Enjoy Food and Nature in Charente Maritime

Enjoy Food and Nature in Charente Maritime

Enjoy Food and Nature in Charente Maritime

There are two “Charente” departments in France. One Charente specializes in the production of Cognac; the other Charente, the Charente Maritime (seaside Charente), is a sea side resort French people love. With its good food, great landscapes and local customs, far from the crowd and the noise, it is the perfect retreat for peace and freedom. Besides, these two departments also include two islands: Ile d’Oléron, and Ile de Ré, respectively the second and fourth biggest islands in France.

Oysters first

新鲜牡蛎 ©CMT17 / A. Boissard

Oyster dish ©CMT17 / A. Boissard

Charente Maritime has the big Marennes-Oléron basin, which produces the best oysters in Europe, carefully fed with clear sea water. The basin was a former salt marsh, and compared to oyters directly bred in sea water, those produced that way render a more subtle and fresh taste, with a hint of iodine. There are four categories for the Marrenne Oléron oysters, the best being “la pousse en Claire”, full, fresh, with a chestnut like sweetness.  

The famous oyster producer Bon Philippe & sons is right before the bridge going to Ile d’Oléron. Brother and sister took up their father’s business. They produce 300t oysters a year and even export to China. Baby oysters are placed in a plastic net and then set in sea water to breed for three years. Then they are graded from 0 to 5, 0 being the largest. While buying oysters on the market, don’t forget that the bigger the number is, the smaller the oysters. Once sorted, the oysters are set back into sea water for maturing, then sold.

While visiting the production site, we saw two workers sorting out mussels on their working unit. I discovered on that occasion that mussels feed on baby oysters, so are enemies to their growth. I love mussels, so I was curious to find out what they did with them once they were sorted out. They told me without any qualms: “They go to the trash.”

After visiting the site, we crossed the bridge to Ile d’Oléron. On that bridge, there is a cabin selling oysters 24hours round, like an oyster vending machine. It was placed there by the famous brand Gillardeau. The automated distributor provides fresh oysters of the day after working hours. Its business is particularly flourishing around Christmas.

Ile d’Oléron
面向辽阔大西洋的“海水治疗”©ORA PRODUCTION
Zen Thalassothérapie ©ORA PRODUCTION
The Novotel Thalassa Oléron St Trojan Hotel sits in the southerntip of the island, facing the limitless Atlantic Ocean. What made it famous is their special thalassotherapy offer, especially meant to relax body and mind. Its name hasn’t reached out beyond the borders, yet. To date, 99% of their clients are French people, the other 1% are from French speaking countries like Switzerland or Belgium.

The thalassotherapy treatment selected by M. Philippe Lutz was invented by a French doctor in the last century. It has 3 principles. 1) Heat water up to 34°C, dilating the pores, so that oligo elements and metal salts penetrate blood vessels. 2) Using pressure, from 0.5bar to 3,5bar, relaxing muscles from within or stimulating muscles. 3) Using the carrying effect of seawater, making aerobics is less strenuous and painful. Since French legislation forbids the transportation of seawater, this kind of center can only be found at seashores.

The hotel includes beauty or fitness appliances like the classic 35°C heated seawater swimming pool, seawater massages, Iyashi Dôme (a Japanese deep cleansing method), or water pressure boot therapy. Here, you can experience a tailor made method to relax mind and body. First electrodes are fixed on your skin, checking every parameter. The figures about your body appear on a screen. According to these figures, experts analyze your body’s needs, including muscles, nutrition, and every aspect of mind and psychology. Then your needs are determined, be them hydrotherapy, music therapy or special food programs and outdoor activities fit to change your habits. M. Lutz told us humorously: “Coming here is making the best possible choice. All you have to do is ‘do nothing’, relax, and leave the rest to us.”

M. Lutz looks somewhat like an English aviator with an up-curving moustache and an open mind. He can also fly planes. After telling us about the thalassotherapy center, he showed us on his phone aerial pictures of Ile d’Oléron. He told us he had taken them while piloting his own plane, with one hand on the doorframe. Proud like a child, he told us: “Our job is to make others relax, so we cannot be stressed ourselves.”
Le Château d'Oléron 城的海边小屋 ©Cabanes Le Château M.Doisne MDT
Cabanes Le Château d'Oléron ©Cabanes Le Château M.Doisne MDT
In Château d’Oléron town of Ile d’Oléron, there is a gastronomic hotel called “Jardin d’Aliénor”, owned by a charming young couple. The chef likes preparing gourmet dishes-slightly modified gourmet dishes - keeping the essential taste of the dishes but changing the form and texture, making them more delicate. An ancient harp sits in the middle of the dining room, pictures of Paris that the landowner took while studying there hang on the walls, different chess sets are scattered on the tables, making you feel like you are at a friend’s, no need to feel formal. Even if alone, you can still enjoy a game of Solitaire; the owners will come and chat with you if they are not too busy, as if you were their only customer. In the morning when you open your window, you can breathe in the slightly salty air from the ocean.

In fact, the hotel is really not far from the sea. Walking around outside, there are 5 or 6 little colorful houses, formerly occupied by oyster breeders, now sheltering a craftsmen workshop called “Couleur de cabanes”. You can see them working on jewels, glass ornaments, ceramics, and string instruments.

