The island of Noirmoutier
L’Ile de Noirmoutier is a seaside paradise for nature lovers due to an exceptional micro-climate. This beautiful French island is accessible from the mainland via Le Passage du Gois a submersible road accessible at low tide. Salt-water marshes cover nearly a third of the island, beautiful sand dunes hug the coastline and a delicate scent of holly oaks and marine pine trees fills the air.
L’Ile de Noirmoutier offers a large number of water based activities owing to its 40 km of fine sandy beaches. These include sailing, surfing, kitesurfing, jet skiing and much more. The island has three harbours - L’ Herbaudière with its lively fishing port and pleasant marina, the Port de Morin and its modern marina, and the traditional Port de Noirmoutier en I’Ile.
The hiring of boats couldn’t be easier for those wishing to take to the waters around Noirmoutier with various specialist outlets available. Alternatively, organised boat tours around the island are possible during the season and sea fishing trips are on offer for all those passionate about fishing.
Le Passage du Gois, time to describe a curious tide phenomenon
L’ile de Noirmoutier is a very appealing island to visit due to Le Passage du Gois, which dates back to the 17th century. The longest submersible road in Europe stretches some 4.2km from Beauvoir on the west coast of France to the Island of Noirmoutier. This curious phenomenon is accessible at low tide. Le Passage du Gois tide timetable is posted on either access points. The times shown indicate the exact time when the tide is at its lowest. When crossing Le Passage du Gois you have 1h30 on either side of the low tide to drive across. The “9 balises de refuge” or markers are visible from the coast on either side and provide refuge to those caught out by the incoming tide. Alternatively, when it is not possible to cross Le Passage du Gois an impressive bridge built in 1971 connects l’Ile de Noirmoutier with the mainland. The bridge stretches for 583m from the French continent to the seaside resort of Barbâtre and provides a spectacular panoramic view of Noirmoutier.
In June the well-known race “Les Foulées du Gois” attracts 30 athletes to race against the rising tide. An exciting challenge - man against the force of nature.
Did you know?
The Tour de France crossed Le Passage de Gois for the first time in 1993 then again in 1999. In 2011, Ile de Noirmoutier was once again chosen as the starting point for this famous race.
Noirmoutier's landscapes, a combination of Celtics air and Dutch style polders
The Ile de Noirmoutier is over 20km in length and has three distinctive landscapes:
- The Armorican granite plateau to the north, where the first traces of human occupation are the most visible. That is to say : the island’s main monuments and Noirmoutier-en-l’ile’s town centre.
- An urbanised coastal dune facing the ocean, which protects 2/3 of the land found below sea level.
- A vast marsh area where traditional sea-salt harvesting still continues and the impressive ponders or dikes being used for agriculture.
Noirmoutier-en-L’Ile, a concentration of history and charm
The town of Noirmoutier-en-l'Île is the historical capital of the island and consists of picturesque quarters, a few museums and some interesting monuments.
- The Saint Philbert church, a former Benedictine abbey was founded in the 7th century by the monk Saint Philbert. The church has both Romanesque and Gothic styles and contains a beautiful 11th century crypt as well as the first tomb of its founder, the monk Saint Philbert.
- Private town houses and manors dating back to the 18th century
- And the old chateau from the 9th century, which offers from the top of its keep, a breathtaking panoramic view of the island.
The Old Chateau of Noirmoutier has many hidden stories to tell
The imposing keep of the old chateau in the centre of Noirmoutier-en-Ile, houses a history museum relating to the island's naval artefacts. Another unusual exhibit, is a bullet riddled armchair that was witness to the fate of a French Royalist military leader, General Maurice d’Elbée, who took part in the Vendean war in 1793. Badly wounded at Cholet he was transported to Beaupréau and then to the Island of Noirmoutier. Condemned to death, he was executed by firing squad in Noirmoutier’s public town square. Unable to stand due to his wounds he was shot sitting in a chair. This chair…
The salt marshes in the heart of the island
Created by 5th century monks, the salt marshes are part of the distinctive landscape of L’Ile de Noirmoutier covering a 1/3 of the island. One hundred “sauniers” or salt workers continue to collect the salt with skill and expertise, in the same traditional way as their ancestors.
L’Ile de Noirmoutier and its finest salt « la fleur de sel »
The fleur de sel is quiet simply a thin layer of fine white crystals which forms on the water surface of the salt marshes once the water has evaporated. It does not come into contact with the clay of the bottom of the salt pan, making it purer than the other salts harvested. The fleur de sel is naturally white and has many advantages over fine salt such as a more delicate taste, yet gently pronounced therefore less is required. Dissolving more quickly and evenly into food, perfect for seasoning and garnishing. Giving a special touch to many dishes and even desserts (particularly caramel)!
Le Bois de la Chaise, a magnificent testimony of Noirmoutier's 19th seaside architecture
At the beginning of the 19th century, sea-bathing was quickly becoming an inviting summer activity, attracting visitors to Noirmoutier’s coast. The now well-known beach huts make their first appearance and mark the beginning of seaside tourism – the ladies using the huts to change into their swimsuits, as at this time modesty was still very present. The wealthier tourists, built the charming bourgeois houses that are now part of the island’s history. Between 1870 and 1900 one hundred villas were built in a sober anglo-saxon and regional style. After 1910 the architectural style became more decorative and imaginative. Consequently, several years later the owners of Le Bois de La Chaise founded an association drawing up various rules and regulations: such as limiting the deforestation of owner plots, the maintenance of fencing and pathways and also to avoid extravagant ideas.
Did you know?
Le Bois de la Chaise was a meeting place of poets and painters of merit. Renoir, while passing through in 1892 to paint a few canvases described Ile de Noirmoutier as such “It is an admirable place, beautiful like the South but with a sea that is more beautiful than the Mediterranean”.
How to get to L’Ile de Noirmoutier ?
The Ile de Noirmoutier situated of the West Coast of France is part of the Vendée. Getting to the island couldn’t be easier.
ARRIVING BY CAR
Using the free Bridge
The Island can be reached by car via the bridge which connects Fromentine to the mainland with Barbâtre at the southern end of the island. Unlike l’ile de Ré, the bridge is free and open 24/7. Cyclists have a bike lane in each direction.
Using Le Passage du Gois
When preparing your visit to Noirmoutier bear in mind that if you are arriving from the north by using the Passage du Gois instead of the bridge (further south), you can gain nearly 20 /25 minutes and roughly 20 km in driving time. Naturally you will need to check the tide times to see if it will be possible.
ARRIVING BY PLANE
Noirmoutier island is one hour from Nantes Atlantique Airport, and has flights to and from many destinations.
ARRIVING BY TRAIN
There are no train stations on Noirmoutier. A daily coach service travels back and forth between the train stations of Challans, La Roche sur Yon and Nantes.
Daily coach service departing from Nantes Train station
Daily coach service departing from Challans and La Roche sur yon train stations
ARRIVING BY COACH
N° 13 the regional coach from Nantes
From Nantes SNCF, connection with the TGV in Nantes and boats to L’Ile d’Yeu, this service is available all year round.
To Noirmoutier island : Barbâtre, La Guérinière and the Noirmoutier-en-île bus stations : 1h45
Up to 25 coaches per day during the summer
From La Roche sur Yon:
Departing from La Roche sur Yon via Challans, Coach N° 571 - Daily service with Aléop to:
Barbâtre, La Guérinière, L’Epine and the Noirmoutier-en-Ile