Beaches and salt marshes in Noirmoutier

Noirmoutier © T.Joly
Situated off the Atlantic coast, the Noirmoutier island is known for the mildness of its climate and was praised by Impressionist painter Auguste Renoir. Shaped by the wind, the sea and man, it is dotted with landscapes of polders and windmills, mimosas and woods, small ports, salt marshes and beaches.

[ Practical ]

Getting there
- By road
470 km from Paris on autoroutes A6b, A11 and A844 till Nantes then on N 844, D751, D 758, D 22 and D 38 till Noirmoutier.
- By train
TGV from Paris Montparnasse to Nantes. Journey takes between 2 hours and 2 hours 20 minutes.
TER buses from Nantes to Noirmoutier. Duration if the journey is 1 hour and 40 minutes.
Getting around
Free shuttle buses run around the island in July and August. It is possible to go everywhere by bike.
- Hotels
Hôtel Général d’Elbée
Hôtel Fleur de Sel
Hôtel Les Prateaux
Hôtel Saint Paul
Hôtel Turquoise
Hôtel Les Douves
- Bed and Breakfast
Maison de Marine
Clos des Acanthes
La Marine
La Table d'Elise
La Plage de Jules
L’Anse Rouge
Le Grand Four
Au Vieux Loup de Mer
Good to know
Traffic congestions can occur on the roads leading to the Passage du Gois and the bridge on summer weekends.
- Sea fishing
Black Pearl (0610195571)
- Scuba diving
Atlantic Diving School (0663008515)
- Sand yachting
Sel ton char (0671810005)
Noirmoutier tourist office
Tel : 0251391242
No matter which itinerary you choose, the arrival on Noirmoutier island is always spectacular. One takes a bridge spanning 600 m that offers great views over the island, the coast of the Vendée department and the sound separating them. The other passes by the Gois, a 4,2 km long paved submersible causeway only accessible at low tide that unveils an astonishing sight. On both sides hundreds of people with their head to the ground dig silt and sand in search of seashells like clams, cockles and winkles.

The Gois © T.Joly
 Race against the rising sea
An activity everyone can do on condition that it is for one’s own consumption and that one does not collect more than a certain quantity. All the details are posted in the city hall of Noirmoutier-en-l’île, the main town. You also have to see the Gois at the onset of the high tide when the sea is quickly rising over the causeway. In the past centuries many people lost their lives there. Nowadays, it still happens that unwary fishermen and drivers get caught but they can take refuge atop the rescue poles marking out the causeway. And if you are in the surroundings in June, don’t miss “Les Foulées du Gois”, a foot race held across it at the onset of the high tide. For the runners it’s like a race against the rising sea and the slowest ones end with water till knee level.
Once in the island, whitewashed houses with red tiled roofs, rocky coves lined with pine trees and oaks as well as mimosas sometimes give the feeling to be around the Mediterranean Sea.

Noirmoutier © T.Joly
 The best salt in the world
Noirmoutier indeed enjoys mild winters and early springs. Moreover there are less rain and more sun than on the nearby mainland. Thanks to this microclimate, salt marshes have been exploited for nearly fifteen centuries and once brought prosperity to the island. Today there are still about 70 salt gatherers and some of them welcome visitors, explain their work and sell directly their production. An opportunity not to be missed as you can buy fleur de sel that is skimmed off the top of the salt beds like cream from milk. It is finer than the salt below -- so fine that many chefs consider it the best salt in the world. You also have to try the bonnote, a tasty early potato planted on Shrove Tuesday, fertilized with wrack and harvested 90 days later. They are cultivated in fields protected from the marine winds by low stones walls, tamarix hedges and rows of cypress. A large number of those fields are polders located below sea level that were drained over the centuries thanks to the power supplied by windmills.

Luzeronde beach © T.Joly
 Numerous bird species
About twenty are still silhouetted on the horizon composing landscapes reminding of the Netherlands. Another similarity with this country, cycling paths and little roads out-of-the-way make it easy to discover by bike this island which is only 20 km long and 1 km wide at its narrowest point. A nice way to discover the salt marshes, the traditional villages, the wild marshes inhabited by numerous bird species and the beautiful coastline made up of rocky coves and beaches.
The majority of the holiday makers come above all to enjoy the sea and, in summer, the population grows from 5 000 to 50 000. However it is never as crowded as the French Riviera and the atmosphere is more relaxed, more family oriented. Even on the East coast, the most sought-after and the busiest one because it is protected from the prevailing winds that blow from the North and the North West. Nested between two rocky peninsulas, the Plage des Dames is the most renowned and the most sophisticated.

Castle of Noirmoutier © T.Joly
 Wild beaches
It is lined with the Bois de la Chaise, a nice forest of pines and oaks where stand beautiful wealthy villas from the late 19th century and early 20th century.
On the West coast one founds huge wild beaches lined with dunes. The nicest one, Luzeronde, is almost empty on the morning and invites you to stroll or to do jogging. Having said that, it possible to find very quiet stretches even in the afternoon including ones that are more or less officially nude beaches. In addition there are fine spots where to do sand yachting near the village of L’Epine.
The only place where the tourist crowd is perceptible is Noirmoutier-en-l’île but the number of visitors always decreases after the sunset as many of them only come for the day from the mainland. So, the historical centre has kept its charm, in particular the neighbourhood where fishermen once lived. It spreads below Saint Philibert church, partially from the 11th century that bears the name of the monk who founded the town in the 6th century.

L'Herbaudière © T.Joly
 Powerful fortress
Beside stands the castle, a powerful fortress dating back from the late 12th century that was the subject of bloody fighting between Royalists and Republicans during the Revolution. Today it houses a museum displaying a nice collection of Jersey earthenware and there is a great view over the town, the salt marshes and the Atlantic Ocean from its sentry path. It faces the Place d’Armes where wealthy ship owners specialized in salt trade built private mansions. From there, they could watch their ships being load and unload in the nearby port. Nowadays it sometimes looks like a ghost one. In particular at low tide when the scarce boats are beached on the bottom of the basins or when one sees the wrecks scattering the fairway leading to the sea.
Today the busiest port of the island is L’Herbaudière that caters for yachts as well as for colourful fishing boats that take back sardines, sea bass, shellfishes and lobsters. You can enjoy all of that in one of the restaurants facing the quays. Unless you prefer go out at sea for fishing or wreck diving.

April 12, 2019
Thierry Joly 

[ Events ]

- April 27th - 28th. Hikes around the island.
Two free hikes give the tourists the opportunity to discover Noirmoutier coastline. On the first day a 29 km long hike goes along the south western coast and the next day a 31 km long hike follows the north western one.
- May 4th. Bonnotte Festival.
The island celebrates the harvest of the tasty local potato variety, the Bonnotte. A field is especially devoted to connoisseurs and gourmets who want to harvest them by themselves. A bike tour takes the visitors around the island. On the evening the farmers organize a giant meal in the agricultural cooperative serving grilled potatoes and sardines.
- June 23rd. Foulées du Gois.
Spectacular foot race held across the Gois.
- August 2nd to 4th. Bois de la Chaize regattas.
More than a hundred traditional and leisure boats sail along the coast. Some of them welcome visitors on board. Exhibitions and debates about oyster farming take place along the quays as well as oyster tasting.