From the convent in Corme-Écluse, I drove to the coast – only 15 minutes away – then north towards La Rochelle. The first town I visited was Talmont-sur-Gironde. It’s close to but not on the Atlantic; rather, it’s on the very wide Gironde estuary, a wide body of water where the mouths of the Dordogne and Garonne rivers (which come together at Bordeaux) meet the Atlantic. I would call the Gironde a bay – it reminds me of the Chesapeake – while the French call it an estuary; having checked my dictionaries, I think that in this context, the two words are virtually synonyms.
Talmont, like the rest of the coastal area in Charente-Maritime, was repeatedly fought over by the French, the English, and to some extent the Spanish, in the 12th, 13th, and 14th centuries. It was also fertile ground for wars of religion, Huguenot rebellions, Protestant riots, and on and on, including as late as the 17th century. Neither the Catholics nor the Protestants shied from massacring believers and clergy of the other religion when they could.
In the 11th century Talmont had been established on high cliffs overlooking the Gironde, and 100 years later Benedictine monks built a Romanesque church on the highest cliff. It is called Sainte Radegonde, in honor of a 6th century Frankish princess who was canonized in the 9th century, and who is the patron saint of many churches in France and also of Jesus College at Cambridge University, England.
In 1284, the town was fortified by King Edward I of England, who controlled this part of the country; hence, the wall you see in this first photograph. This church itself is beautiful, but its beauty is also enhanced by the dramatic setting as seen in the second photo below.
Heading north along the coast, I spent last night in a small oystering town called La Tremblade. This part of Charente-Maritime is famous for its oysters; they are abundant, they are served even in May, and boy, are they good!
La Tremblade is one of the biggest producers of oysters. Many of the watermen still use these very picturesque “cabanes” as something of a base of operations. I took these photos in the evening, after my second meal of oysters in one day:
On to Brouages, a small village now a major tourist attraction – though luckily there weren’t many tourists there today – because of its beauty and because it’s the birthplace of Samuel Champlain, the founder of Québec. This is another fortified town. You can walk along the top of the ramparts and look out at the marshes and fields below, as I did on this hazy, sunny morning. You see cows in one photo…butter is another major product of Charente-Maritime.
The town itself is paved – every street – in cobblestones. This does not prevent the cyclists from giving it a spin (while I sat at a cafe, having a glass of white wine):
And now I am in an old-fashioned beach resort, called Châtelaillon-sur-plage, just a short drive south of La Rochelle. It’s actually rather charming, as they have kept a lot of the Belle Époque – and 1920s-30s cottages, bungalows, etc. Just one picture – a prior owner’s “rêverie”: