The Gironde estuary, a getaway between land, river and ocean

Talmont-sur-Gironde
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The Gironde estuary,  ...

With the Gironde as a common thread, let's set off to discover its estuary, more than 70 km long, which lives to the rhythm of the tides. Dotted with wild coves, small beaches, forests, marshes, small ports and fishing nets perched above the waves, this arm of the sea which stretches up to 12 km wide is the largest estuary of Western Europe. From Mortagne-sur-Gironde to Saint-Palais-sur-Mer, let's explore the charms of the coast of the right bank while admiring the superb maritime panoramas and offering small cultural stops to soak up the unusual history of the river!


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Photo : T.Avan OT Royan Atlantique


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The largest estuary in Europe

Meeting point between the Garonne which winds to the ocean from the Pyrenees and the Dordogne which flows from the Massif Central, the Gironde estuary stretches between Bordeaux and the Cordouan Lighthouse for more than 150 km by finishing his crazy race in Charente-Maritime! Visitors who are discovering this river for the first time are likely to be surprised : its ocher-colored, even downright brown, silty waters are not the result of pollution but of the strong erosion of its muddy banks and a significant amount of sediment. At its mouth, its murky waters flow into the ocean without mixing with the salt water for tens of kilometers, creating amazing natural landscapes with contrasting hues.


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Photo : T.Avan OT Royan Atlantique

The small port of Mortagne-sur-Gironde  

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The start of our discovery of the estuary is from Mortagne-sur-Gironde , located about ten kilometers from the border between the Gironde and Charente-Maritime, a small village labeled "Village of Stone and Water" which has retained all its charm. Made up of two distinct entities, an upper part fortified and encamped on a cliff and a lower part built around a port, the village was once an important embarkation point to cross the Gironde and go opposite in the Médoc. Nestled at the end of the channel with quays bordered by terraces and beautiful residences, the small port of Mortagne is the only port to have a floating basin on this part of the Charente coast. A haven of peace apart, where it is good to stroll. Formerly one of the main ports of the Gironde estuary, it is developing thanks to the Saintonge brandy, shipped by boat to Bordeaux and Libourne. Today tourist-oriented, small pleasure boats sit alongside beautiful moored sailboats. While strolling along the quay and the footpath, do not miss the belvedere which offers a beautiful view of the estuary. You will appreciate the summer entertainment as much as the sweetness of life that reigns here out of season.

The kingdom of caviar and squares  

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Crédit photo : Carte postale Domaine Public


In the direction of Talmont-sur-Gironde, I move away from Mortagne by the D145 to make a few stops on the way. The small port of Saint-Seurin-d'Uzet, nestled between the vineyards is my first stop : nicknamed "the capital of caviar", Saint Seurin d'Uzet is historically known for the production of Gironde caviar from the eggs of the female sturgeon. Indeed, this caviar was the first product in France in the 1920s, made famous by Maison Prunier, a renowned Parisian restaurant. Today, Rue du Château, the Caviar and Sturgeon Inn-Museum traces the history of estuary caviar over the past century.  


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Continuing my journey along the coast, I reach the port of Monards between Chenac-Saint-Seurin-d'Uzet and Barzan, a small fishing and marina port nestled in a natural haven at the end of the Monards channel. In summer, it is possible to explore the Chauvignac river by canoe and discover a wild and preserved environment.


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Carrelets, emblematic of Charente Maritime  

As one progresses on the mouth, the coast is adorned with squares, these small wooden huts on stilts connected to the coast by a footbridge. Typically Charentais, photogenic at will, the aligned squares undeniably complete the charm of the estuary landscapes. You will find fine examples of intact squares at Le Cailleau opposite Talmont, at Talmont, at Merchers sur Gironde (boulevard de la Falaise) and at Saint-Palais after Royan.  

Cordouan Lighthouse : "king of lighthouses and lighthouse of kings"  

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Photo : T.Avan OT Royan Atlantique


From the cliffs overlooking the ocean, the gaze embraces the horizon in which looms, in the distance, the famous Cordouan lighthouse which watches over the estuary, a true masterpiece of Charente's architectural heritage. Impossible to miss it on a clear day! Located in the open sea between the Gironde and Charente coasts, this Renaissance jewel, built from 1584 to 1611 on a rocky plateau, is the oldest of the lighthouses still in activity and the last to be kept by keepers. According to legend, its name "Cordouan" comes from traders from Spain, in particular from the city of Cordoba, who sailed on the river to Bordeaux to bring back shipments of wine. The Cordouan lighthouse can be visited between April and October by boat from Royan with La Sirène Cruises. During a sea trip, you can discover the different lighthouses of the Charente coast that guide the boats to enter the Estuary : the famous Cordouan lighthouse off the coast, the Coubre lighthouse on the wild coast, the lighthouse of Terre Nègre in Saint-Palais and Le Chay lighthouse in Royan.  


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Embark with the Siren Cruises for a discovery of the Estuary  Photo : Croisière La Sirène

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The squares of the estuary by the sea with the Sirene Cruises  Photo : Croisière La Sirène

the good idea

Read our article on the lighthouses of Charente Maritime

Talmont-sur-Gironde, classified “Most Beautiful Village in France”

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Talmont sur Gironde  Photo 1 : Croisière La Sirène

With its centuries-old alleys, its spectacular Romanesque church erected on a promontory overlooking the estuary, its typical white squares and small houses, Talmont-sur-Gironde invites you to stroll in all seasons.  

Learn more Read our article on Talmont-sur-Gironde, one of the most beautiful villages in France  



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The Gironde estuary by bike : Mortagne-sur-Gironde / Talmont-sur-Gironde / Royan

On marked trails, greenways or small seaside roads, cover the 38km between Mortagne-sur-Gironde and Royanen by bike in less than 3 hours. At your own pace, cross the first section of the cycle route "The Canal des Deux Mers" which joins the Atlantic to the Mediterranean. Breathtaking views of the estuary, picturesque little ports, unusual museums are waiting for you... The pleasure of exploring in complete freedom!  


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A beautiful bike ride along the coast for 38 km  Crédit Photo : Google Maps


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Article and photos (unless otherwise stated) prepared by Lesley Williamson


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