscovered the island early in the last century. He had married Eva Gebhart, the American woman who started the “Friends of the Island of Aix Society”, which is still very active on the island.
I can remember seeing Baron Gourgaud coming out of the water when I was a little girl. His butler went running down to give him his parasol. It’s an image that has stayed etched in my memory, even if the island’s beaches have much-changed since then.