Feature: Stepping Back in Time in Noirmoutier
Updated: Jun 21, 2018
A little island off the coast of France, Noirmoutier is seaside living at its best. There is a bridge from mainland France that takes you straight to the island, however, there is a better, more “magical” way to get in.
Say hello to the “Passage du Gois”, a cobbled path that leads to the island except for twice a day when it completely disappears during high tide. Clueless as we were about this phenomenon we were lucky enough to get there just when the passage was appearing out of the water. Part of the charm of taking this route was watching locals: adorable little children and enthusiastic adults alike gathered on the side of the path collecting mussels and other shellfish, all generous gifts of low tide.
Remote Noirmoutier, is slightly difficult to get to and if your budget allows, it is better to fly to Nantes and then drive down. In peak season there are a few buses heading from Nantes to Noirmoutier. We were driving down from Paris and going via the toll roads, it took us nearly six hours to get there. Avoid driving through Nantes if you can because the number of roundabouts there are fury inducing.
For now, let's just get to Noirmoutier because once you're there you have the luxury of camping meters across from the Atlantic. Indigo Noirmoutier with its sea-side pitches is one of my favourite campsites in Europe. Book early if you plan to go during the peak season which lasts from late June until August. There is a little cafe on the campsite serving coffee, chips and fresh croissants…just remember to order them in advance.
The entire island is extremely bike friendly and it’s definitely worth hiring one. At Indigo they rent out bicycles for €12 a day. To me it felt like I was in an old French classic; wearing a vintage dress, buying flowers and just feeling nostalgic and happy about nothing in particular. With everything feeling rather “Joie De Vivre”, Noirmoutier is basically “that” French village that exists in your head. You ride bright blue bicycles through stone washed white houses and sigh at the stunning sunsets while eating lots of cheese. And that my friends, is no exaggeration.
Noirmoutier is dotted with ancient windmills most of them now either abandoned or converted into homes. One of them with a bright green roof was called L’Amour or The Love. That’s about as corny as a name can get but on an abandoned windmill overlooking the ocean, the proclamation of love felt almost ironic and I guess that’s why it worked. Our first day was spent driving around the island spotting windmills, stopping at beaches and running around fields. Eventually, we decided the car moved too fast for the pace of Noirmoutier and swapped it for bikes. We rode amid the salt marshes and oysters farms the island is so well known for, stopping sometimes to take a photo here or pick up a shell or two there. The rest of our time was spent biking past little fishing huts along the river, wandering around an old castle and willingly losing hours in countless art galleries.
A supermarket on the island allows travellers to tuck into ridiculously cheap Brie cheese, Boursin & Croissants among other delicious things. I chose to forget about the calories and packed a massive picnic instead. Budget wise, Noirmoutier goes pretty easy on you especially if you choose to camp and buy food from the supermarkets.
My favourite memory is from an evening where I sat by the harbour with my legs dangling over the ocean and saw a sunset that no superlatives could do justice to. Even though I was so close to the main town there didn’t seem to be anyone around (my buddy had bailed earlier) and it was as though that sunset was mine and mine alone. The birds were flying home, the church and windmills were silhouetted and the deep orange of the skies was reflected in the ocean, the salt marshes and in the tiny bell of my blue bicycle.
The sunset went on for a long time and the shades of red kept getting more intense by the minute. I was completely enveloped by all the colour and in that sense, I wasn’t just watching the sunset, I was a part of it. I didn’t have a camera with me and in retrospect that might not have been the worst thing. No photograph would have been able to capture what I saw that day. Even if it did, it wouldn’t have captured how I felt. In the end, I am quite content with that sunset in Noirmoutier simply being a dog-eared page in my mind’s travel journal.