Being a bit disappointed at our city visit in Rochefort, Hans and I decided to leave the city and try to get that island feeling again by visiting Ile de Oleron. Ile De Oleron lies a little under Ile de Re. With its length of 35 kms and width of 15 kms, it is a little bigger than Ile de Re and could also be reached by crossing a bridge or a viaduct. We left Rochefort at 9:30 and arrived at Ile De Oleron at 10:30. We tried to look for our first campsite, but it was just a mix parking area in Chaucre and there was further nobody else there. When it is summer, maybe it is nice there, because the beach is a long sandy one. But it was November, and there’s nothing to do. So we drove 10 kms further, at the farthest point of the island at Chassiron to see the Phare de Chassiron, a lighthouse. Today we drove a total of 85 kms.
I. PICKING SNAILS
It was a beautiful sunny Thursday, the weather was a lot better than the last few days. In arriving at Chassiron, we immediately caught a glimpse of the tower, as it was a very imposing building; but we were lured to the beauty of the ocean. It was a magnificent view from where we were, and we could see that the water was getting low again. We descended the stonestairs down to the beach. There were one couple who were getting something from the rockbeds. We asked them and they were collecting some sort of snails, which they said was delicious. Hans and I were not dressed for an activity as snail picking, but as an spontaneous decision, we began looking for them and picking them.
It was a good thing I have a plastic bag in my backpack which we used to put our snails. It was again fun doing this. It was unending. As the water got lower, more rockbeds appeared, with the result that more snails came into sight also. Hans and I just couldn’t stop ourselves! We kept saying we stop, as we already had enough, but then we saw some more and picked some more. At one point I already stopped and made some selfies, but Hans just continued to do so. Maybe we picked a total of 3 kilos snails that afternoon. We brought our harvest in the camper and headed to the lighthouse to visit it. We ate the snails, by the way, for the next 3 days that we were on the island.
II. THE PHARE DE CHASSIRON
Phare de Chassiron is a lighthouse at the tip of Chassiron which was built in 1836. It is 46 m high and one can go up to the tower via the use of 224 steps of the staircase. With its 250 watts bulb, its beam of light can reach up to 52 km in a cloudless night. The history of the construction of the lighthouse was described on the different posts that were lined up in the pathway going to it.
We bought a ticket to go up to the top (2.50 euro pp) and once there, we were welcomed by a very strong wind, so strong that I really had to grab the railing and held on to it. I was afraid for the first few minutes to walk around the tower, afraid that the strong wind might blow me away from the lighthouse! But afterwards, I gained courage, and I was rewarded with magnificent views of the surroundings and the ocean. I could see Fort Boyard, but only a tiny dot on the ocean, Ile de Re, and la Rochelle. It was wonderful up there; you felt the freedom, the fresh air, and the excitement of just being there! After taking some pictures and enjoying the views up, we then went down the same way. I honestly suffered from muscle pains especially on my thighs after the climb up on the lighthouse, pain that I endured for the next 3 days!
III. BOYARDVILLE AND FORT BOYARD
It was only 3 pm, a little too early for us to be already camping somewhere; so we decided to drive through at the other side of the island, in the direction of Fort Boyard. We drove 20 km further and arrived at Boyardville. We followed the signboard to Panoramic view to Fort Boyard and we came upon the port which is used as embarkment of boats that go to la Rochelle and the islands of Re and Aix. Again, campers are not allowed to park there, there was an advise to go to the municipal camping. We drove there; it was closed, so we drove back again to the port and decided to stay there for the rest of the day. We headed down to the beach. It was a very nice beach, calm waves, long brown sand, with a lighthouse at the end of the port and as a bonus, view of the Fort Boyard.Fort Boyard.
Hans and I were strolling on the beach, and while we were doing so, we noticed there were small mussels and some clams just scattered on the beach. The temptation of picking them was so great that we gave in to that temptation. We just kept our heads down, our eyes good open for clams; every now and then, watching out that the waves didn’t catch us and make us wet, but that was not always a success, of course. Sometimes we were so engrossed in what we were doing that we didn’t noticed we were walking already towards the sea. We have walked maybe on a 500 meter long sandy beach searching for clams. I used my shawl to put all the clams and Hans put some in the pockets of his jacket, as again, we had nothing with us when we went to the beach. Dinner this day was fruits of the sea…snails and clams cooked in water with salt, pepper and ginger; coupled with cooked white rice and fresh salad. We had to use safety pins to pull the meat of the snails out. Took so long, but it was good. Life is Good!
