Like the neighbouring island of Île de Ré, Île d’Oléron is a famously fashionable island oasis off the coast of mainland France. Home to quaintly beautiful fishing villages, oyster farms, pine forests and quiet country roads, Île d’Oléron has it all—including some of the best beaches in Atlantic France.
The island is a paradise for wandering by bicycle, or on foot. Cycling and walking trails are ubiquitous and allow for a leisurely ride or stroll through spectacular scenery. One-third of the island is wooded and the landscape includes several dunes and marshes.
Oléron is the second-largest French island, after Corsica.
The Chassiron Lighthouse
An Île d’Oléron landmark named after 19thC French diplomat Charles de Chassiron, the Chassiron Lighthouse is a cylindrical tower stretching 46 metres (150 feet) into the sky at the extreme north of the island, offering spectacular views of the Atlantic coast: from the top of its 224 steps visitors can view all of Île d’Oléron, Île de Ré, Île d’Aix and La Rochelle. The landmark is sometimes called the lighthouse at the “end of the world,” or bout du monde.
First built in 1685, the lighthouse was rebuilt in 1836; its distinctive bands of horizontal black and white stripes were added in 1926 to address safety concerns: originally painted white, sailors sometimes confused it with other lighthouses.
Located in the waters between the Île-d’Aix and Île d’Oléron in the Pertuis d’Antioche straits, construction of Fort Boyard began in the 1800s under Napoleon Bonaparte. The fort is shaped like an oval: 68 metres (223 feet) long, 31 metres (102 feet) wide and 20 metres (66 feet) high. A yard rests in the centre and the ground floor served to house men and equipment. Building began in 1801 and finished in 1857.
Construction of the fort was first considered as early as the 17th century. In 1692 a French engineer began planning the build, but it soon became clear how expensive it would be to create and construction plans were abandoned. Louis XIV’s leading military engineer, Sébastien Vauban, famously advised against it, saying: “Your Majesty, it would be easier to seize the moon with your teeth than to attempt such an undertaking in such a place.” Today the French TV game show of the same name is filmed at the fort. The show focuses on various physical and endurance challenges and was first broadcast in 1990; it has since been re-made in several countries across the globe.