Royan, a well-known seaside resort in Charente-Maritime, located at the entrance to the Gironde estuary, became a sought-after spot in the 19th century, when sea bathing started to become fashionable. After the devastation of the Second World War, it was rebuilt in the 1950s in a contemporary style. The apartment blocks and the Church of Our Lady, built in the modernist style and now a listed Historic Monument, are reminders of that period of upheaval.
Yet Royan, a certified Town of Art and History on the Côte de Beauté, has kept some buildings from the Belle Époque. The streets are dotted with thirty or so charming villas, particularly in the hip district of Pontaillac, famous for its surfing spot and beach. Pontaillac is also where the Royan Museum is located, in the old covered market at the heart of a historic neighbourhood. An exhibition there documents the eventful history of the town, which managed to rise from its ashes, as well as the birth of this renowned resort. Seaside villas alternate with character properties in the Parc and Foncillon districts.
Royan offers locals and holidaymakers five sandy beaches, including the popular Grande Conche, enjoyed by bathers, windsurfers and kite enthusiasts. Others are more secluded, like the Conche du Chay and Conche du Pigeonnier, sheltered in rocky coves.
It's also an outstandingly sporty town. The Régates de Royan yacht club is where many sailing enthusiasts have had their first taste of that legendary sport. The town also caters very well to cyclists with the Vélodyssée, a cycle path running along the coast. Many other activities are available: sea diving, horse-riding, golf, squash, parachuting... you'll be spoilt for choice!
You can also admire the typical architecture of the central market, built from 1955 onwards with a concrete cupola on top giving the building the look of a parachute, or stroll around the harbour early in the morning to watch the fishermen coming in. Nature-lovers will appreciate the Gardens of the World (Jardins du Monde), at the heart of the Pousseau Marsh. Visitors are enthralled and enchanted by its subtle blend of scents and colours. Its tropical forest of 700 m², containing France's biggest orchid house with 30,000 species, is its star attraction.