Le Phare des Baleines: guardian of the sea and guide for sailors.

Saint-Clément-des-Baleines
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Le Phare des Baleines ...
Links between the sky and the ocean, lighthouses fascinate, ignite the imagination, attract the eye and inevitably, the photographic lens. Charente-Maritime is distinguished by its perilous waves strewn with rocky reefs dotted with the majestic lighthouses of Chassiron, Coubre , Cordouan or even the famous Lighthouse of the Whales . Standing at the tip of the Ile de Ré , springing from the hollow of the waves, as if built on the swell, the latter is an impressive building that can be visited all year round. We set off to discover this timeless lookout , witness to the stories of sailors who still inhabit the spirit of the place. Head west!

The Whale Lighthouse

The Whale Lighthouse


The Baleines lighthouse, sentinel of the sea and guide for sailors

Proudly standing on the Pointe des Baleines facing the ocean, the silhouette of the lighthouse is revealed as soon as you pass the small village of Ars-en-Ré, to the north-west of the Ile de Ré. Originally, the old Tower at the foot of the Phare des Baleines was erected in 1682 to mark the reefs at the entrance to the Breton and Antioch sluices. The history of this Tower, one of the oldest fires in France, is closely linked to the creation of the Rochefort military arsenal in 1666. Built on Colbert's directives according to a program established by Vauban, its role is complex: on the one hand, it ensures the smooth running of night navigation from the top of its 29 meters, on the other it is an integral part of the defensive system of the Ile de Ré and the Charente coast. Despite this, the effectiveness of its light remains limited: the jagged coasts between the two sluices count 125 shipwrecks and nearly 500 navigators drowned between 1793 and 1838.

The Whale Lighthouse

The Whale Lighthouse

The old tower

To reinforce safety and to further signal this dangerous navigation zone, the simultaneous construction of the current large Baleines lighthouse and that of the Baleineaux lighthouse , offshore, began in 1849. According to the plans of the architect Léonce Reynaud, the lighthouse of the Whales, one of the highest in France, stands at a height of 57 meters . It was commissioned in 1854. It first ran on petroleum and then in 1904 was equipped with a steam-powered electric power plant. After the Second World War, it was connected to the electricity grid. Nowadays, a photosensitive cell automatically triggers light beams visible up to 50 km offshore to guide sailors.


The Whale Lighthouse The Whale Lighthouse

The Whale Lighthouse

The Baleineaux lighthouse offshore


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Where are the whales amazed the children? According to legend, many whales washed up on this shallow rocky expanse open to the ocean. The last of them listed was discovered in 1922 on the beach of this point, which looks like an end of the world .

The Whale Lighthouse


A must visit in Charente-Maritime

For 170 years, the iconic Phare des Baleines has continued to impress visitors to Charente-Maritime, omnipresent on postcards and holiday photos! And for good reason. Nestled at the end of the island, it is a popular place to visit for heritage, but also for lovely walks along the coast and Plage de la Conche , the largest sandy beach on the island. When you arrive at the site of the municipality of Saint-Clément-des-Baleines , a huge free car park allows you to park vehicles and access them on foot. On the pedestrian path that leads there, a string of cafes, restaurants, shops selling local products and souvenirs follow one another, including the famous artisanal ice cream parlor on the island of "la Martinière". A refreshing stop for all gourmets!

The Baleines lighthouse emerges at the end of the path and irresistibly invites you to discover it. In a timeless maritime setting, the old Tower and the Whales Lighthouse can be approached and visited when the Whale Lighthouse, standing in the open sea on the horizon, has always refused to do so. A beautiful climb leads the bravest to the top of the lighthouse via a spiral staircase of 257 steps . As a result , a 360-degree panorama of the ocean and the entire Ile de Ré. The view is magnificent: from the beach of La Conche to the tip of Lizay in the town of Portes-en-Ré to the north, from the Côte Sauvage to the national forest to the west, from the Ile d'Oléron to the south along the coast of the Vendée coast to the north. The landscapes are breathtaking!


The Whale Lighthouse

The Whale Lighthouse


The Whale Lighthouse The Whale Lighthouse

The view from the top of the lighthouse

The Whale Lighthouse

The house of the former lighthouse keeper


On a free visit, the discovery of the Lighthouse, listed as a Historic Monument , can be combined with that of the old Tower and the adjacent museum, dedicated to maritime beaconing and safety at sea . Accessible to all ages as well as to people with reduced mobility, this museum space features an educational video center hosted by Jamy, the famous presenter of "C'est pas sorcier!" ". On the ground floor of the Old Tower, visitors can view captivating projections of the Breton Lighthouses during winter storms. To fully immerse yourself in these exceptional places steeped in history, plan a 1h30 to 2h visit.

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What to do around the Phare des Baleines?

The Whale Lighthouse

The Whale Lighthouse The Whale Lighthouse

The Whale Lighthouse


To prolong the pleasure, take a stroll on the coastal path that leads to La Conche beach. We discover the dikes that break the waves and protect the island from erosion as well as a fine example of a fish lock , these traditional fishing traps made up of dry stone walls in the shape of a horseshoe, open on the side. land and closed on the sea side, in which the fish found themselves prisoners at low tide. Prohibited today, this fishing method has given way to shore fishing , a pleasant activity practiced with family or friends (beware of very regulated quotas that must be respected!). If the weather allows it, do not hesitate to take a swim in the sea in the turquoise waters of the Conche beach or to take some waves surfing on the beaches of Petit Bec or Lizay in the extension of the coast. Amateurs of history and military heritage, discover the remains of the blockhouses dating from the Second World War which are gradually subsiding on the dunes.

Let yourself be transported into the remote universe of the north of the Ile de Ré , savor its maritime heritage and the wild beauty of its landscapes without moderation!

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Photos and Article prepared by Lesley Williamson.


The Whale Lighthouse

The Whale Lighthouse


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