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Welcome to Atlantic Coast of France

Four France Regions are facing the Atlantic Ocean; Brittany, Pays de la Loire, Pitou-Charente and Aquitaine. In Brittany two Departments possesses Atlantic coast and these are Department number 29 Finistère and number 56 Morbihan. Don’t be confused with those umbers. In France all Departments are numbered according to their place in alphabetic list.

Atlantic coast of France

The coast of Brittany is not the place where tourist would like to go for the sun and Atlantic sandy beaches. The water is cold over there what is quite normal for the north Atlantic and there is also no guarantee for lots of sunny weather.

In Pays de la Loire as in Brittany there are two Departments that possesses Atlantic coast and these are Department number 44 Loire Atlantique and 85 Vendée. This coast is considered by many as a place for summer holidays. Water is warmer than in Brittany and in Vendée you can find really nice palces with sandy beaches.

In Pitou-Charente only one Department posses Atlantic coast, the 17 Charente-Maritime. And, this is one the most occupied by the summer tourists. The water is here very warm due to the hot current of the Biscayan Bay and its shallow waters and in addition, due to its middle position between Pyrenées and Brittany peninsula this is also the place with most sunny days. Two islands, Ile d’Oléron and Ile de Ré are additional attractions.

In Aquitaine there are three Departments facing to the Atlantic, Gironde, Landes and Pyrénées Atlantique. Each of them is used by holiday makers. In Gironde you have sandy beaches lots of sun and you are close to vineyards of famous Médoc wines still kept in hand made oak barrows. In Landes you are sitting in the middle of the largest and longest European forest having both, riding on bicycle through the forest pads, sandy beaches and swimming in the Atlantic. The coast of Pyrénées Atlantique is the most picturesque but you have to take into account that the water will be a bit colder than in Charente-Maritime and Gironde and the Pyrénées itself can cause that more clouds will cover the sun. Atlantic Cote Sauvage

The coast of Gironde and Landes is friequently referred as Côté d’argent due to its silver like surface of the water. It has to do with the geographic orientation of the coast, west-north-west. The coast of Pyrénées Atlntiques is refrred as Côté basque.

The coast of Charente-Maritime is divided by tourists into southern part referred as Côté de beauté with small part referred as Côté sauvages. North part of the Charente-Maritime coast is referred as Côté des fleurs.

The coast of Vendée is names as Côté de lumiére when the coast of Loire Atlantique is divided into Côté de jade south from the Loire delta and Côté d’amour situated north from Loire delta.

The coast of Brittany is the longest and has the most of tourist names. Starting from Morhiban coast and going to the north we will see Côté de Mégalithes, Côté Cornouaille, Côté d’Iroise and Côté des legendes with its first part called Côté des Abers. Also Ceinture dorée and Côté de granite rose can be considered as both, coast Atlantic and the coast of west part of English Channel.

Atlantic Coast at night

The climate on France's Atlantic coast is generally mild to warm; and although rain cannot be excluded even in summer, the clouds often pass over the coastal region, before breaking over the hills further inland.

Charente Maritime

Previously a part of the historical province Saintonge, Charente-Inférieure was one of the 83 original departments created during the French Revolution on 4 March 1790. On 4 September 1941, it was renamed Charente-Maritime.

When first created, the commune of Saintes was assigned as the prefecture of the department due to the fact that Saintes had previously been the capital of Saintonge. This changed in 1810 when Napoléon passed an imperial decree which moved the prefecture to La Rochelle.

Tonnay-Charente Fouras

During World War II, Charente-Maritime became part of occupied France. To provide defence against a possible beach landing, the Organisation Todt constructed a number of sea defences in the area. Defences such as pillboxes are particularly noticeable on the beaches of the presqu'île d'Arvert and the island of Oléron. At the end of the war there were only two pockets of German resistance: La Rochelle, in the north and Royan in the south. Despite being almost completely destroyed during an RAF bombing raid on 5 January 1945, the town of Royan wasn't liberated by the French resistance until April of the same year. La Rochelle was finally captured on 9 May 1945.

