You may not have noticed but the Tour de France is coming to Charente Maritime next year for the first time since 1999, over 20 years ago. People are getting rather excited about having the biggest race in the world coming to the region for 3 days and crossing 43 communes.
The Tour is a fairly regular visitor to Charente Maritime having been 7 times since 1972. The stops have included La Rochelle, Rochefort, Saintes, Royan, Marennes, Jonzac and St Pierre d’Oleron.
This island road cycling holiday in Charente Maritime tours the three islands off the coast. It has been put together for those that want an amazing cycling holiday (about 350k over 4 days) and also a bit of beach time on the wild sandy beaches of this great region with its rich maritime history.
Also known as the Hamptons of France, the island is home to pretty villages boasting trendy cafés and bars, white washed houses sporting climbing rose and clematis, hollyhocks and geranium. You’ll also find a vineyard or two, oyster farms, wide open beaches, flocks of migratory birds, the famous Phare du Baleine lighthouse and the island’s rather unusual symbol of a donkey in shorts. The animals were covered up to protect them from flies and mosquitoes as they worked in the salty marshes.
It’s a 95k round trip so there’s a bit of distance to cover but there’ll be plenty of time for a stop in one or more of the pretty villages and a swim on the beach before heading back to La Rochelle for the night.
Day Two: the tiny, car free island of Ile d’Aix (45km)
Once famously visited by Napoleon, the circumference of the island is approx. 10km along paths and through pine trees. Its quiet beaches have views over to Fort Boyard, which was built to protect Rochefort from British Royal Navy incursions.
We will cycle down the coast and along the peninsula to the small ferry port of Fouras and spend the afternoon on the island before returning to the mainland to spend the night in Fouras.
Ile d’Oléron is France’s second largest island after Corsica. Its eastern side is home to oyster farms and their brightly coloured huts dot the landscape.
The western side is covered in pine trees and has the nicest beaches… so we’ll head over there then!
Setting off in the morning, we’ll go through the old naval port of Rochefort and stop for a quick rest at the walled citadel of Brouage. This little village was a Catholic stronghold in the fight against Protestant La Rochelle in the late 1600’s. From here we’ll cross the bridge on to the island and head to La Cotinière which is the biggest fishing port in the area. Your fish will be fresh – guaranteed! We’ll leave our things at the hotel and the afternoon can be spent cycling up to the lighthouse de Chassiron at the top of the island and back via the eastern side of the island. If you don’t fancy that then you can laze on the beach.
If you do the full lap of the island, the total for today will be about 100k so a slap-up dinner will be in order and then bed.
Day Four: Ile d’Oléron back to La Rochelle (85km)
For the last day of your island road cycling holiday in Charente Maritime we will be heading back to La Rochelle via Marennes.
This three day, four night road cycling holiday is a perfect introduction to the back roads of the real Charente Maritime. You fly into La Rochelle and we meet you there so all you have to do is pedal and enjoy the scenery….
Day One: Arrive in La Rochelle
Upon arrival in La Rochelle you can spend the afternoon / evening wondering around the beautiful old port and the cobbled backstreets of the town. We will also make sure that your bikes are all ready to go the next morning.
You will spend the night in a hotel in the centre of La Rochelle.
As you leave La Rochelle with the sea breeze you will head east on what is mostly easy terrain. Soon after your departure the roads will become much quieter and you will quickly feel very relaxed on the open country roads. We will pass through many typical villages. The scenery is simple, open countryside with glimpses of deer and other wildlife. You have the option on arrival at Moutardon of various local restaurants.
The second day of your road cycling holiday in Charente Maritime will start with the first few miles out of Moutardon being a little up and down but nothing too challenging. You will pass through the stunning village of Verteuil-sur-Charente famed for its fresh baked Brioche. We will follow the river until we cross it heading into wine country and also Pineau de Charente, the local apéritif. Now we are on the road to Cognac where we will take a break. It is only a short ride to Chez Les Bons, our accommodation for the night. There are 2 local restaurants to choose from, one being a stunning beach front with fantastic food.
As you leave the tranquillity of Epargnes heading north through the amazing flat salt marshes of the Charente Maritime, you will see some great coastal wildlife including Herons. Next, on to the amazing citadel of Brouage and from there to Rochefort. We will continue along the coast to Châtelaillon-Plage, where there are some great sea views. To finish up we will amble along to La Rochelle.
