La Brée les Bains

La Brée les Bains, on the north-east coast of the island is one of the smallest municipalities in the district.

Introduction :

Previously part of Saint-Georges d'Oléron, La Brée les Bains gained its “independence” in 1953. Formerly called “La Bray” or “Brennus”, the inhabitants were fishermen and wine-growers; today the population is around 800.

This sea-side resort, opposite the mainland has all the usual facilities: beaches, market, shops, sport, activities, cycle paths… Tourism and the welcome given to visitors are traditions here: Pierre Loti spent his childhood holidays here.

Sites :

When the municipality was created, La Brée les Bains had no church as St Eutrope had been closed during the Revolution and then sold off. The new edifice, sited on a former wine cellar was built thanks to the gifts of the entire population. The entrance, on the south side, opens onto a single vessel. The church dates from 1958 and its originality lies in the origin of its stone, cut from the “Iron rock” on the foreshore. The local clay-limestone shale together with the bell-tower which enhances the structure brings a typically harmonious elegance to this church.

The windmill at La Brée is typical of the island’s mills, being on three levels: the millstones on the second level, the first for the reception of the flour and bagging whereas the ground floor was reserved for stocking sacks of wheat and flour. The mill, dating from the 15th century has a roof of chestnut tiles and, very unusually, still has its ancient workings. As it is privately owned, visits are not permitted.

Working fish-locks are revealed by low-tides between La Brée les Bains and St Denis d’Oléron. These age-old fish traps have provided generations of locals with fresh seafood and continue so to do.

The salt-marshes are also part of the heritage. Salt production is the oldest commercial activity on the island, having gone into decline in the 19th century after centuries of operation. In the 11th century, the industry was started by monks who dug out salt reservoirs in the coastal marshes. The quality of Oléron salt and its production rapidly attracted fleets of ships from the French coasts and northern European countries. Techniques have barely changed in 1,000 years. All the work is manual, whether ensuring the effectiveness of the seawater supply, maintaining the bottoms and sides of the clay reservoirs or of course, harvesting the salt itself. The La Brée les Bains marsh is a genuinely ancient salt-marsh. The salt-farmer will welcome you, explain his work and in high season, you can watch him “draw” the salt (rough and fine salt).

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