Île d’Oléron is the second largest French island in Europe after Corsica. It is beautifully situated on the Atlantic coast, off Rochefort. There is plenty to see and do so the island is a popular holiday destination. You’ll find picturesque fishing villages, salt marshes, beautiful forests, jagged rocky coasts and, of course, vast sandy beaches. What’s more, the island has a beautiful citadel and a famous fortress off the coast. Plenty of reasons for a holiday on Île d’Oléron.
Highlights of your holiday on Île d’Oléron
These places are definitely not to be missed out on when enjoying a trip to Île d’Oléron.
Citadel of Château d’Oléron
Near the town of Château-d’Oléron is the fortified citadel. It was built in the 17th century as a defensive stronghold to protect the island. The citadel was designed according to the ideas of the famous fortress builder Vauban. He was also responsible for the imposing citadel in Besançon.
It’s nice to go for a walk along the fortified city walls. In the process, you’ll enjoy panoramas of the Moëze-Oléron nature reserve. In the fortress, there is a lot to learn about the island’s history. In August, the citadel is the scene of the great “Jazz en feu” festival. During those days, access to the citadel is not free. You can visit the citadel at no cost throughout the rest of the year.
There are several lovely towns on Île d’Oléron. We think Saint-Trojan-les-Bains in the south-east is perhaps the prettiest. The village is not so big, but there is plenty to see and do. It used to be a distinguished seaside resort. The many fine villas in the village are a reminder of those days. At the harbour, you can relax in one of the cosy restaurants with a terrace. You have a view of the picturesque houses painted in bright colours.
Beach lovers appreciate the fine sandy beaches near Saint-Trojan-les-Bains. It is really nice to walk through the pine forests to the quiet beaches. There are several nice hiking trails in those forests. Too far to walk? There is a miniature train going through the forest to the beach from the centre of Saint-Trojan-les-Bains.
Perhaps you remember the TV programme called “The Keys of Fort Boyard”? In the early 1990s, contestants had to find the key to escape from the fort. An old-fashioned version of what we would now call an escape room.
Located in the middle of the sea, the fortress served to protect the island and its coast from attack. Napoleon ordered its construction in 1803. It was finally completed in 1857. With the advent of better weapons with a longer range, the fort actually no longer had a function by then. It therefore served as a prison for many years. You cannot visit the fort. However, you can book boat tours that go around the fort. The boats depart from Boyardville and Saint-Denis.
The fishing port of La Cotinière
La Cotinière is a small fishing village. It is located on the west coast of the island. The village is particularly famous for its port. It is the main fishing port of the Charente-Maritime region. In fact, it is among the top 10 fishing ports in France. A picturesque spectacle unfolds every day. The colourful fishing boats sail out or come in with the tastiest seafood. Unloading the cargo is a spectacle to behold. In the morning, fishermen are busy mending their nets before setting sail again. At the big fish market in the morning, you can of course taste the most delicious fish specialities, freshly caught from the sea. It is teeming with nice restaurants with lovely terraces around the port.
The salt marshes and Port des Salines
Île d’Oléron has long been known for the production and extraction of sea salt. It has always been an important source of income for many inhabitants. Driving around the island, you will see the salt marshes in several places.
The most interesting place to visit is Port des Salines near the town of Grand-Village-Plage. This is like a salt museum. Along the many salt marshes, you can see the colourful houses of the sauniers, the salt farmers. You can walk along the salt basins or take a boat through the marshes. Along the way, you will learn all about salt production.
Lighthouse of Chassiron
At the northernmost tip of the island is the Phare de Chassiron, the lighthouse. You can visit this lighthouse. The ground floor houses a museum in the former lighthouse keepers’ quarters. With a 30-minute audio tour, you will learn all about life on the island in former times and the sailor’s profession. After climbing 224 steps, you will reach the top of the lighthouse. There is a magnificent panorama of the island to enjoy there, the sea including Île de Ré, the island of Aix and Fort Boyard. You can see mainland France in the distance.
Saint-Pierre d’Oléron is the economic and cultural centre of the island. This town is home to the Musée de l’Île d’Oléron. The museum showcases the history and culture of Île d’Oléron. The museum is located at Place Gambetta. The nicest restaurants and cafés are located on this cosy square. It is a lively place with many typical shops and sights. Near the town are some vineyards. You can visit them for a guided tour. And for a glass of delicious wine of course.
