France's Coast of Beauty: From Royan To La Rochelle and Rochefort
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France's Coast of Beauty: From Royan To La Rochelle and Rochefort

Discover the beauty of this French coast that does deserve its name. The Coast of Beauty also has a number of small beaches, some, beaten by the violent breakers of the Atlantic Ocean, others well sheltered and surrounded by forests. The historic cities, such as La Rochelle, Rochefort or Brouage and the famous Ile d'Oléron and Ile de Ré are a must-see.

On the northern side of the Gironde estuary begins the Saintonge, with its "Coast of Beauty": 70 kilometers of pine- and oak-covered littoral where a number of pretty resorts enjoy a mild, almost Mediterranean climate. One of them, Royan, was entirely rebuilt after being destroyed by bombing in 1945 and offers an example of good modern town planning. The Coast of Beauty also has a number of small beaches, some - such as Saint-Palais-sur-Mer - beaten by the violent breakers of the Atlantic Ocean, others well sheltered and surrounded by forests.

Royan (Charente-Maritime), France.

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Royan  - The Villa "Ombre Blanche" in the modernist style of the 1950s.

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Church of Notre-Dame de Royan, the masterpiece of Guillaume Gillet.

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Adjoining the Coast of Beauty in the North are two popular offshore islands, the Ile de Ré with its long sandy beaches, white houses with hollyhocks, and the Ile d'Oléron. The main holiday centres in the Ile d'Oléron are Saint-Trojan-les-Bains and the pleasant port of La Cotinière. Le Château d'Oléron, the chief port, facing the mainland, is surrounded by 17th century fortifications. The famous "Fort Boyard" can be seen from the lovely Côte des Saumonards. La Rochelle, with the harbour of La Pallice nearby, is a lively town with fine arcaded streets. The three famous towers of Saint-Nicolas, La Chaîne and La Lanterne survive from the late medieval fortified port as reminders of la Rochelle's powerful and prosperous days. There is plenty of Simenonesque atmosphere around the port, and it comes as no surprise to learn that Simenon lived nearby for several years during World War II.  One of his most popular novels, "Les Fantômes du Chapelier" (The Hatter's Ghosts) is set in this town. During the Reformation, la Rochelle became an important centre of French Protestantism and suffered several sieges. In 1628, the subject of a famous attack by Richelieu's forces, the city, led by its mayor, Jean Guitton, held out until all its ammunition and food supplies were exhausted. Then its fortifications were dismantled.

Ile d'Oléron, the South Coast and the Bridge of Oléron in the distance.

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The famous Fort Boyard.

Fort by Vauban (17th century) at Saint-Martin-de-Ré,  Ile de Ré.

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Sea salt harvest on the Ile de Ré.

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Hollyhocks (Alcea Rosea) are typical flowers on the Ile de Ré.

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La Rochelle, the port.

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South of La Rochelle, a deserted town surrounded by ramparts emerges from the marshland and meadows. This is Brouage, at first sight so unreal, it might be a mirage. In the Middle Ages it was the most important salt market in Europe and one of France's most prosperous ports. In 1640, Richelieu stationed 6,000 troops there. The port sanded up, the climate became unhealthy and the town was abandoned. Today, it has become a curious museum-town, with its 17th century walls, its antique dealers, its old barracks, church and houses mainly open in the Summer season. Near Brouage, Rochefort, a town built ex nihilo in the 17th century offers typical mansions of this period,  a picturesque arsenal with its Corderie Royale (Royal Ropery), the "Porte du Soleil" and old transporter-bridge. This is where is being rebuilt a replica of L'Hermione, the frigate that took LaFayette to America.  

Brouage, the ramparts.

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Rochefort, Corderie Royale.

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The "Porte du Soleil", main gate to the maritime arsenal of Rochefort.

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Rochefort transporter-bridge and the Charente River.

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Comments (5)
Thank you for the tour, Francois and love the pictures you include with your articles.

Such beautiful photos... makes me want to visit!

Thanks Francois for the great travelogue, such beautiful coasts to see. Thumbs up!

Ranked #2 in France

My favourite holiday coast! Although I've never made it as far as Rochefort... next on my list. Great article. 

Ranked #1 in France

Thank you all for your kind comments.