Aire/Stellplatz: SAINT DENIS D'OLERON Route des Huttes (Poitou-Charentes)
GPS Decimal: 46.02761 N -1.38316 W
Aire Location (static):
Aire Surroundings (interactive) NB - not compatible with all phone models:
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Per night: 8 Euros - no non-French credit/debit cards, cash only at exit barrier (2010) - maximum stay 4 nights
As with the Aire at Chateau d'Oleron, this is an ex-campsite offering excellent value for money, with basic but fully working campsite facilities (including electric hookups) all included in the price. Gravel tracks run through grassy pitches dotted with olive trees for shade. A toilet block (hole in the ground type) and showers are available. The showers are a bit primitive - you need to pull a cord and hold it down to maintain the flow of water, but hey, it's all part of life's rich tapestry, they're warm, and a shower is a shower. It beats blundering around in the miniscule shower compartment in our camper anyway.
The Aire is situated among open fields beside a minor road heading south-west out of Saint-Denis d'Oleron, so noise is not an issue. You are very much at the northern tip of the island here, so it's not best suited for touring around, but there are still places to go to. Most notably, the Phare de Chassiron (lighthouse) which is something of a tourist honeypot by Oleron standards. There is camper van parking at the lighthouse, but take care not to scrape your chassis as you negotiate the very bumpy entrance and the pot-holed parking area. Also be aware that exiting the Saint-Denis Aire will invalidate your ticket, so you can't get back in without paying again. By far and away the best option here is to cycle the short distance up the coast, most of it on well-defined cycle tracks. The approach path to the lighthouse has a tacky Lands End feel to it, but the snack bars and tat shops soon give way to a more tastefully laid out area around the lighthouse itself. You can climb all the way to the top of the lighthouse if you wish, but as the Ile d'Oleron is pretty flat and the surrounding ocean is even flatter, I'm not sure what there is to be gained by all this effort, so we didn't bother. I would strongly recommend that any visit to the Phare de Chassiron is conducted at low tide, and at no other time. This is because the surrounding reefs, when exposed, are rockpool heaven for those who like to spend their time terrifying small marine creatures in their fragile natural environment. Wave action over the millennia has exposed swirling geological strata in spectacular fashion all around the northern tip of the island, and some of these strata are fossil-bearing. Even I managed to find an exposed fossil tree in one spot, which I was well chuffed with, and I know very little of geology. A small souvenir chunk of it is now deteriorating rapidly on my conservatory windowsill. I suspect that some of the layers here are not dis-similar to those at Lyme Regis - they certainly have the same blue-grey colour and consistency. The thumbnail images below will reveal more of the Chassiron reefs, if clicked. Not to be missed if you're into rocks, sea and nature, and completely free of charge.
Another destination worth a short bike ride to is Saint Denis d'Oleron itself, although this trip will be on roads and streets rather than cycle tracks. Saint-Denis is quite spread out, and while the village centre is fairly quiet and straightforward, a quick detour down to the La Boirie marina will reward you with more in the way of scenery, interest and ambience. The marina is lined with bars and restaurants, with live music on offer on summer evenings. The beaches, whilst being east-facing, sheltered and sedate, are nevertheless popular with sailors and windsurfers so there's plenty going on there. This part of the village is definitely worth a wander around.
As I've already covered other aspects of visiting the Ile d'Oleron in my Chateau d'Oleron Aire review, I won't repeat them here, but if you've not seen it yet I would recommend that you click the link and take note of my comments on limited camper van accessibility around the island.
The service point at the Saint-Denis Aire offers the usual facilities at no extra cost - 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.
Exiting this Aire is a bit like trying to get into one of those top secret underground bases you see in sci-fi movies. I mean OK, there's no retinal scans or voice recognition, but it's definitely unusual. Here's how it goes. You drive up to the first (of two) exit barriers and make sure your front wheels are on the pressure plate just in front of the barrier. You then scuttle into the automatic pay booth with CASH ready. At the time of writing, the machine will have nothing to do with foreign cards ("Cartes Bancaires étrangers? Pah!") so have some Euro coins handy in advance to avoid delays and embarrassment. Once you've fed your money into the machine it will produce a ticket which you'll need for the next bit so don't discard it. The barrier will lift at this point, so scurry back to the van and drive forward to the next barrier. At this point you need to scan the barcode on the ticket using the built-in scanner on the post next to the second barrier. The barrier will then lift, and you have to scuttle back into your van and pull forwards up to the junction. Then you are free once more to hit the road towards your next destination. What a lot of faff.
On the plus side: Campsite-style extras including showers and electricity, so real value for money. Convenient location for visiting the Phare de Chassiron and northern tip of the island.
But: Ile d'Oleron is not very camper van friendly elsewhere. Not the ideal destination if you rely on your camper for mobility - better suited to cyclists. Exiting this Aire invalidates your ticket, so daytime touring options are limited if you don't use bikes.
Alternative Aires: Dolus d'Oleron for lower cost overnight parking with pay-to-use service point, but it's not an ex-campsite. Try Chateau d'Oleron for similar price and facilities. Overnight parking is permitted in the E Leclerc supermarket car park at Saint-Pierre d'Oleron.
Around Ile d'Oleron: click thumbnail for bigger picture:
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