La Rochelle

La Rochelle is a 75 000 people city in western France and a seaport on the Bay of Biscay. It is the capital of the Charente-Maritime department. The city is connected to the Île de Ré by a 2.9 km bridge completed on 19 May 1988. Its harbour opens into a protected strait, the Pertuis d'Antioche.

The area of La Rochelle was occupied in antiquity by the Gallic tribe of the Santones, who gave their name to the nearby region of Saintonge and the city of Saintes. Later, the Romans occupied the area, where they developed salt production along the coast as well as wine production, which was then re-exported throughout the Empire.

Cathedral 1 Cathedral 2
Cathedral 3 Cathedral 4

La Rochelle was founded during the 10th century and became an important harbour in the 12th century. The establishment of La Rochelle as a harbour was a consequence of the victory of Guillaume X, Duke of Aquitaine over Isambert de Châtelaillon in 1130. In 1137, Guillaume X made La Rochelle a free port and gave it the right to establish itself as a commune. Fifty years later Eleanor of Aquitaine upheld the communal charter promulgated by her father, and for the first time in France, a city mayor was appointed for La Rochelle, Guillaume de Montmirail. Guillaume was assisted in his responsibilities by 24 municipal magistrates, and 75 notables who had jurisdiction over the inhabitants. Under the communal charter, the city obtained many privileges, such as the right to mint its own coins, and to operate some businesses free of royal taxes.

Window Cathdral 1 Window Cathdral 2 Cathedral inside 1
Cathedral inside 2 Cathedral inside 3
Window in Cathedral 3 Window in Cathedral 4 Cathedral inside plus Grazyna

Eleanor married Henry Plantagenet in 1152, who became king of England as Henry II in 1154, thus putting La Rochelle under English rule. During the Plantagenet control of the city in 1185, Henry II built the Vauclair castle which remains are still visible in the Place de Verdun. The main activities of the city were in the areas of maritime commerce and trade, especially with England, the Netherlands and Spain. Louis VIII recaptured the city in the 1224 Siege of La Rochelle.

The Knights Templar had a strong presence in La Rochelle since before the time of Eleanor of Aquitaine, who exempted them from duties in her 1139 Charter. La Rochelle was for the Templars their largest base on the Atlantic Ocean where they stationed their main fleet. From La Rochelle, they were able to act as intermediaries in trade between England and the Mediterranean.

Streets of La Rochelle Streets of La rochelle 2
Streets of La rochelle 3 Streets of La rochelle 4
Inside the building Streets of La rochelle 5

During the Hundred Years' War in 1360 La Rochelle again became English. La Rochelle however expelled the English in June 1372, following the naval Battle of La Rochelle, between a Castilian-French and an English fleet. The Spanish had 60 ships and the English 40. They also had more knights and men than the English. The naval battle of La Rochelle was one of the first cases of the use of handguns on warships, which were deployed by the French and Spanish against the English.

In 1402, the French adventurer Jean de Béthencourt left La Rochelle and sailed along the coast of Morocco to conquer the Canary Islands. Until the 15th century, La Rochelle was to be the largest French harbour on the Atlantic coast, dealing mainly in wine, salt and cheese.

Inkom tower to the port Income tower from inside the port
Building around the port One of the three port towers

During the Renaissance, La Rochelle progressively adopted Protestant ideas. Calvinism started to be propagated in the region of La Rochelle, resulting in its suppression through the establishment of Cours présidiaux tribunals by Henry II. Conversions to Calvinism however continued, due to a change of religious beliefs, but also to a desire for political independence. This movement was very similar to the Protestant movements in other cities of Europe like for example Antwerpen of todays Belgium.

La Rochelle was the first French city, with Rouen, to experience iconoclastic riots in 1560, at the time of the suppression of the Amboise conspiracy, before the riots spread to many other cities. Further cases of Reformation iconoclasm were recorded in La Rochelle from 30 May 1562, following the Massacre of Vassy. Protestants pillaged churches, destroyed images and statues, and also assassinated 13 Catholic priests in the Tower of the Lantern. From 1568, La Rochelle became a centre for the Huguenots, and the city declared itself an independent Reformed Republic on the model of Geneva. The city supported the Protestant movement of William of Orange in the Netherlands, and from La Rochelle the Dutch under Louis of Nassau and the Sea Beggars were able to raid Spanish shipping.

