With their quayside bordered by terraces, the cries of gulls, piles of fishing nets, the ports have always been lively places, imbued with authenticity. Invitations to travel, almost timeless...
A maritime destination par excellence, Charente-Maritime, with its 470 km of coastline, its 4 islands and its 4 estuaries, has no less than 60 ports along its coast! Fishing port, marina, oyster port… each port offers a very different atmosphere and character. From north to south of the department, here is a selection of ten Charentais ports among the most picturesque and the most unusual! From port to port...
Far from the hustle and bustle of the coast, the port of the small river town of Marans enjoys an exceptional geographical location between marshes and ocean. Less than ten kilometers from the bay of l'Aiguillon and the Atlantic, surrounded by vast impassable swamps, Marans has positioned itself as a major port in river and maritime trade from the Middle Ages to mid-twentieth century, especially with the transport of cereals, vegetables, fruits and tiles etc... Today, the Port of Marans is a peaceful marina in the city center, ideal for strolling on the quays, admire the sailboats, or discover the banks of the Sèvre Niortaise by motor boat to the gates of the Marais Poitevin.
This little gem derives its uniqueness from its natural setting. Nestled between La Rochelle and Île de Ré, the small port of Plomb de l'Houmeau offers a splendid panorama of the Breton pertuis, the Île de Ré and the majestic curve of its bridge on the horizon. With a coastline of 3 kilometers and its small pebble beach dominated by cliffs, l'Houmeau can be appreciated over its iodized and exotic walks. A small intimate port well placed for taking photos, walks and gourmet breaks on the terraces of its fish and seafood restaurants.
Historical capital of the Ile de Ré, Saint-Martin-de-Ré is surrounded by remarkable ramparts fortified by Vauban, classified as a UNESCO World Heritage Site. At the heart of the village, its port, once prosperous thanks to the salt and wine trade, is today a charming marina, bustling with restaurants, shops and café terraces. Its floating basin surrounds the old seafaring district and forms a central island where it is good to stroll to admire the alignment of old houses from the 17th and 18th centuries around the enclosure of the port. A beautiful stopover!
Formerly a fishing village, La Flotte is an essential stopover in the discovery of Île de Ré. With its astonishing 200m long rounded jetty facing the Vendée coast, the pretty port of La Flotte, bordered by small bistros, terraces and ice cream parlors, lives to the rhythm of the comings and goings of pleasure boats. Classified "Most Beautiful Villages of France", this historic village invites its visitors to take a stroll along the port, in its flowery alleys or around its medieval-inspired market. Recalling the activity of fishing sailboats, old boats or "old rigs" are moored there, 5 of which are classified as Historical Monuments.
Facing the Atlantic, the entrance to the Old Port is guarded by two imposing towers, true emblems of the city : the Tour de la Chaine and the Tour Saint-Nicolas, date from the 14th and 15th centuries. They bear witness to the power and wealth of La Rochelle through the ages. Originally a fishing village founded in the 10th century, La Rochelle played an important role in the wine and salt trade ; a port notorious also for its major involvement in the slave trade. Today, the historic heart of the city is organized around the port which has preserved its air of yesteryear and where stories of sailors are still whispered. With its quayside reserved for pedestrians, its terraces and restaurants, the port of La Rochelle has an irresistible character. You will appreciate the summer entertainment just as much as the sweetness of life that reigns there out of season.
During a visit to the Ile d'Oléron, let yourself be tempted by the enchanting setting of the port of Château-d'Oléron. Located to the south of the citadel, this port, built from 1790, was a very important oyster and trade port from the 19th century. Specialized in the transit of oysters, the town is one of the major components of the Marennes-Oléron basin with Marennes and La Tremblade. If the port of Château d'Oléron today leaves an important place for yachting, it nonetheless remains a very active oyster port as evidenced by the area called "Pâté" to the west of the port. The charming, typical and colorful oyster huts house art workshops and small designer shops.
Fishing has forged, over the centuries, the port identity of La Cotinière, in the town of Saint-Pierre d'Oléron. This activity still gives rhythm to the daily ballet of the brightly colored flotilla which animates the port. On the west coast of the island, this port is the first fishing port in Charente-Maritime and the seventh in France : the freshness and quality of the fish make it so rich. The fishermen unload their cargoes of sea bass, sole, langoustines but also cuttlefish, sea bream, red mullet, congers... The auction is daily (guided tours possible with the Tourist Office). Stroll along the quays, bask in the cool while admiring the fishermen untie their nets, watch the fish unload, taste oysters in the port, savor a freshly caught fish in a small restaurant, such are the simple pleasures that offers a detour via the port of La Cotinière.
At the end of the world, on the Arvert peninsula on the left bank of the Seudre, Chaillevette is located in the middle of marshes and ripening clearings. A stroll is essential in Chaillevette to discover its two picturesque ports nestled in the middle of nature. The "Port de Chaillevette" and the "Port de Chatressac" perfectly embody the cliché of the Charentais oyster port : rustic multicolored wooden huts, small white houses lined with hollyhocks and the sweetness of life in a decor worthy of a Post card.
Renowned for its long sandy beaches bordered by maritime pines, the seaside resort of La Palmyre is home to a marina in the western part of the town of Mathes. The first port at the mouth of the Gironde, it is located at the entrance to the passage of the famous Baie de Bonne Anse, protected from the winds by the dune cordon. The marina of La Palmyre brings calm and softness thanks to its cove and offers a haven of relaxation to visitors wishing to enjoy a breath of fresh air during a walk or bike ride.
In the Gironde estuary, a channel crossing the Grande Roselière marshes leads boats to the port of Mortagne-sur-Gironde. The only port to have a basin afloat on this part of the Charente coastline hosts beautiful sailboats, pleasure boats and a few local fishing boats that unload lampreys and pibals. With its quays lined with terraces, beautiful white stone houses and old flour mills, this picturesque port is a pleasant place to enjoy unusual landscapes. While strolling along the quay and the footpath, do not miss the splendid point of view on the estuary from the belvedere.
In all seasons, these typical ports reflect the maritime history of the Charente coast and can be discovered with fascination and wonder.
Article and photos (unless otherwise stated), prepared by Lesley Williamson
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