31st August – Passge to Île d’Yeu, heading south!!
We left L’Herbaudière fishing port at about 11am and headed west first of all to clear all the rocks and shallows to make the Chenal du Grise a pass between Noirmoutier and the island of Pilier. The 26 nautical miles seemed to tick off very quickly despite us having to tack two or three times to get the right side of cardinal marks, arriving in Port Joinville, Île d’Yeu at about 4pm and in time for a cup of tea!!
After checking in we had a mooch around the port and the small town. Île d’Yeu is an island off the Vendée coast of western France. It’s administrative capital is Port Joinville, the largest of the two harbours on the island. The other harbour is on the southern granite coast called Port de la Meule. Both harbours are famous for the fishing of tuna and lobster.
The port which as well as being a marina for cruising sailors like ourselves, is also a fishing port and a ferry port with ferries running to Fromentine, St-Gilles Croix-de-Vie and Les Sables-d’Olonne, although the latter two are usually only run in the summer months. There are lovely little streets, again with the brightly painted windows, shutters and doors set amid the white walls and terracotta roofs.
Brightly coloured houses and shops alike!
Even though it is a small island it has all of the landscape features of the Vendée. The east coast of the island has sandy beaches and dunes backed by pine forests, a feature typical of the mainland coast. Along the west coast sandy coves are dotted amongst low granite cliffs, which are very similar to those on the mainland. (photos)
2nd August – Tour de L’Île
We knew that the best way to see the island was to cycle round it! We picked the best day of our stay weatherise to do it and we thoroughly enjoyed pedalling our way round the whole island at a fairly leisurely pace. It is very flat terrain and our bikes are such a joy to ride that it was easy even though it was a long way. This is where we started…
The island has an interesting claim to fame in that Philippe Pétain who was a hero during the first world war but who later became the leader of France’s wartime Vichy régime, the collaborators! He was accused and tried for treason and sentenced to life imprisonment and detained in the prison known as the Citadel on Île d’Yeu where he died in 1951.
Alan and I sought out his grave in the cemetery in Port Joinville! It is almost hidden away although it is set in amongst ever green trees in a spot of it’s own and so giving it some significance. The odd thing about it though is that it faces east, completely opposite to the direction to every single other Catholic grave in the cemetery. There we’re no dates on the grave, just his name?
This was all within the confines of the town of Joinville and so now it was time to set off properly on our tour. We came across all these points of interest on our way starting with….
La Pointe du But – Chapel and remains of German emplacements on the rugged granite coast.
The Île d’Yeu lighthouse, sometimes called the Grand Phare or La Petite Foule, 58 metres high constructed in 1950. It’s light can be seen at a distance of 29 nautical miles!
The Calvaire du Marins at La Pointe du Châtelet – 1934 , a cross set into a base in the shape of a ships prow and is dedicated to sailors lost at sea.
The Calvaire du Marins – La Pointe Châtelet
La Plage de Sabias – a small inlet with a wide beach and what appeared to be large beach huts and an organised holiday camp for children? Not sure about this but there was definitely someone shepherding the youngsters (teenagers) on the beach! As we cycled through one or two of them appeared from the beach and immediately said ’bonjour’!? So polite as always, something we have noticed everywhere we go which is so refreshing. No skulking, looking at the ground without a word, these youngsters offer the greeting without being prompted! Amazing!
Beyond this beach area we came to the:
Vieux Château – l’Île d’Yeu
It is a ruin of a medieval fortress which was built to supposedly protect the island from the English and the Spanish, also from pirates. It is a magnificent ruin built on the craggy granite rocks of the coast, blending in so that in some lights it is hard to distinguish! It had a drawbridge to give it extra protection from the land.
Today the castle attracts hundreds of visitors who come, like we did, to marvel at its construction and take in the breathtaking landscape where it was built and the views too.
Port de la Meule – a picture postcard port
This a small natural harbour is set between high cliffs. It was so beautiful and completely unspoiled. The main street wound down to the harbour with small cottages on with side, painted white with brightly coloured windows, shutters and doors. At the bottom the harbour came into view and the water just glistened in the bright sunshine, it was idyllic and to add to the enjoyment there was a superb little restaurant where we had a delicious lunch. We also met our cruising friends and neighbours in the marina, Val and Paul who had arrived earlier and had also enjoyed a delicious lunch..
Views of Port de la Meule and Val & Paul!
Close by and perched at the top of the cliff on one side of the harbour entrance was the small but delightful chapel dedicated to Notre Dame de Bonne Nouvelle, protector of the seamen. It is thought to date from 1040. The views from here are absolutely stunning of the granite cliffs and the harbour. Every year on 15th August the fishermen make a pilgrimage to the chapel to give thanks for their safe return.
Chapel de Notre Dame de Bonne Nouvelle
While we were there we noticed that diving seems to be a favourite activity, attracting lots of visitors to explore the treasures underwater which include many wrecks. The water is crystal clear and although diving isn’t my ‘bag’ I can imagine that these conditions make it even more alluring.
La Pointe des Corbeaux – A lighthouse at the southwestern extremity of the island!
This lighthouse is 62 feet tall with an octagonal concrete tower with lantern and gallery. This lighthouse replaces one that was destroyed by the Germans during World War 2 and was completed in 1950.
More views of this beautiful island!
From this point on the island became mainly beach with no particular points of interest and so we finished our tour by taking a detour inland to visit Saint Sauveur which was once the main town on the island.
The church of Saint Sauveur and pretty streets!
The Catholic church of Saint Sauveur is centre piece and stands out against the picturesque little winding streets filled with small houses and their vibrantly coloured woodwork, flowers everywhere and shops too for all the needs of the community. It was very lovely.
We had had a superb day and, just to finish it off we came across this renovated windmill on the way back to the marina!
What can I say except how fortunate we are to be able to visit these idyllic places !
Next stop is the mainland, Saint-Gilles Croix de Vie….