Exploring the Islands of Charente-Maritime and Vendée
2021 marks the addition of a brand new Siblu holiday park on France’s beautiful West Coast: Mer et Soleil d’Oléron! To honour Mer et Soleil’s stunning location on the Ile d’Oléron, we thought we’d explore some of the other island-hopping possibilities that are open to you during a stay in West Coast France, from the famously stylish Ile de Ré in Charente-Maritime to the wild coastline of the Ile de Yeu and the charming Ile de Noirmoutier in the Vendée region.
The Ile de Ré
It is easy to see why this seaside haven has become synonymous with style and glamour, but you don’t have to be a member of the rich and famous to have a great day out on the Ile de Ré!
This 85 km² island is easy to reach by car from La Rochelle thanks to the 3 km long bridge linking it to the mainland (although be aware that you will have to pay a toll fee which can be up to €16 in high season). However, once you arrive, you might want to trade the car for 2 wheels: with over 100 kilometres of bike paths criss-crossing the island, the Ile de Ré is an amateur cyclist’s paradise! The flat landscape is an added bonus, no need to huff and puff your way up any hills to appreciate the best ocean views.
Hiring bikes for the whole family can be the perfect way to enjoy a peaceful day out on the island. Take things at your own pace and, if you don’t feel like splashing out at one of the snazzy seafood restaurants, why not make yourself a picnic with fresh ingredients from one of the island’s markets and stop to enjoy it in the shade of the pine forests or or on one of the sandy beaches. Bon appétit!
- Best Ile de Ré Beaches: The best and most protected beaches for swimming are found on the island’s south and west coasts. Check out Le Bois-Plage for lifeguard supervision and calm swimming conditions for families.
- Where to stay: La Pignade (90 km/1 hr 15 min drive), Les Charmettes (100 km/ 1 hr 26 min drive) , Bonne Anse Plage (105 km/ 1 hr 32 min drive), Mer et Soleil d'Oléron (108 km/ 1 hr 43 min drive)
The Ile d'Oléron
About one hour’s drive South of La Rochelle is another beautiful West Coast Island, the Ile d’Oléron. We’ve always loved the Ile d’Oléron but now it has a particularly special place in our hearts as home to our newest Siblu holiday park, the 5-star Mer et Soleil d'Oléron!
The Ile d’Oléron is equally easy to reach by car thanks to the bridge connecting it to the mainland. It’s a great choice for nature lovers and for those who like to keep active on their holidays. Like the Ile de Ré, it has a brilliant network of cycle paths and also provides unbeatable opportunities for water sports (perfect for anyone wanting to try sailing, surfing, sea kayaking, or even land yachting).
If you’re particularly interested in finding out more about the island’s wildlife and biodiversity, we really recommend a trip to the nature reserve and wildlife rescue centre 'Les Marais aux Oiseaux' in Dolus (just a 30 minute bike ride from Siblu’s Mer et Soleil campsite). Visitors are not permitted at the wildlife rescue centre, however there are plenty of opportunities to meet a range of different creatures on the 'Discovery Trail' tour. Curious kids will love coming face to face with a range of animals, from the familiar (ducks, geese and sheep) to the more unusual (look out for the red-eared terrapin enclosure!). There is also a 9-metre high observatory which affords birdwatchers a stunning view over the site’s 130 hectares of woodland and salt marshes with the chance to glimpse some of the rare bird species that live on the island.
Best Ile d’Oléron Beaches: There are a range of brilliant Blue Flag beaches on the Ile d’Oléron. If you’re after quiet, sheltered waters for a family swim, check out some of the beaches to the north east of the island. These include Plage de la Boirie, Plage de Planginot, Plage de plaisance and Plage de Boyardville.
Where to Stay: Of course it's got to be Mer et Soleil d'Oléron, perfectly situated on the North West coast of the island and just 2.5 km from the beach.
The Ile de Yeu
There is no bridge to the Ile de Yeu, however ferries run regularly from Fromentine and St Gilles Croix de Vie (crossings vary in length between 45 and 75 minutes). With an area of only 23 km² it is much smaller than the Ile de Ré and the Ile d’Oléron and maintains a magical, unspoiled atmosphere.
The appropriately-named ‘Côte Sauvage’ or wild coastline refers to the rugged southern stretch of coast between the Pointe du But and the Pointe des Corbeaux. Nature lovers should keep an eye out for the incredible carpet of wild flowers here and the chance to spot species including lily of the dunes, maritime pines and holm oaks. The island's wetlands are also home to a host of protected bird species. The 'wild coast' is stunning, but the Ile de Yeu are also has a number of more protected, sandy beaches, perfect for pinicking or for a family day out.
Make sure you don’t miss the atmospheric ruins of the ‘Vieux Chateau’, a medieval fortification perched on a rocky outcrop looking into the waves. It is remarkably well-preserved given that it dates back to the days of fighting the English during the 100 year war!
Best Ile de Yeu Beaches: Les Vieilles beach is great for families and is even lifeguard-supervised in high season. Belle Maison, Les Fontaines, Les Sabias, Les Soux are all worth checking out too.
Where to Stay: Le Bois Dormant and Le Bois Masson in Saint-Jean-de-Monts are only 15 km (20 mins drive) away from the Saint-Gilles-Croix-de-Vie (where the ferry leaves to the Ile de Yeu).
The Ile de Noirmoutier
Situated further north, towards the border between the Vendée and the Loire Atlantique departments, the charming Ile de Noirmoutier is well worth a visit. Noirmoutier is unique in that when the tide is low you can bypass the bridge and can actually walk or cycle to it directly! The island is linked to Beauvoir sur Mer on the mainland by the ‘Passage du Gois’ a 4.2 km road which only appears for around three hours at each low tide. Strolling up to the island or back to the mainland is a great experience, but make sure you check the tide table carefully before setting off! Don’t worry if your visit doesn’t coincide perfectly with low tide; there is also a bridge to the mainland for cars and bikes.
For years, Noirmoutier has been famous for its salt production, and indeed even today a third of the island is taken up by huge salt flats. Many of these are open to visitors, and taking a tour of a salt marsh is a fascinating way to learn about the ancient techniques of salt extraction which still play a big role in the region's economy today. Salt isn’t the only delicacy produced here, Noirmoutier is also famous for oyster, shellfish, turbot and the special Bonnotte variety of potatoes, which are considered to be among some of the best (and most expensive) in the world!
Best Ile de Noirmoutier Beaches: The Ile de Noirmoutier is another great choice for water sports and boasts over 25 miles of beaches! La plage de Barbâtre and La Plage des Sableaux are particularly good choices for families.
Where to Stay: Siblu's Le Bois Masson and Le Bois Dormant holiday parks in Vendée are just 25 km (under 30 mins drive) from the Ile de Noirmoutier!