The night will be spent in La Rochelle before heading home the next day.
My friend Roddy and I were talking about coffee stops and cycling cafés in Charente Maritime the other day as a client had asked him for some routes with great coffee stops built in.
In the UK an integral part of the ride is the ‘Coffee & Cake’ stop where you can have a great cup of artisan coffee and some homemade cake to recharge for the second leg of the ride. But in France, cyclists tend to meet up, go for a ride, stopping for maybe a quick coffee and to refill their bidons before heading on and refuel when they get back home.
In addition, population density in rural France is such that there aren’t enough potential customers to make a living from a ‘cycling café’.
With that in mind, here are some suggestions for cycling stops in Charente Maritime where cyclists will be welcomed and refuelled.
1 Tallow’s Café, Royan Local guy Benjamin set this café up this year. It’s just near the port in Royan so is perfect whilst waiting for the ferry across to Verdon or if you need refuelling on the way through. The coffee is roasted in Hossegor and the delicious cakes and pastries are made by local healthy food expert and chef, Julie Lopez. The vibe is a relaxed, surfer style café and there’s space for your bikes out front.
2. La Crique Suzac Beach House, Meschers-sur-Gironde This local restaurant is in its second year; its beautiful terrace is right on the beach between St Georges de Didonne and Meschers. David and his team will welcome you for a great coffee – their large machine is perfectly calibrated for a delicious espresso. Homemade tarts and artisan ice-cream are served so you can relax and enjoy the scenery before heading on.
On a practical note, there’s a tarmac pathway down to the restaurant and space to chain bikes up so you won’t get sand in your derailleur!
3. La Brise, Talmont-sur-Gironde Talmont is one of the most beautiful villages in France so a must see whilst you’re here. La Brise is the first place that you’ll see on arrival and I’m suggesting it because the staff are friendly, they do crêpes and ice creams (as well as a full restaurant menu if you wish) and you can lean your bike against a tree in front so keep it in view!
4. La Caburote, St Seurin d’Uzet Slightly further down the Estuary you will find the tiny port village of St Seurin d’Uzet. A Dutch man has set up a very simple restaurant on the waterside. It’s plastic tables and chairs with a warm welcome here as his two sons, who have grown up in France, welcome you. The menu is very short (but that’s a good thing I reckon) Charcuterie board, Moules Frites, Steak Frites and that’s about it! For the cyclist, there is coffee and ice creams and home made apple crumble to be enjoyed in the shade!
You can also use Cafe Network which is an excellent resource to find cafés in your region.
Where have you found that you can stop for a rest and recharge around your area?
Do you agree with my theory on Cycling Cafés and coffee stops in Charente Maritime or France in general?
If you have any other questions about Cycling in Charente Maritime please ask me!
When you’re cycling along the coastline in Charente Maritime you will almost certainly see some Carrelets. These unusual wooden structures are part of the local scenery now and are visible in seaside towns as well as on the coast by the sea or in the estuary.
For centuries, dip net fishing used to be the reserve of the poorest people due to its random nature. You had to be really desperate to give it a go and you only needed a net, a couple of acacia branches and a length of rope to do it.
It was with the development of the concept of leisure time and activities at the start of the 20th century that the carrelet structures that we see today began to be built.
Initially they were constructed by the wealthy to use with their friends as a place to meet up and contemplate the seascape whilst occasionally pulling up the net to see if they had caught anything.
It was this social aspect that kept the carrelets much in use until the 50s. They then fell somewhat out of fashion in the following decades due to the rise in use of cars and TV.
Their appreciation is on the rise again as people have taken a renewed interest in protecting an important part of their local heritage following some severe storms that destroyed many carrelets (notably that of 1999).
What can you catch? You can land any catch that is in the net apart from elvers (baby glass eels).
This tiny island of only four square miles can be reached at low tide only across a pebble causeway from Port des Barques. You can drive, walk or cycle across (hybrid or mountain bikes only as the pebbles are large).
In common with the other islands it has a fort that was built to protect Rochefort from the English and Dutch navies who were the dominant seafaring nations at the time. The fort can be visited but check before you go in case it is closed.
