The customs trail from Vaux-sur-Mer to Saint-Palais

Saint-Palais-sur-Mer
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Straddling the Seudre estuary and that of the Gironde, the Royannais region is anchored in the land without however resisting the call of the open sea... A resort country whose charm of seaside villas (fr) does not leave people indifferent, discreet seaside resorts that shine the heritage of the Belle Époque (fr) and bucolic paths that run along the ocean. Between Nauzan beach in Vaux-sur-Mer and Grande Côte beach in Saint-Palais-sur-Mer, the customs officers' path stretches for 4 km, winding along the coastline steeped in history and salt and spray. It offers those who come to survey it an invigorating walk punctuated by breathtaking views of the largest estuary in Europe which merges into the ocean. A picturesque walk to fully capture the spirit of Charente-Maritime and win your heart with calf strength!


The customs trail
The customs trail

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Hike to the rhythm of the ocean on trails steeped in history

Scents of maritime pines and holm oaks, conches of fine sand bordered by majestic cliffs, wild coasts and rocky points with the estuary as a backdrop… We are in Vaux-sur-Mer. It is here, on Nauzan beach, that this hiking adventure begins, which has many surprises in store for us, between geological curiosities, oceanic vegetation, typical squares, charming footbridges and Belle Époque villas.


Nauzan Bay

Contemplate the bay of Nauzan, our starting point, from the promenade Cor de Nauzan

The customs trail


Bordering the Atlantic Ocean, this coastline plagued by pirates, smugglers and shipwrecked people received special attention to strengthen its protection. From the seventeenth century, the customs paths were introduced by Colbert order to fight against smuggling. Thus the coastal path which extends from Vaux-sur-Mer to the beach of the Grande Côte in Saint-Palais was traversed night and day by customs patrols responsible for preventing all trafficking and looting of wrecks. Moreover in 1792, the Customs office moved to the large beach between Vaux and Saint-Palais: the Bureau beach retains this name to this day.


The customs trail  The customs trail


Today, this path has become a magnificent place to walk, very popular with lovers, families and epicureans in search of calm and a change of scenery. The part of this walking route encompassing the coast from the Conche du Bureau to that of Platin was classified among the natural sites and monuments in 1938.

A compendium of Charentais landscapes anchored between Vaux-sur-Mer and Saint-Palais

The start of this hike is therefore from Nauzan Bay, a crescent of sand with a perfect curve framed by a gradient of unique colors and green cliffs to surround this magical setting! What better way to start the customs trail?


The customs trail The customs trail  The customs trail


Naturally running along the coast, the Customs footpath connects the beaches with each other, from Nauzan beach to Bureau beach, from Platin to the Grande Côte. The seaside villas follow one another, giving the coastline an unusual aesthetic and an atmosphere that plunges us into the Belle Époque.

Recall that the region benefited in the nineteenth century fashion for sea bathing, attracting the first "tourists" and wealthy Parisians in Bordeaux stay in Royan to "take the waters". This bourgeoisie arrives in a rowboat or steamboat before the train quickly makes its appearance. Seduced by the oceanic climate and its benefits, some decided to set up their residence there: high Basque-style houses, English cottage-style chalets, or villas with stone and brick facades compete in beauty, forming geometric and ornate ceramic figures. Walking along the coast, one can easily imagine the high bourgeoisie and the French aristocracy to spend his holidays here at the dawn of the twentieth century


The customs trail  The customs trail


Here we are on the beach of the Bureau that we bypass to continue the walk. We take the rue de l'Océan to the old Customs House to retrieve the path. Take a break in front of this building, built in 1840, which was once the national customs office responsible for monitoring the coastline and cracking down on smugglers. Did you know that the seaside resort was even renamed “Le Bureau” or “Bureau-les-Bains” before officially resuming its name of Saint-Palais-sur-Mer in 1920?


The customs trail  The customs trail
The customs trail  The customs trail


The stops in the small steep coves to immortalize these moments punctuate our walk on the cliffs that dominate the coast, enjoying a striking view of the ocean. We have now arrived at the Emile Gaboriau footbridge, in memory of this writer Saintongeais who died in 1873, who was one of the pioneers of the future seaside resort. Winding through the rock, the trail continues, revealing at each turn a new postcard.


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A succession of postcards

The customs trail
The customs trail  The customs trail
The customs trail


In the distance, we can see squares, these wooden fisherman's huts, typically Charentaise, deploying their nets to catch fish and shrimps. The panoramic view is splendid. We are approaching the famous Pont du Diable. Loaded with mysterious legends, this escarpment of dark rocks carved by the ocean is one of the most surprising geological formations on this route. According to legend, the Devil built this bridge to save a fisherman from the storm in exchange for his soul.

The good idea Read our report on the best spots to admire the carrelets of Charente Maritime.


Shaped by nature, this architecture is the fruit of a long work carried out by the wind and by the waves which come crashing down on this rocky limestone massif at the mercy of the tides. The sun gradually disappears behind the horizon line, offering breathtaking landscapes embellished by some beautiful specimens of plaice!


The customs trail  The customs trail
The customs trail


Behind, the superb Platin beach and its long cove of fine sand await us. We notice the Roche au Moine, this eroded rock isolated at sea. The path is no longer very long until the long beach of the Grande Côte but the light quickly fades. The path runs along the coastline to the Concié beach and its superb rows of squares to then gain a little height along the cliffs.

We take advantage of splendid points of view on the rocky coast until the famous Puits de l'Auture, a hole dug in the rock, where the waves rush. In the distance, behind the corniche, the majestic Grande Côte beach looms in the twilight, the holy grail of this 4 km hike. This last stage invites us to recharge our batteries in spectacular scenery while contemplating this immense beach which marks the beginning of the Wild Coast.

To know ! This Customs trail is also a section of the GR4, which hiking enthusiasts can follow as far as the Coubre forest.


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Article and photos prepared by Lesley Williamson for the Charente Maritime Guide


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