Marais aux Oiseaux
The Marais aux Oiseaux [bird marsh] is home to many unusual bird species. You can spot them via a 1,500-metre footpath through the marsh and woods. The grey heron, egret, stork and kingfisher are found here. There is a refuge for injured birds near the bird marsh. They are cared for there until they can return to nature on their own.
Beaches of Île d’Oléron
With around 100 kilometres of coastline, the island possesses beautiful sandy beaches. There is plenty of choice for beach lovers all over the island. From south to north, the west coast almost forms one big beach, namely the beaches from Saint-Trojan-les-Bains to Vert-Bois, La Grande plage, the beaches at La Giraudière and Les Allassins. The sea is sometimes a bit rough on this side, resulting in high waves. Especially in the far south, at Gatseau beach, there are regularly strong currents. If you want to go for a long beach walk, this part of the island is the place to be. The beaches are generally very quiet.
On the east coast of the island, the sea is a lot calmer. There are beautiful beaches near La Brée-les- Bains. Les Saumonards beach near Boyardville is very popular. These beaches tend to be slightly busier than on the west coast. They are especially popular with families with children due to the calmer sea.
Biking on Île d’Oléron
Île d’Oléron is an ideal island to explore by bike. Thanks to its relatively flat nature, it is pretty relaxing to go for a bike ride. In total, the island boasts over 160 kilometres of cycle paths. It is the best way to take in the variety of landscapes. Cycling through the forests, along the marshes and along the coast is the way to enjoy the island best.
The island has several signposted cycling routes. The below ones are the most enjoyable:
- The main route from the bridge to Saint-Denis-d’Oléron crosses the whole island from south to north. It runs through the marshes, Dolus-d’Oléron, Saint-Pierre and Saint-Georges-d’Oléron.
- From Boyardville to Saint-Denis, the trail runs along the coast and through the beautiful forest.
- Around Saint-Pierre-d’Oléron, a small loop runs past typical villages to the port of La Cotinière.
- On the west coast, a pretty route connects Saint-Trojan with the Chassiron lighthouse. The trail takes in the forest and then the coast.
Hiking on Île d’Oléron
A great hiking area is the Bris swamp, near Saint-Trojan-Les-Bains. This is a large nature reserve with many hiking trails. You walk through freshwater and saltwater wetlands. This area is home to a wide variety of unusual plants and animals. If you’re lucky, you’ll spot the grey heron, the forest warbler and the tern. The wild orchids that grow here create a beautiful play of colours. You can walk there accompanied by a nature guide.
From the port of Château d’Oléron, a lovely hiking trail runs along the many marsh channels. You can see the many colourful oyster huts at the edge of the marsh. The trail leads along the coast and the Chenal d’Ors and its multicoloured huts. This is the most beautiful and longest oyster canal on the island. The route is over eight-kilometres long. You can find a map and a GPS file on this website.
This route is a walk that runs from the charming village of Domino to the delightful village of Chaucre. The walk is almost eight-kilometres long and marked in blue.
All the information for your holidays on Île d’Oléron
Île d'Oléron is located in the Marennes Basin on the Atlantic coast. It is located north of Bordeaux (175 km) and off Rochefort.
The island is best visited by private transport. Plane is also possible (flying into Bordeaux). You can get a rental car there. The island is difficult to reach by public transport. Île d'Oléron is connected to the mainland by a long toll-free bridge.
In terms of weather, the summer months are ideal for visiting Île d'Oléron. But then it is high season with many holidaymakers. The months of May, June and September are therefore more suitable.
There are more than 70 campsites on the island. Here you have the complete list of campsites on Île d'Oléron.
This is certainly possible, as there are many holiday homes on the island. From small to big, from simple to very luxurious. There is a holiday home for every budget. Click here for the offer.
There are more than 280 hotels on the island. This is the complete range of accommodation on Île d'Oléron.
- An excellent budget choice is l'Echappée Hotel in Saint-Georges-dʼOléron. Simple but spacious rooms, good breakfast, large garden and centrally located on the island.
- Hotel et Spa Les Cleunes Oléron is located in Saint-Trojan-Les-Bains. A beautiful hotel with many facilities, located in the island's seaside resort.
- Hotel Face aux Flots is located in the quaint fishing village of La Cotinière. The hotel has its own swimming pool. You have panoramic sea views and the fishing port is nearby.