Île d'Oléron - discover this beautiful island off the Atlantic coast of Poitou-Charentes
The scent of mimosa wafting on the breeze and mingling with those of the sea and salt – this is the emblematic bouquet of Île d'Oléron, one of the beautiful islands off the Atlantic coast in the Charente-Maritime department of the Poitou-Charentes. Outside of the region, it is the lesser-known of the two big islands off the coast; Île de Ré, with its starry visitors is more famous, but Île d'Oléron is where the locals head to when they want a bit of island life.
And it is a lovely place. The celebrated French century writer Pierre Loti dubbed the island of Oléron ‘La Lumineuse’ for its light. The countryside is perfect for languid exploration by foot or bicycle, passing pretty waterways with their brightly coloured oyster boats bobbing in the water, and beside them oyster sheds of yellow, red, blue and green. Stop for a while in one of the many picturesque villages then continue on your exploration, through forests and vineyards. Then there are the beaches – kilometre upon kilometre of clean soft sand, backed by dunes.
Île d'Oléron is France's largest island after Corsica and is 30km long and 6km wide. The main towns are the capital Saint-Pierre d'Oléron in the centre of the long island, Saint-George D’Oléron a little further north and Saint-Denis d’Oléron at the northern tip. Just south of Saint-Pierre is Dolus d’Oléron, on the east coast le Château d'Oléron and further south Saint Trojan-les-Bains.
With fishing a major industry on the island, the port towns are bustling places. La Cotiniere is the largest and definitely a place to visit. The catch is landed each day at 3.30pm and although you cannot go down to where it is unloaded, it’s a good time to visit. For oysters, head to Saint-Trojan, where you can feast on some of France’s best shellfish.
For a slice of French seaside life, Île d'Oléron is hard to beat.
* Fête du Mimosa - the bright yellow plant is a symbol of the island and over a weekend, it is celebrated with music and carnival processions throughout the island. See our what's on for this year's date.
* Fête du Chenal d'Ors – see fleets of oyster and mussel boats plus tuck into lots of tastings. See our what's on for this year's date
* Fête de Sel – a celebration of salt at the port des Salines, Grand Village Plage. See our what's on for this year's date
TOURIST ATTRACTIONS - WHAT TO SEE & THINGS TO DO - ON ÎLE D'OLÉRON
There are tourist offices all over the island. These are the main ones.
* Île d’Oléron et du Bassin de Marennes
Route du Viaduc
Tel: 05 46 85 65 23
Tel: 05 46 47 11 39;
Le Château d’Oléron
Tel: 05 46 47 60 51
Where to stay on Île d'Oléron: there is plenty of choice from good hotels,to bed and breakfasts (chambres d'hôtes in French), gîtes, holiday villages and camping sites.
Where to eat & drink on Île d'Oléron: there are plenty of cafés and restaurants to choose from. For more information see restaurants on Île d'Oléron.
How to get there
By road, Île d'Oléron, is reached by bridge (no toll) from Bourcfranc-le-Chapus on the mainland. There is no cycle lane on the bridge so take care. The bridge gets busy in the summer months, and traffic jams on Sundays are not uncommon. Ferries, which take cars, also go from Bourcfranc-le-Chapus, as well as from La Rochelle and Marennes. For information on boats visit www.inter-iles.com.
By road, it's an easy 45km from the bridge to Saintes, which links to the A10 autoroute north to Paris and south to Bordeaux.
Local trains run to Saintes, Rochefort and La Rochelle, and nearby Surgères connects with the TGV to Paris (three hours).
The nearest airports are Rochefort (internal flights only) and the international airports of La Rochelle (45km), Bordeaux (130km) and Poitiers (150km).