Ile de Ré
Bicyclettes in Re Island ©ORA PRODUCTION
North of Ile d’Oléron is Ile de Ré, with three thalassotherapy centers. The southern part of Ile de Ré is dedicated to housing, the northern part to salt marshes, harboring 350 species of birds. Seeing a sunrise on these marshes can lift your spirit for the day.

On this island, there are over a hundred km of cycling path. The highest altitude is 19m, so the land is quite flat, riding a bike is easy. Cycling aficionados can even travel along the Atlantic Ocean shores. Some 1200 km cycling trackswere established from Bretagne to the Spanish borders, 80% of them are motor car free. Locals explain that the most important when you ride a bike is to go deep into the small villages like La Flotte or Ars-en-Ré. The French have a saying: “One has to be able to get lost in the streets.” That is the perfect way to have fun.
雷岛毛驴 ©CMT17 / E. Coeffe
Donkey of Re Island ©CMT17 / E. Coeffe
The symbol of Ile de Ré is a donkey wearing pants. There, Poitou donkeys (Baudet du Poitou) were used for salt transportation. In order to protect their legs from insect bites and sharp grass, the salt workers’ wives made them pants. Nowadays, in the world, there is no more than a thousand of this ancient breed of donkey left. They became a rare species, so they don’t have to work anymore, only a few are kept for tourists to mount.

In the southern part of the island, one restaurant is called “Chai nous comme chai vous”, meaning come on in, here we make wine that tastes like home. The owner and chef Laurent Favrier works alone in the kitchen, his wife and waiters take care of the customers. The eggs they use to make poached eggs served with sweet peas (incomparably delicious) come from the most famous red feather hen.
拉罗歇尔老港与双塔 ©CMT17 / E. Coeffe
The old harbor and the famous towers of La Rochelle ©CMT17 / E. Coeffe
Toiras castle in St Martin d’Oléron is a 17th century building, and the only 5 star restaurant on the island. Situated next to the port, customers can admire the view from their windows. The service has character, no room numbers are needed, each room is named after a great historical figures. The presidential suite is named after George Washington for his great-great-great-grand father was born on the island. In their small dining-room sitting 16 guests, the hotel serves food to its patrons only. One chef in the kitchen, who loves going shopping with her customers and cooks her lovely food right in front of you: here, you feel welcome as if you were part of the family.

Gastronomy watercolors
主厨Xavier Taffart 水彩画似的菜 ©xavier taffart
Gastronomy watercolors of chef Xavier Taffart ©xavier taffart
Visiting in the area, a must try is the Michelin one star restaurant “Aquarelle” (Watercolors), near Royan, in Breuilet village. It faces large fields - one year maize, one year sunflower - nothing but green and gold meets the eye, broadening your mind and easing your heart. Food and tableware are very delicate, just as subtle and colorful as a watercolor. The chef Xavier Taffart likes mixing food from the land with sea food, like grilled Wagyo beef with small lobsters, quail with gambas, etc. every dish is precise and delicate.

Desserts give people a great impression. Colors and taste are all there, as well as the feeling of texture. From soft and melty litchi mousse to refreshing rose sherbet, from sour sweet grapefruit to saffron cream and crusty sablé biscuits. The chef delights every one of your senses by blending different tastes and terroir inside a same dessert.
After a washed-down meal, don’t hesitate, 3 bedrooms are at your disposal. The owners told us they were planning an expansion.

10 km away from there, a golf course, Golf de Royan, is one of the most beautiful golf courses in western France, with 880 club-members. Here you can play 18 holes, the ground is on a hill, the road is not that broad, and there will be difficulties.

Life scenery
走天桥的松鼠 ©Julien Chauvet
Squirrels crossing the road ©Julien Chauvet
In La Rochelle, if you happen to see an electric powered 3 wheel Tuk-Tuk running in the city, it will probably turn out to be the independent tour-guide Christian, who bought it in Thailand: to date, it’s the only one in town! He loves his job that allows him to tell people about his town. It was a windy day when I toured La Rochelle with Christian, so before we started, he wrapped my legs in a blanket before closing the doors, and off we went! He told me through a microphone so many anecdotes... His explanations were the kind you cannot find in books: the cables in the trees crossing the streets were designed for squirrels crossing; the swans over there roam freely; they sometimes cross the park to go to another grassy area, and people stop their car and wait for the whole swan family to cross. Swans walk slowly you know, but in orderly fashion, parents at the front and the back, children in the middle; there are storks in this park, and Poitou donkeys, ponies, ostriches, foxes, pumas…except for a few animals dangerous to men, all are free to roam about, people can feed them. Passing by Palmyre zoo, we saw pink flamingos through the barriers herding around boulders. They are also free to go as they wish. One of them flew on the street, a staff member delicately took it back.

In every trip you can meet unforgettable people and see unforgettable places. What gave me the strongest impression during that trip were the people, locals or from elsewhere. I saw how dedicated they were to their work, to their lives, how they respected the other living creatures that shared their living space, how they coexisted with nature and enjoyed it.
从Saint Martin de Ré 教堂钟楼俯瞰 ©CMT17 / E. Coeffe
The bell tower of the church Saint Martin de Ré ©CMT17 / E. Coeffe