It’s worth finding the little path that leads to the Puits des Insurgés, a little well built by prisoners in the 19th Century when the well in the fort was insufficient for the needs of the inhabitants. It was initially part of the island but due to high tides and coastal erosion over the years now sits on its own about 20m away from the coast.
There are lots of carrelets around the island so on a sunny day there are photo ops galore if you’re a good photographer – which I’m not…
If you want something to eat, you’re probably best to bring a picnic as these two did
Otherwise, you can buy a snack at the little camping site, visit the small farm or eat at one of the small restaurants at back Port des Barques.
La Flow Vélo starts (or finishes) on the beautiful Île d’Aix just off the coast from Fouras. Ile d’Aix is small but perfectly formed with hollyhocks all over the place and lots of little sandy beaches on its beautiful coves.
There’s a tiny village with a few shops and restaurants, the obligatory 17th fort designed and built by Vauban to protect against the Brits and a gravel track goes round the island linking everything together. Cars are not allowed on the island so it’s peaceful and very quiet.
The gorgeous Île de Ré in Charente Maritime is best known for being an upmarket bolthole where well heeled Parisians can let their hair down away from the grime and dirt of the City of Lights.
Its cute villages are lined with picture perfect ‘maisons de campagne’ that used to be lived in by fishermen or salt harvesters.
The small towns that dot the island have beautiful harbours built by Vauban in the 17th Century and the beaches are idyllic to say the least.
The best way to get around the island is by cycling as there is a superb network of clearly marked cycle lanes that link each village to the next. (Tip from the top: Don’t cycle on the roads as you’ll get honked at – it’s not allowed!)
You can hire bikes in all the main villages and get one for a day or as long as you like.
Pretty much every place you stop at is so perfect you’ll be hard pushed to move but it’s worth trying to get to the Phare des Baleines at the furthest tip for breathtaking views out to the Atlantic…
Worth a particular mention are La Flotte and St Martin de Ré which look like film sets as beautiful people (TM) waft around in floaty dresses or stripy tops!
I have had several delicious lunches at Beach Bar Ile de Ré hidden down a side road on the way to the beach in Le Bois Plage en Ré. Have the Spéciale Oysters, some ‘Maigre’ (a local fish) with a glass of white wine followed by a Café Gourmand and you’ll be ready for an afternoon’s cycling if you can drag yourself away.
Equally good but a bit more formal is Les Viviers en Ré in Rivedoux Plage where you will feast on locally caught ‘fruits de mer’.
Now feel free to wend your way home and have a good rest!
Enjoy Ile de Ré – it’s literally a perfect place to cycle and enjoy a relaxing few days.
Please ask me if you have any other questions about cycling in Charente Maritime!
The route has been announced for the 2019 Tour du Poitou Charentes which will take place from Tuesday 27 – Friday 30 August this year. It starts in Niort and finishes in Poitiers 658km later passing through the rolling hills and vineyards of the region.
I’m sure that this will be the most action that some of the quiet villages have seen for quite some time!
The day stages are as follows:
Day 1: Niort – Rochefort – 189km
Day 2: Rochefort – Aigre – 168km
Day 3 (am): Châtellerault – Pleumartin – 111km
Day 3 (pm): Time Trial – Leigné-les-bois – Pleumartin – 23km.
Day 4: Aigre – Poitiers – 167km.
Have a look at the detailed routes for each day here:
You can switch up your cycling trip along Euro Route 1 – La Vélodyssée by going down the Gironde Estuary past Talmont-sur-Gironde with its beautiful 11th century church that overlooks the estuary. Here is the ferry timetable from Blaye to Lamarque for 2019 if you decide to do just that!
Next up is the picturesque port of Mortagne-sur-Gironde and this is followed by 50km or so through the vineyards and sunflower fields down to Blaye which has a UNESCO World Heritage Citadel that was built by the Marquis of Vauban in the 17th Century.
From Blaye you can get the ferry across the Gironde to Lamarque from where you can cycle through some of the Médoc to Lacanau and rejoin the Euro Route 1!
Here is the current ferry timetable for 2020:
NB It is obligatory to wear a mask on board at the moment.