IV. ST. TROJAN LES BAINS
Nov 14, 2014, Friday, we woke up early, at around 8.00, and there was still no sign of activities in the harbour. Hans and I walked to the village center to buy some bread. We passed a nice small harbour where different stalls that sell tickets to boat excursions to different island are lined in the square, but of course, they are all closed as the season is already over. It also explained the quietness of the village. After having some breakfast, we then headed up to the beach again. It was a nice windy morning, we had the beach to our own. I was planning to take a picture of us together with Fort Boyard as background, that’s why I brought my tripod. But unfortunately, before I could do so, the battery went low, and ppuuffttt!We returned to the camper and incidentally we saw the couple who showed us the snails from the other day. They were going to take a stroll in the beach also. They asked us about the snails and we told them that they were goed!
We drove 22 kms to reach our next destination , St. Trojan Les Bains, the only village which offers free parking for campers for a maximum of 3 days. We left Boyardville at 10:30 and arrived at St. Trojan at around 11.30. We headed directly to the Tourist Information office which is just 50 meters away from the parking area and asked for the village map. The lady was very friendly; she provided us really nice maps of the village and of the whole island, and also the code where we could avail of free WIFI connection for 3 hours.
Campsite : Parking Capitaine Patoizea
17370 St. Trojan Les Bains
Coordinates : N – 45.81375 W – 1.20929
With the map in hand, we walked to Quai Raoul Coulon, on the left side of the small port. There stand some old small colourful houses that serve as workplace for oyster business. Walking through that quai gave us an idea of the oyster business. We saw the oyster beds or nets made of old steel, crates of empty oyster shells, and even loads of fresh oysters in one of the small warehouses. There was no one we could ask for some pieces, a pity! We went to the other side of the quai, and it was the same, more small deserted warehouses and closed restaurants, all in vibrant colors. There were also crates of fresh oysters and mussels just lying on the streets!!!
Hans and I then went on to stroll the village. We visited the village church, situated near the covered market. The houses are again low and small, painted mostly in white to offwhite, with wooden windows. There are also some very narrow streets similar to Ile De Re. After an hour rest, we packed our bikes and biked along the beach boulevard. It was again low tide and there were again many people searching for sea fruits. We were again almost tempted to do also, but we were not properly dressed to go in the muddy seashore; and besides it was still nice weather to explore the village by bike. We biked to the different biking path, sometimes on the major ways and sometimes in the forest, and also at times on path where biking is not allowed!
We were just in time to get back to the camper at around 5.30 pm, then it started to rain again. And it rained the whole night until the next morning. Our original plan to stay one more day in St. Trojan was blown away by the wind. With the continuous rain, we couldn’t go outside and do some activities. At 10.00, we drove to another village, La Cotiniere in St. Pierre where the fishing port is, hoping to see some sights and undertake some actions. We drove around 15 kms and arrived at La Cotienere at around 10.30. It was still gray in the sky and it looked like it would remain so for the rest of the day. We walked around the fishing port. We saw different commercial fishing vessels there, and some fishermen mending their nets. Many seabirds were on the port trying to have some food. We bought some sardines and dorado at a fish stall. The vendor misunderstood me. He cleaned my dorada, but also cut the head off, much to my dislike!
At around 13:00 we drove another 21 km further down near the viaduct, at Le Chateau de Oleron, hoping that the weather would be better. We parked at the port. It was nice port, with a nice view of the Citadelle, the Fort and the Viaduct. There are also lots of cute artisans houses along the port, small and colourful. We were taking a stroll around the port when it began to rain again. We came back to the camper, I cooked the leftover snails and we ate them for 1.5 hours. In the meantime hoping that the rain would stop. But no! It just kept on pouring, nonstop! The horizon was not to be seen, sky was very gray! We were feeling a little bit irritated now, thanks to the nonstop rain. We decided to just leave the island and go to the next stop ; Saintes which is a little more than 50 kms away. We then hope to be back in Ile De Oleron maybe next year.
Our customary pictures together