Tour de la Lanterne 1 Tour de la Lanterne 2
alt="Tour de la Lanterne 3 alt="Tour de la Lanterne 4

In 1571 the city of La Rochelle suffered a naval blockade by the French Navy under the command of Filippo di Piero Strozzi and Antoine Escalin des Aimars, a former protagonist of the Franco-Ottoman alliance. The city was finally besieged during the Siege of La Rochelle (1572-1573) during the French Wars of Religion, following the St. Bartholomew's Day massacre in August 1572, and occurred at the same time as other sieges of Protestant cities such as the Siege of Sancerre or Antwerpen. The conflict ended with the 1573 Peace of La Rochelle, which restricted the Protestant worship to the three cities of Montauban, Nîmes and La Rochelle.

Tout Saint-Nicolas 1 View from Tour de la Chaine
Port Entrance View from Tour de Saint-Nicolas
On the Tour Saint-Nicolas View from the Tour Saint-Nicolas to the Biscaya Bay

Under Henry IV, and under the regency of his son Louis XIII, the city enjoyed a certain freedom and prosperity. However, La Rochelle entered into conflict with the authority of the adult Louis, beginning with a 1622 revolt. A fleet from La Rochelle fought a royal fleet of 35 ships under the Charles de Guise in front of Saint-Martin-de-Ré, but was defeated on 27 October 1622, leading to the signing of the Peace of Montpellier. In 1625, a new Huguenot revolt led by Duke Henri de Rohan and his brother Soubise led to the Capture of Ré Island by the forces of Louis XIII. He conquered large parts of the Atlantic coast, but the supporting fleet of La Rochelle was finally defeated by Montmorency when he led a counter-attack against the royal troops who had landed on the island of Ré.

La Rochelle Aquarium 1 La Rochelle Aquarium 2
La Rochelle Aquarium 3 La Rochelle Aquarium 4
La Rochelle Aquarium 5 La Rochelle Aquarium 6

Following these events, Louis XIII and his Chief Minister Cardinal Richelieu declared the suppression of the Huguenot revolt the first priority of the kingdom. The English came to the support of La Rochelle, starting an Anglo-French War (1627-1629), by sending a major expedition under the Duke of Buckingham. The expedition however ended in a fiasco for England with the Siege of Saint-Martin-de-Ré in 1627. This resulted in the Siege of La Rochelle in which Cardinal Richelieu blockaded the city for 14 months, until the city surrendered and lost its mayor and its privileges.

The remaining Protestants of La Rochelle suffered new persecutions, when 300 families were again expelled in November 1661, the year Louis XIV came to power. The reason for the expulsions was that Catholics deeply resented a degree of revival of Protestant ownership of property within the city. The growing persecution of the Huguenots culminated with the Revocation of the Edict of Nantes by Louis XIV in 1685. Many Huguenots emigrated, founding such cities as New Rochelle in the vicinity of today's New York in 1689. La Rochelle finally suffered same lot as Antwerpen after the siege of 1572 in which Spanish also blocked the city from the sea.

Yacht port binnen La Rochelle Old church in La Rochelle
Post Office building La Rochelle Prince Castle

During the Second World War, Germany established a submarine naval base at La Pallice, the main port of La Rochelle. As German stronghold, La Rochelle was the last French city to be liberated at the end of the war. The Allied siege of La Rochelle took place between 12 September 1944, and 7 May 1945; the stronghold, including the islands of Ré and Oléron, was held by 20,000 German troops under a German vice-admiral Ernst Schirlitz. Following negotiations by the French Navy frigate captain Meyer, and the general German capitulation on 7 May, French troops entered La Rochelle on 8 May.

