05 March 2021

Les magasins

One of the things our friend Cheryl wanted to do on the île d'Oléron was to buy gifts for some of her friends in California as well as some souvenirs for herself. Alors on a fait les magasins... We went shopping. Here's some of the stuff we saw...

One of the things about traveling with a dog is that your activities have to be restricted and adapted to the pup's needs. While Cheryl and I browsed the souvenir and crafts shops, Walt stayed with Callie the collie, walking her around in whatever village or neighborhood we happened to be in. I think that suited him just fine, since he's not much of a shopper.

04 March 2021

La Cotinière — details

Boats in the harbor, signs, things to do and places to eat and sleep... I really need to go back to La Cotinière when the fishermen are not on strike. For the first 15 years we lived here in Saint-Aignan, there was a Marennes-Oléron fishmonger who came to our Saturday morning market and set up a very big stand where you could admire and buy all the seafood you could imagine. Unfortunately, the couple that ran the business retired, and nobody from the Marennes-Oléron area stepped in to replace them. We miss their displays, the variety, and the quality of the seafood they brought to our town every weekend.

03 March 2021

La Cotinière, un petit port de pêche dans l'île d'Oléron

Drive down the west side of the île d'Oléron just a couple of miles south from La Menounière, where we stayed for a week in May 2008, and you come to the village called La Cotinière. It's the busiest fishing port in the Charente Maritime département, which includes the city of La Rochelle, and it's one of the ten busiest fishing ports in France.

One tourist site I've looked at says of the village:

« A tout moment de la journée La Cotinière est en mouvement et animé par les bateaux y entrant ou en sortant au rythme des marées. »

Well, that wasn't quite the case when we were there, because all the commercial fishermen were on strike and the ports were quiet.

Fewer than a thousand people live in La Cotinière, but people come from all over the island and from nearby mainland areas to buy fresh seafood.

Mornings, there's an open-air market set up at the edge of the harbor, and we were able to buy oysters, clams, and shrimp there despite the commercial fishermen's strike.

A fleet of about 30 trawlers operates out of the port. Catches of sardines, soles, bars (bass), lottes (monkfish), and other fin fish are brought in daily and sold at auction (that's called la criée...)

Besides the morning market, the numerous village fish markets are open afternoons, selling the day's catch. Shrimp (crevettes) are one of La Cotinière's mainstays — it's one of the top five French shrimping ports.

02 March 2021

Looking down from, and around, the Chassiron light

First an aerial view of the phare and pointe de Chassiron, at the northern end of the île d'Oléron. Thanks to Google Maps. And then some photos of mine that I took from the top of the lighthouse. Our late friend Cheryl was on the grounds below, sitting on a bench under some trees and then walking Callie the collie on a leash. Looking at those bent-over trees, by the way, you can see how windy it must be along that coast much of the time.

I don't know or remember what the plants just above are called, but we had them growing in our back yard in San Francisco. The climate there was similar to the Oléron climate, I'm sure.

01 March 2021

Le phare de Chassiron (île d'Oléron)

The Chassiron lighthouse stands at the northern tip of the île d'Oléron. It was built starting in 1834, replacing a tower built on the site in 1685. It stands 50 meters (164 ft.) tall. That's 224 steps from the ground up to the top. Walt and I walked up there to take in the views. Cheryl kept her feet on the ground and walked around the tip of the island, accompanied by Callie on a leash.

For comparison, the towers of Notre-Dame cathedral top out at 69 meters... Still, the Chassiron light is visible from a distance of 28 nautical miles. Only one other lighthouse in France — le phare de Cordouan, 35 miles south — has been in operation longer than Chassiron.

The photos below show a couple of views from the top of the lighthouse. Nearby, there were big fields of artrichokes, and there was a produce stand where they were being sold. I don't remember if we bought and cooked some or not...

28 February 2021

Cabanes d'ostréiculteurs et les huîtres de Marennes-Oléron

Here's a slideshow made up of a lot more photos that I took on the Île d'Oléron in May 2008. The oyster farming area is on the marshy bay side of the island and is called Marennes-Oléron after the nearby mainland town of Marennes. The last photo in the slideshow is one that Walt took of an oyster dinner we had in our gîte on the island.

