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The charming, unspoiled Ile d’Aix Charente Maritime

The little island of Ile d’Aix sits off the coast from the lovely port town of la Rochelle in the Charente-Maritime region. Quaint and quirky, this bijou islet is a perfect place for a get-away-from-it-all break or a fabulous day trip.

There are just 40 full time residents living on the island and most holiday makers are French – and who can blame them for wanting to keep this place a secret, but, I like to share the best places with you.

An Island where chilling out is the name of the game

You can’t take your car to the island which is reached by a smart ferry, though residents may use cars as they’re necessary for getting in supplies. But you’ll find that without the fumes, this place is an absolute haven of nature and sweet fresh air. You can leave your car in the car park at the ferry terminal and it’s not a huge island so you won’t miss your wheels and besides, everyone cycles and walks here. There are great bike paths that take you all round the island with detours to gorgeous beaches, laid back bars and cafes and accommodation, there’s just one hotel, a campsite, villas and a few chambre d’hotes – this is not an island that’s teeming with places to stay so book in advance to ensure a bed for the night.

What to see on the Ile d’Aix

An island hop to the Ile d’Aix by ferry from Fouras, a 20-minute journey, makes for a glorious chill out day, weekend or longer,

At just 3km long and 700m wide – you’re not going to find it tough to get around, you are going to find it totally relaxing to be here.  This little gem is a listed “Remarkable Natural Site”. To the north is the ever-popular Ile de Ré, to the west is the famous Fort Boyard of TV fame and the bigger Ile d’Oléron and south lies the Ile de Madame.

The island has been inhabited since the 11th century, fortified thanks to its position in the coastal waters, especially when the arsenal was established at Rochefort on the mainland, home to the shipbuilders of Louis XIV and later under the Emperor Napoleon.

He landed here in 1808 and again seven years later, staying for four days in the home of the governor, his last stop on French soil before being exiled to the island of Sainte Helene.

Today you can visit the Governor’s house, a rather quirky museum with a definite atmosphere. A collection of clocks, art and the bed upon which Napoleon slept will entertain you for an hour or two. Turning the house into a museum was the project of Baron Gargaud, a jet setter of the 19th century, one of the bright young things of Paris with more money than he knew how to spend. He heard the house was up for sale and bought it and then dedicated much of his life to finding and buying up Napoleonic memorabilia to fill it up with.

Fall in love with island living

This is a place of hollyhocks that spring up everywhere and of wild flowers that scent the fresh air. There are tiny cafés where you’ll receive a warm welcome, pretty little cottages with pastel coloured shutters, bikes with baskets ready for a picnic lunch or a bucket to catch a fish for supper.

Though you can cycle round the island in a couple of hours if you really want to, you’ll probably take a lot longer due to the amount of wow moments you’ll have. Go at a leisurely pace and stop off at pretty bays and picturesque inlets. Fishing or collecting shellfish is allowed but restricted to enough for one meal! Stop off for lunch at a restaurant with golden sandy beaches in your view, palm trees waving in a gentle breeze that makes you feel as if you’re the Caribbean rather than the Charente-Maritime. Buy a souvenir from the mother of pearl shop and museum, a family run business where they’ve been making little shell gifts for more than 60 years. You can also take a carriage ride, pulled by friendly horses

This is a place to smell the blossom and the salty sea, to let the silky sand slip through your toes, to enjoy a glass of chilled wine and a deliciously fresh cooked meal and to fall in love with the great outdoors – French style.

More on the area

La Rochelle, the perfect weekend destination
The Marais Poitevin, the green Venice of Poitou-Charentes
Four really great family restaurants in Poitou-Charentes

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