Today, the city has beautifully maintained its past architecture, making it one of the most picturesque and historically rich cities on the Atlantic coast. This helped develop a strong tourism industry. La Rochelle possesses a commercial deep water harbour, named La Pallice. La Rochelle also maintains strong links with the sea by harbouring the largest marina for pleasure boats in Europe at Les Minimes, and a rather rich boat-building industry.

La Rochelle has a very big aquarium, and a small botanical garden. The Calypso, the ship used by Jacques-Yves Cousteau as a mobile laboratory for oceanography, and which was sunk after a collision in the port of Singapore in 1996 is now on display at the Maritime Museum of La Rochelle. Also, one of the biggest music festivals in France, "FrancoFolies", takes place each summer in La Rochelle, where Francophone musicians come together for a week of concerts and celebration. 2009 marked the 25th anniversary of this event.

La Rochell by night 1 La Rochell by night 2
La Rochell by night 3 La Rochell by night 4

La Rochelle's main tourist feature is the "Vieux Port", which is at the heart of the city, picturesque and lined with seafood restaurants. The city walls are open to an evening promenade. The old town has been well-preserved. From the harbour, boating trips can be taken to the Île d'Aix and Fort Boyard. Nearby Île de Ré is a short drive to the North. The countryside of the surrounding Charente-Maritime is very rural and full of history. To the North is Venise Verte, a marshy area of country, criss-crossed with tiny canals and a popular resort for inland boating. Inland is the country of Cognac and Pineau. The attractive Île de Ré is accessible via a bridge from La Rochelle.


Rochefort is not an ancient city and it began its existence as the port on the Charente river estuary. It is also a sub-prefecture of the Charente-Maritime department.

Aerial view Rochefort Maquette Rochefort 16 eeuw

The written history of Rochefort began in December 1665 when Rochefort was chosen by Jean-Baptiste Colbert as a place of "refuge, defense and supply" for the French navy. Its military harbour was fortified by Louis XIV. In 1666-1669 the king constructed the "Corderie Royale", at that time the longest building in Europe, to make cordage for French ships of war. The making of cordage ceased in 1867, and in 1926 the arsenal of Rochefort was closed. The building was burned by occupation forces in 1944 and left abandoned for twenty years. Today it has been restored for municipal and tourist purposes.

Hôtel des Postes de Rochefort Église Saint-Louis
L'eglise inside 1 L'eglise inside 2

Another infrastructure of early Rochefort from 1766 was its penal colony called bagne, with high-security and involving hard labour. Bagnes were then common fixtures in military harbours and naval bases, such as Toulon or Brest, because they provided free labour. During the Jacobin period of the French Revolution in 1790–95 over 800 Roman Catholic priests and other religious who refused to take the anti-Papal oath of the "Civil Constitution of the Clergy" were put aboard a fleet of prison ships in Rochefort harbor where most died due to inhumane conditions. This was in effect one of the first "concentration camps" in the world.

Entrance Arsenal Grazyna at the entrance
Maciek in the yard of Arsenal Dry dok from 17 century

Close to Rochefort, on the island of Île-d'Aix Napoleon Bonaparte had spent several days hoping to flee to America but finally surrendered to Captain F. L. Maitland aboard HMS Bellerophon, on 17 July 1815.

Rochefort is a notable example of 17th-century "ville nouvelle" or new town, which means its design and building, resulted from a political decree. The reason for building Rochefort was to a large extent that royal power could hardly depend on rebellious Protestant La Rochelle, which Cardinal Richelieu had to besiege a few decades earlier. Well into the 20th century, Rochefort remained primarily a garrison town. The tourist industry, which had long existed due to the town's spa, gained emphasis in the 1990s.

Hermione 1 Hermione 2
Hermione cross section Hermione sails
Hermione 2012 Hermione rufa

In 1992 the project was conceived by members of the Centre International de la Mer for the construction of a reproduction of the 1779 Hermione frigate, which achieved fame by ferrying General Lafayette to the United States in 1780 to allow him to join the American side in the American Revolutionary War. The project began in 1997, envisaging a launch in the spring of 2013. The original was built in less than a year.