The oysters that are farmed in France are not a native European species; those are flat-shelled oysters (huîtres plates). The cultivated ones are "cupped" oysters (huîtres creuses — scientifically, Crassostrea gigas) from the Pacific Ocean (huîtres japonaises), which account for most of the production worldwide. They are hardier than the flat-shelled oysters (Ostrea edulis) that are native to French waters (called belons after a coastal river in Brittany).

French oyster-farming accounts for about 90% of total European oyster production, and very few French oysters are exported. The oysters are "raised" off-bottom, on tables or trestles that are covered by seawater at high tide and left high and dry at low tide. Often they are kept in mesh bags. Letting them grow on the sea bottom and then dredging for them is a less common practice than it used to be because bottom-dwelling oysters are more vulnerable to predators, including starfish, and diseases.

Before the oysters are put on the market, they are transferred to man-made salt ponds (claires) along the coast and left to fatten up for a few weeks. Leaner, less meaty Marennes-Oléron oysters are called fines de claires, and fatter, meatier oysters are called spéciales de claires. In France, oysters are almost exclusively served and eaten raw, on the half-shell.

27 February 2021

Ostréiculture à Oléron

One of the biggest industries on the Île d'Oléron (SW France) is oyster farming — ostréiculture in French. "An oyster" is une huître. Oysters are affinées (aged, fattened up) the way cheeses are affinés (aged, ripened). The part of the island where oysters are farmed isn't very prettied up, except for the bright and bold colors of the paint used on the oyster shacks (les cabanes ostréicoles). The oyster-farming area is called Marennes-Oléron — Marennes is a town on the mainland, just across the bridge from the island.

Some of these photos are mine, some are Walt's, and some are our friend Cheryl's. More tomorrow. These kinds of scenes remind me very much of the place where I grew up: Carteret County in North Carolina.

26 February 2021

La plage de Saint-Trojan sur l'île d'Oléron

On the Île d'Oléron (SW France) there's a little tourist train that runs from the town of Saint-Trojan-les-Bains, on the southern tip of the island, out to a wide, flat ocean beach. Since we decided not to sit in traffic at the bridge to the mainland, which was being blocked by striking fishermen, we were looking for fun outings on the island itself. We decided to take a ride on the little train. It was a journey of about four miles.

First we had lunch in a nice restaurant in Saint-Trojan (pop. less than 1,500). We sat outdoors on a terrace with a beautiful view of the bay. We could even see the bridge to the mainland off in the distance. I don't know why, but the restaurant had local fish on the menu — even though the fishermen were on strike — and we enjoyed our seafood meal. It was our only restaurant meal of the whole week we spent on Oléron.

One reason we could take the little train was that the dog, Callie, could go with us. It was the first and only time in her 10-year life that she rode on a train. I'm sure she was pretty scared. We had also planned to take her on a boatride too, but the entrances to the island's and La Rochcelle's harbor were blocked, so we couldn't go.

Here's the beach where the train dropped us off. It looked much more like a beach in North Carolina than did the coastline farther north at La Menounière, where we were staying.

These blue-suited guys were the engineer and the conductor on the little train. I think we stayed out on the beach for about an hour before getting on the train and riding back to town.

This was in late May. There had obviously been winter storms that pushed salt water up onto the beaches and into the woods at their base. Salt had killed a lot of little trees growing along the dune line. I've seen similar scenes in North Carolina after hurricanes blow through. There was a big storm in the area in 2010, and it brought high winds all the way to Saint-Aignan. We had two fruit trees uprooted by those winds, and tiles blown off our roof went flying around the neighborhood.

We saw crabs and starfish that had washed up onto the sand. All this was very familiar to me, since I grew up on the coast of North Carolina, four thousand miles to the southwest, at the other end of the Gulf Stream.

25 February 2021


Too many pelican pictures. Pelicans are pélicans in French.
These particular ones seem to turn their back when you get too close to them.

The pelicans I'm used to seeing when I go to North Carolina are brown pelicans, like these:

Meanwhile, I'm busy changing passwords on my e-mail addresses because three good friends (CHM, Nick, and Harriett) wrote to me yesterday to say they had received suspicious e-mails supposedly from me. Those messages are spam. I hope changing my passwords will put an end to the piratage.

24 February 2021

Des cygnes et des oies

Cygnes are swans and oies are geese. Here are some photos of both from the Île d'Oléron. The last image in the slideshow is not a still photo but a video that my friend Cheryl took when we visited the Marais aux Oiseaux bird sanctuary.