Eighteen kilometres southwest of Rochefort is Brouage, a seventeenth-century military base. The way into the town is through the Porte Royale in the north wall of the original fortifications. Locked inside, Brouage seems abandoned and somnolent; even the sea has retreated, and all that’s left of the harbour is a series of pools (claires), where oysters are reared.

Half a dozen kilometres south of Brouages is the oyster village of Marennes, whose speciality is fattening creuses oysters, a species bred in France since the 1970s. It’s a lucrative but precarious business, vulnerable to storm damage, temperature changes, salinity in the water, the ravages of starfish and umpteen other natural disasters. Oysters begin life as minuscule larvae, which are “born” about three times a year. When a birth happens, the oystermen are alerted by a special radio service, and they all rush out to place their “collectors” – usually arrangements of roofing tiles – for the larvae to cling to. They mature there for eight or nine months, and are then scraped off and moved to parcs in the tidal waters of the sea. Finally, they’re taken to claires – shallow rectangular pools where they are kept permanently covered by water that’s less salty than sea water. Here they fatten up and acquire the greenish colour the market expects. With “improved” modern oysters, the whole cycle, which used to take five years, now takes about two.

Book through Rough Guides’ trusted travel partners

France features

The latest articles, galleries, quizzes and videos.

Ebikes: are they worth the hype?

Ebikes: are they worth the hype?

Though they may be sniffed at by "real" cylists, e-bikes are opening up serious mountain routes to the more casual pedaller. Andy Turner dons some lycra to find…

27 Oct 2017 • Andy Turner local_activity Special feature
20 seriously weird places around the world

20 seriously weird places around the world

The world is a weird (and wonderful) place. And from a rose-coloured lake to a Japanese island ruled by cats, we've got twenty pictures to prove it. 1. Spotted…

26 Jul 2017 • Rachel Mills camera_alt Gallery
Cabaret is alive and kicking in Paris

Cabaret is alive and kicking in Paris

Forget about the sleazy tourist traps in Pigalle, there's only one place to see burlesque in Paris: the Crazy Horse, opened in 1951. Eleanor Aldridge spent the …

25 Jul 2017 • Eleanor Aldridge local_activity Special feature
View more featureschevron_right