The used shipyard is in one of the two dry docks beside the Corderie Royale at Rochefort. As far as possible, traditional construction methods are used although modern power tools were substituted for the period tools on some jobs. The site is open to the public, and admission fees help fund the project.

The original plans have been modified in several ways for reasons of strength and safety: planks have been bolted rather than pegged to avoid movement during the long period of construction. Similarly, the mast sections are fastened with glue rather than metal hoops to avoid water penetration. The cannons are lightweight and non-functional to save weight, and for safety reasons. Hemp rigging will be used, but the sails will be synthetic for strength and to allow a smaller crew to handle them. Also an engine will be used for safety, and electric generators for lighting and basic amenities.

It is difficult to say when the project will be completed but the last two photos show Hermione in Februari 2012, completely painted and with the hangar around it already removed.

Fabryka lin okretowych 1 Fabryka lin okretowych 2
Okretowe liny Machine
Lina do cumowania The mongest factory in France at a time

The Royal rope is one of the most important buildings of the arsenal and it was one of the first built during the creation of the city in 1666. After more than three years of work, construction was completed in June 1669.

For nearly two hundred years, the building along more than 374 meters was used to make ropes of the Royal Navy. The length of the central building was consistent with the manufacture of rope one cable in one piece. The hemp for the ropes was imported from other provinces of France and from Riga in the Baltic Sea.  The largest rope, when completed in one cable measured 200 meters long. All steps were supported at the arsenal including tarring to prevent the ropes from rotting at the sea.

In 1867, ropers stop working in Rochefort. The building could then accommodate several institutions:

Since 1988 the Royal Rope was open as a museum within the historic Arsenal.

Ile d’Oléron

In the 7th and 8th century, the island, along with Ré, formed the Vacetae Insulae or Vacetian Islands, according to the Cosmographia. Vaceti being another name for the Vascones, the reference is evidence to Basque (Gascon) settlement or control of the islands by that date.

Oleron plage 1 Oleron rocky clifs 1
Oleron rocky clifs 2 Oleron trees

It was at Oléron in about 1152 to 1160 that Eleanor of Aquitaine introduced the first 'maritime' or 'admiralty' laws in that part of the world: the Rolls of Oleron. In 1306, Edward I of England granted the island to his son, Edward II, as part of the duchy of Aquitaine.

On 20 March 1586, the island was taken by Agrippa d’Aubigné and from that date belongs to the French.

North cap of Oleron Tuin around the lighthouse
View from the lighthouse Special grasses in garden of the lighthouse
Maciek in the lighthouse garden Grazyna near the lighthouse entrance

The island has an area of about 174 km2. It is a fertile and well cultivated island on the Atlantic coast of France. The climate is generally mild (maritime temperate) with sufficient but not excessive rainfall, but with probably from 3 to 15 days of intense heat in the summer months of July and August.

Villa in Ile d'Oleron Church on the Oleron island
Inside the church on Ile d'Oleron Villa a la castle
Villa à la castle from the other side Typical landscape on the Ile d'Oleron

Administratively, the island belongs to the Charente-Maritime département, in the Poitou-Charentes région. The island has about 19,000 inhabitants and is divided into 8 communes:

  • La Brée-les-Bains
  • Le Château-d'Oléron
  • Dolus-d'Oléron
  • Le Grand-Village-Plage
  • Saint-Denis-d'Oléron
  • Saint-Georges-d'Oléron (includes Boyardville)
  • Saint-Pierre d'Oléron
  • Saint-Trojan-les-Bains
Plage of Ile d'Oleron Dunes of Ile d 'Oleron
Plage on Ile d'Oleron with low tide Sunset on Ile d'Oleron

Since 1966, the island has been connected to the mainland by a road bridge. With a length of 2,862 m between abutments, it was the longest bridge in France at the time of construction. It is now the third one, after the Saint-Nazaire Bridge and the Ile de Ré Bridge. It has been toll-free since 1991.

As a large Atlantic island only 3 kilometers of the coast of France, Ile d’Oléron is a popular tourist destination. There are beaches, surfing and horse-riding are catered for and there are many interesting old buildings to visit.