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Napoleon slept here: the Atlantic coast of France

We all know about the delights of Paris in the springtime, but it's autumn now, and France is still an attractive option for a getaway. We recommend a tour of a little-known stretch of Atlantic coastline with stops in La Rochelle and the charming islands of Oleron, Aix and Rhe.

The French Atlantic coast north of Bordeaux is full of surprises just waiting to be discovered. Our delightful coastal tour begins with Oleron, technically an island, but connected to the mainland by the longest bridge in France. Here you'll find wonderful scenery, endless beaches and the best oysters in the country. The tiny fortified island of Aix, on the other hand, is only accessible by boat. This is where Napoleon spent his last hours before being deported to St. Helena, and his  memory still lives on in every corner. For one of the most exclusive French tourist destinations, you should head for the bucolic island of Rhe, popular among Parisians, with its low white houses with bright wooden shutters. Here, Vauban, the leading military engineer of his day, raised an impressive set of defenses, now part of the 'Fortifications of Vauban' UNESCO World Heritage Site. Returning to the mainland by means of a bridge nearly 3 kilometres in length will bring you to the cosmopolitan city of La Rochelle. A key location in the Huguenot rebellions, the city was under siege from the troops of Cardinal Richelieu for 14 months of 1627-28. Now however, it's a busy university town and the picturesque old harbour area bustles with shops and restaurants.

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Saint-Martin-de-Re marina
The marina at Saint-Martin-de-Re, the island's capital; the old harbour area is surrounded by shops and cafes / © SpainPhotoStock 

La Rochelle
Rue Sur-les-Murs in La Rochelle, the alleyway that connects la Tour de la Chaine (the tower of the chain) with la Tour de la Lanterne (the tower of the lantern), passes over the only piece of medieval wall that was not destroyed by Richelieu / © SpainPhotoStock 

Tower of the chain, La Rochelle
Dating from the fourteenth century, la Tour de la Chaine – the tower of the chain – at La Rochelle, got its name from the huge chain that used to be slung from the tower across to the Saint Nicolas Tower to defend the harbour. The tower houses a permanent exhibition entitled La Rochelle: Atlantic Capital, Huguenot Capital / © SpainPhotoStock 

Saint-Martin-de-Re panoramic view
One hundred and seventeen steps will take you up inside the church tower to the belfry where you can enjoy this panoramic view of Saint-Martin-de-Re / © SpainPhotoStock 

Saint-Martin-de-Re
Saint-Martin-de-Re is a clean, bright town with quiet cobbled streets, which maintains the atmosphere of a by-gone age / © SpainPhotoStock 

Lighthouse of the whales museum, Rhe
This shop/museum is situated under Phare des Baleines – the lighthouse of the whales – on Rhe / © SpainPhotoStock 

mother-of-pearl
A visit to the island of Rhe wouldn't be complete without calling in at the mother-of-pearl craft shop – the perfect place to buy a souvenir / © SpainPhotoStoc 

Eva Gebhard autograph book
Among the items on display at the Napoleonic Museum in Aix is this autograph book that belonged to Eva Gebhard, a rich New Yorker who lived on the island when she married a French baron / © SpainPhotoStock 

Napoleon's bed, Island of Aix
Napoleon slept here when he was held at Aix before being exiled on the tiny island of St Helena / © SpainPhotoStock 

Napoleon Hotel, Island of Aix
The friendly Napoleon hotel-restaurant is located in a building dating from the late nineteenth century at the entrance to the town of Aix / © SpainPhotoStock 

Chocolate fondants, Napoleon Hotel, Aix
Chocolate fondants are just one of the delicacies served at the Napoleon Hotel / © SpainPhotoStock 

Island of Oleron
The island of Oleron offers a wonderful natural environment of meadows, forests, vineyards, salt marshes, canals and endless beaches / © SpainPhotoStock 

Lighthouses, Fort de la Rade
The lighthouses of le Fort de la Rade, whose fortifications were designed in 1699 by Vauban and were nearly destroyed in 1757 / © SpainPhotoStock 

Island of Aix
In Le Bourg, the area of the island of Aix enclosed within the old city walls, the windows of the low, white-washed stone houses are protected by traditional green and blue wooden shutters / © SpainPhotoStock 

La Flotte, Island of Rhe
The pretty town of La Flotte, on the northern coast of the island of Rhe is a lovely place to enjoy a leisurely coffee at a pavement cafe on market day / © SpainPhotoStock 

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