Aire/Stellplatz: CHATEAU D'OLERON Bd Philippe Daste (Poitou-Charentes)
GPS Decimal: 45.89637 N -1.20196 W
Aire Location (static):
Aire Surroundings (interactive) NB - not compatible with all phone models:
(Best viewed with Google Maps App for mobiles - details here)
Per night: 8 Euros - credit/debit card only at entry barrier (2010) - maximum stay 4 nights
Looking at the photo above you could easily believe that some mistake has been made, and I've inserted a picture of a campsite. Surely Aires are just tightly-packed tarmac parking areas? Well here's the good news - I haven't made a mistake. On the Ile d'Oleron, when old campsites fizzle out they don't just fade away, they become Aires Camping-Car. Even better, the same applies at the north end of the island near Saint-Denis d'Oleron. These two Aires represent huge value for money, and if combined with a third Aire at Dolus d'Oleron that charges only 5 Euros a night (or 30 Euros for 7 nights), you could enjoy a very low cost stay at this popular tourist destination.
If approaching this Aire from the Oleron bridge direction, ignore all SatNav instructions to drive through a gate and enter the walled part of Chateau d'Oleron. Stick with the D734 (Chemin de Ronde), and your SatNav will soon see sense and correct itself. It's not impossible to extricate yourself from inside the walls, but if it's a market day it's a bit of a bind.
Access is controlled by an automatic barrier that only accepts a bank card ('CB' in French), and which issues a ticket with a time-sensitive entry code that needs keying in to lift the barrier on entry and exit. Take care with these keypads and take your time entering the digits - sticky keys can cause delays, and error messages aren't always displayed in English. The automatic system is monitored and maintained by the local municipality who'll send someone out if there's a major issue, but there isn't a warden permanently on site. As you'll gather from other reviews I'm not a big fan of these automated barriers, but to be fair this one is among the more co-operative ones I've encountered. It certainly knocks the hell-spawned device at La Palmyre into a cocked hat. The Aire is a big one by most standards, and it even has a tarmac overflow parking area, so the chances of it filling up are fairly remote. We stopped here in August and had no problems getting in, athough we did make a point of arriving in the morning.
When driving around the grassier parts of this Aire to find a pitch, watch out for the occasional sand-filled rut, especially if you're driving in the dark. They're not everywhere, but be mindful of their existence.
This Aire is quiet, has generous grassy pitches, concrete hard standings (presumably once used for static caravans), a few rather parched trees, electric hookup points galore for no extra cost, and a basic but fully-working toilet/shower/wash block(!) It even has a small sandy beach just over the road, though it's best seen at high tide - at low tide it becomes an infinite expanse of seaweed. If you're new to Aires and feel the need to gradually wean yourself off campsites, this would be a great starting point. If you're a seasoned Aire user it represents a real bargain.
The heavily-fortified town of Chateau d'Oleron is just a short walk along the beach or an easy cycle ride down the lane. A vast Sunday market is held here, which even people (like me) who don't like markets that much will still find interesting. If you have any regard at all for things historic you should find time to walk around the town's impressive ramparts and explore the Citadel, which incorporates a small museum of local artefacts ranging from prehistory to WWII. Panoramic views around the bay and the Oleron bridge can be seen from the Citadel, as I'm sure was originally intended by the fort's builders. Close by is the harbour, where an armada of oyster boats can be seen plying their trade. The humble oyster (huitre) is king on the Ile d'Oleron - they are cultivated in huge quantities, both in the surrounding coastal waters, and inland in numerous rectangular artificial oyster beds. if you want a pinch of salt with your oysters, the equally prolific 'salines' of Oleron will no doubt oblige. These are salt-drying and collecting beds scattered around the island. For a more detailed understanding of the origins and workings of both these key local activities, a trip to the open air museum at Petit-Village is strongly recommended. It's easily accessible by bike. Another uniquely local feature are the brightly-painted 'cabanes' - wooden huts originally built to service the oyster trade, but now in many cases converted to house craft workshops and other enterprises, especially around the harbour area of Chateau d'Oleron.
So, it all sounds pretty good - what's the catch? Well sadly there is one. Once established on any Oleron Aire it's best to stay put and use bike, foot, or public transport to get around. Beyond the Aires' boundaries the Ile d'Oleron is not a very camper van friendly place. I've never seen quite so many signposts telling me why I can't park my van somewhere - I'd much rather see them telling me why I can. A classic example is at Le Grand-Village-Plage, where a two metre height barrier stops you a good mile short of the main beach. Other beaches have no obvious camper parking spots and a lot of height barriers, and the towns aren't much better. This is not at all good if you're carrying aquatic equipment like surfboards, kayaks, windsurfers and the like. If you're planning a water-based beach holiday here you need to do some serious thinking and planning about how you get your kit to the sea. One novel solution we saw was the guy who cycled past us on a beach track with his surfboard stuck in a converted kiddie trailer - nice idea, but it did make me wonder if he carried his kids in a surfboard bag.
By way of some compensation, the Ile d'Oleron is generally very flat, and is well-served by a network of marked cycle tracks. It doesn't take long to travel from one side of the island to the other by bike, and even a lengthwise bike journey wouldn't be beyond the more active cyclist. The cycle track network is not however a comprehensive one, and most routes involve a certain amount of cycling along lanes and minor roads - worth considering if you have younger children with you. A minor gripe here is that the cycle track marker posts are often small and a bit low key, so they aren't that easy to spot, especially in towns or at road junctions amongst all the other street furniture. Away from lanes and towns the tracks themselves usually have a distinctive white surface, but it's worth familiarising yourself with the track markers in advance - an example can be seen in a new tab/browser here.
As for the service point on this Aire - no real surprises, free of charge emptying and refilling. Mains electricity is available on pretty much all of the pitches if you want it. A worthwhile thing to remember is that electrical hookup posts on continental sites are often some way away from where you park. An extension cable is a must have item. If you're planning to move on to the Dolus d'Oleron Aire, make sure you fill your water tank up for free here - you have to pay for water at Dolus.
On the plus side: Campsite-style extras including showers and electricity, so real value for money. Beach close by, and convenient location for nearby town.
But: Ile d'Oleron is not very camper van friendly elsewhere. Not the ideal place if you rely on your camper for mobility - better suited to cyclists.
Alternative Aires: Dolus d'Oleron for lower cost overnight parking with pay-to-use service point, but it's not an ex-campsite. Try Saint-Denis d'Oleron for similar price and facilities. Overnight parking is permitted in the E Leclerc supermarket car park at Saint-Pierre d'Oleron. Nearby Camping des Remparts at Chateau d'Oleron isn't too badly-priced for a campsite.
Around Ile d'Oleron: click thumbnail for bigger picture:
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