The Impressionist painter, Renoir, loved Île de Noirmoutier, an island of sandy inlets, pine forests and salt marshes. At 20km-long, and 60km north of Les Sables-d’Olonne, Noirmoutier enjoys a warm microclimate, responsible for the figs and early-flowering mimosa. Although tourism is the island’s main economy, it also produces salt, fine spring potatoes, and an abundance of cod, oysters, eels and squid.
The little village of Noirmoutier-En-l’Île, the busiest of the island’s six villages, has a twelfth-century castle once owned by the Black Prince (now containing a little museum), a church with a Romanesque crypt, an aquarium, a good market (Tues, Fri & Sun) on place de la République, and many of the island’s restaurants, port-front bars and cafés.
Inland, the saltwater dykes are the only reminder that you’re out to sea, while the pretty whitewashed and ochre-tiled houses in the villages are typical of La Vendée and southern Brittany. Spring weather is often stormy and the summer heat entices mosquitoes, so come prepared.
The most famous beach, Plage des Dames, with its painted bathing huts, is a ten-minute cycle east of Noirmoutier-en-l’Île. The beaches on the west and south coasts are the quietest in summertime.