The Gironde Estuary is a historic maritime route – after Henry II’s accession to the English throne, it became the maritime access route between Aquitaine, in particular Bordeaux, and England, and remained so for 300 years.
The estuary formed where the rivers Dordogne and Garonne meet, is 75km long and with a total surface area of 635km is the largest estuary of its kind in western Europe. Within the estuary are a number of islands, the most well-known being Île Paté on which is a 17th centuary fort. It, along with two other defensive structures including the Blaye citadel, formed the protective lock that guarded access to Bordeaux (unlike the citadel, this fort is not open to the public).
During WW2 the area became part of Hitlers Atlantic Wall and much can still be seen of the remains of those massive bunker complexes constructed under the command of Field Marshal Rommel.
My wife and I moved to the SW of France 22 years ago and live approximately 90 minutes drive to the Gironde Estuary and the little seaside town of St Palais. It is one of our favourite places for a day trip or a longer stay The town is close to the larger city of Royan and the whole area is extremely popular for the visitor. Good seafood restaurants and renowned oyster beds make it a must visit area for locals and tourists alike.
In early July this year we made one of our regular visits and stayed at a historic hotel overlooking the estuary. The view from our balcony was quite stunning. The hotel itself was built in the early 19th Century and as with most buldings of this type was originally owned by an aristocratic family. It became a hotel in and boasts a host of amenitiess including a gastronomic restaurant indoor swimming pool and beautiful gardens overlooking the sea. Before you consider me a millionaire, the price for 3 nights without us indulging in the hotel restaurant was less than £100 per night. Mind you it was early season but nevertheless we will visit it again in the future.
the Promenade At St Palais
So, having dumped the bags and crashed out for a couple of hours it was time to think about a beer or two and where to eat dinner that evening. It being a Sunday and close to 7pm, the promenade overlooking the beach was still pretty busy with mainly day trippers. However we were soon settled in a shady spot having a well needed cold beer. A couple of beers down the hatch soon sharpened the appetite and the smells coming out of nearby restaurants soon made us decide to head for somewhere to eat. As with previous visits our favourite eatery was a restaurant called La Corniche which was pretty well know and popular. We managed to grab a table and ordered another beer while studying the menu. My wife chose the giant prawns starter while I went as always for a plate of oysters. A great choice of fish main courses were on offer so choosing fish was a no brainer. A half litre of their excellent house red accompanied the meal which was as expected, delicious. I passed on the desert but you know what the ladies are like Anything with cream and chocolate!
Well so ended our first day of the 3 day stay. The following days were spent window shopping in the town, browsing the boutiques and generally lazing about on the beach and relaxing. As always a visit to St Palais is never complete without looking over the remains of the German concrete blockhouses. When the construction took place, the main bunker complex was on land. However, now these bunkers are practically submerged at high tide and can only be entered and explored at low tide.
The main command bunker well covered in graffiti is still perched close to the edge of the beach as well as two of the massive gun battery housings. The latter are mostly buried in sand now so one cannot get inside them.
After another memorable and pleasurable visit came to an end and it was time to head home along the coast road passing via the ancient village of Talmont with its historic church perched on the edge of the cliff. Thousands of people will visit the church and take time to shop in the large variety of boutiques selling mainly handmade goods made by local artisans.
Then to the charming village of Montagne Sur Gironde with its impressive Marina leading to the estuary itself. A brief walk along the edge of the marina and a coffee before the final leg to our house and the prospect of having to mow the lawns! Oh well ‘c’est la vie’ as they say in France.