Another pearl of Poitou-Charentes is the island of Aix. It lies at the mouth of the Charente River in the Forras area. It's very easy to get there on the year-round ferry that leaves from the point of Fumée or, in season, from La Rochelle, La Tranche-sur-Mer, Port-des-Barques, Ré and Oléron. With its forests of oak, pine and Tamarisk, its bays and sandy beaches guarded by fortifications, this small Mediterranean-like island lends itself to long walks along the bright ocean. But this island isn't just for relaxation and partying. Its lighthouses, walls and museums make the island an attractive cultural destination. Because the number of vehicles is very limited, it's best explored by foot, bicycle or horse-drawn carriage. Come on, Aix awaits you!
Two mysterious figures are on the horizon. They're the giants of the island of Aix: two 25.3 meter high lighthouses that punctuate the landscape with pride. From one end of the tip of the island to the other, you can see these bicolored lighthouses. Over the years they've kept the secrets of navigation and stories that have long since been lost in the tides. They've been in use since 1889, and these lighthouses reach a distance of 44 kilometers, which helps facilitate the maritime traffic in the area. Absence and loneliness are two of the characteristics that have defined these lighthouse guardians. This has led to the creation of a legend around these figures that has been passed down from generation to generation. The last guardian of these lighthouses was Louis Simonneau. He took office in 1957 and remained there until 1980. In 1995, he was laid to rest in the cemetery of Fouras. Louis Simonneau had been able to see the entire team of the film "adventurers" in 1967, whose cast included actors Alain Delon, and Lino Ventura, who was to be the future first Algerian President Ahmed Ben Bella, imprisoned in 1962 at Fort Liédot.
The tour around the island of Aix, Fort de la Rade, on the southern tip of the island, the one that's near Sainte Catherine, is one of the most interesting trips you can take. The fort was built in 1703, and, from here, the troops could control access to Aix. In 1757, the fort was completely destroyed by the British attack in 1778. The fort now faced a new threat from the Royal Navy, the Marquis de Montalembert rebuilt it. Its fortifications were designed in 1699 by Vauban, who undertook the construction of a citadel with five walls. Today, the fort houses a residential hotel, a campground and a sailing school. From the pier you can see the silhouette of Fort Boyard 3 miles away. Whether you're in the middle of the sea or on the mainland, in Poitou-Charentes, there is always something here that can surprise you. Go check it out!
Fort Liédot, together with Fort de la Rade, forms an extensive defensive structure on the island of Aix. In 1808, Napoleon ordered this fort to be built so "indestructible and impenetrable" that no human being would be able to get out of it once they were inside. The Liédot Fort was completed in 1834 and had a capacity of 600 people. That was a pretty good number considering the era in which it was designed. As far as many buildings go, Fort Liédot was also used as a detention center for political and military prisoners. Today it's another gem from the past that you can find on the island of Aix.
The island of Aix is a balance between respect for the environment and tourism. From this comes the idea of touring the island on a bicycle. Promoting cycling as a means of transportation on the island has made it more attractive. The geographical features mean that a bike ride does not become tedious. It's a good way to explore every corner of Aix in a simple and accessible way. Better than going by car. You can see the many faces of Aix in all colors from dawn to dusk, from north to south, regain contact with nature.
The Napoleon Museum, along with Nacar and the African, come together on the island of Aix to form a pretty good cultural offering in the area. In 1925, Baron Gourgaud, Napoleon's ordinance officer, bought this house that's full of history. It was built by Bonaparte and he lived there from July 12-15th, 1815. The rooms here have furniture, weapons, costumes, autographs, portraits and other memorabilia of the emperor. The room hasn't changed since the days that followed his departure. Here is where Napoleon wrote his letter of surrender to the Prince Regent. In the garden there is an ash tree grafted on an elm grafted by Napoleon himself an antique bust of the sovereign and a former figurehead of a ship. On July 15th he left the island of Aix and embarked on board the Bellerophon, (the English fleet frigate), towards another small island, St. Helena, a remote British colony in the South Atlantic where he died in 1821. Interesting to see.
Aix Island has a special connection with the history and tradition with the Africa. This relationship can be found at the African Museum, a place to discover the wonders of Africa within a route that will take you through the best scenery. This museum has an ethnographic and zoological collection created between 1913 and 1931 by Baron Gourgaud. You can see diagrams that bring you closer to African wildlife. There is also the preserved (of course, embalmed) white dromedary of Bonaparte during his Egyptian campaign and that he later took the Jardin des Plantes in Paris. It will surprises you!
One of the most unusual museums in Poitou-Charentes is the Shell Museum. It is a very important place to visit for the quality of many of the pieces in the collection. What also makes it special is the fact that it is the last pearl museum in France. It is located in the village, opposite the church; this museum reflects a tradition for 60 years. The manufacturer of this precious material in detail and jewelry made to develop a specialized technique in the treatment and processing of nacre. Among the facilities, you can visit a workshop where this material works, a museum with an amazing collection and two shops. Today, few people exercising this profession is quite peculiar. We hope you won't miss it.
On your trip through the island of Aix, there's one thing you have to try: a cruise on the high seas around the island! It's a complete journey that takes you to Fort Boyard, a white stone fortification in the middle of the sea. Imperial Island Road, (that's how you know it's the island of Aix), is where we found this strong defensive place. A place that, like Alcatraz, is very difficult to escape from. There is no place more beautiful and, during cooler times of the year, it's cold on that coast. Its small windows will leave you with a dreamy, magic, unique charm that grabs you and doesn't let you go. It's an island with multiple facets you can see on this cruise. Aix Island has history, nature, fortresses, oysters, heritage, beaches, restaurants, walks, biking, and even more things that will leave you exhausted from your visit.