7 must-see lighthouses in Charente-Maritime

la Coubre à La Tremblade

With points, estuaries, islands and ports, the coastline of Charente-Maritime is studded with lighthouses. At night, all around the coast, the coded lights that signal their presence are precise landmarks in the ocean’s half-light.

In their role as guardians of the coastline, the lighthouses of Charente-Maritime have always retained a certain fascination, with their tales of stormy seas and shipwrecks. They are a reminder of the wrath of the ocean when the storm is raging. In milder weather, they are also excellent observation posts!

Most of these lighthouses are also impressive structures, occupying strategic positions as outpost lookouts, often set in the heart of superb natural or harbor sites. In such an ocean-facing region, the lighthouses of Charente-Maritime are an integral part of our cultural heritage: a must-see in terms of architecture, technical prowess and marine environment, but also in terms of the unique history of each of these monuments.

1. Chassiron lighthouse on the island of Oléron

Phares Charente Maritime : Le Phare de Chassiron sur l'île d'Oléron

Photo credit: Shutterstock – IURII BURIAK

  • 📍 Commune : Saint-Denis-d’Oléron
  • Construction date: 1836
  • 📏 Height: 46 m
  • Range: 52 km

Entering the Pertuis d’Antioche off the Charente-Maritime coast takes you into a high-risk area between the islands of Oléron and , where shoals and reefs pose a real danger to sailors. A favorite haunt for sinister shipwreckers, who would turn on deceptive lights to watch ships run aground, only to plunder them!

That’s why the need for a lighthouse at the northern tip of Oléron was felt so early on: the forerunner of the Phare de Chassiron stood on the same site as early as 1685. The current building, constructed in 1836, is the second oldest lighthouse in France still in operation. Listed as a historic monument, it is open to visitors. The 224-step staircase leads to a superb 360° panorama, taking in all the surrounding area: Oléron of course, the islands of Ré and Aix, the coast and La Rochelle, Fort Boyard

Around this must-see Charente-Maritime lighthouse, don’t miss the chance to explore the coastal paths, on foot or by bike, and discover the northern tip of the Ile d’Oléron and its astonishing stone fish locks. An ever-changing spectacle, as the tide ebbs and flows.

2. Cordouan lighthouse off Royan

Cordouan au large de Royan

Photo credit: Shutterstock – Melanie Lemahieu

  • 📍 Commune : Le Verdon-sur-Mer
  • Construction date: 1611
  • 📏 Height: 67.50 m
  • Range: 40 km

This is the oldest lighthouse in Charente-Maritime, and also in France, still in operation. Built on a small rocky islet in the middle of the Gironde estuary, the Cordouan lighthouse soon proved indispensable to the safety of ships cruising in the area, victims of adverse currents and flush reefs.

The Cordouan lighthouse has been operating off Royan and Le Verdon-sur-Mer since 1611. It replaced the Tour du Prince Noir, a hermit-maintained signal that was no longer effective enough to warn of shipwrecks. Several stages of construction over the lighthouse’s 400-year history gave it the appearance it has today: and what an appearance it is! The Cordouan Lighthouse is a UNESCO World Heritage Site.

The site is open to visitors from April onwards. Access is by excursion boat, from Port-Médoc or Royan, or by sailboat, and at ebb tide to reach the sandbar and rocky plateau with (relatively) dry feet. Departure is 2 hours after low tide, otherwise you’ll find yourself stranded on the spot!

3. Baleines Lighthouse on the Ile de Ré

Phares Charente Maritime : Le Phare des Baleines sur l'île de Ré

Photo credit: Shutterstock – Eo naya

  • 📍 Commune : Saint-Clément-des-Baleines
  • Construction date: 1854
  • 📏 Height: 57 m
  • Range: 50 km

Another end of the island, another lighthouse not to be missed in Charente-Maritime: the Phare des Baleines is one of the most emblematic sites on the Ile de Ré. Its name is said to derive from the fact that many whales choose this spot to come ashore at the end of their lives. Exposed to the full force of the westerly winds, they were not the only ones, and many a ship has encountered difficulties in this area.

The decision was taken in 1849 to replace the old Baleines Lighthouse with the new one, completed in 1854. It is coupled with its smaller twin, not far offshore: the Phare des Baleineaux.

The Phare des Baleines is also open to visitors and houses a small museum. A winding staircase leads up to the top, for a magnificent view of the open sea and the whole of the Ile de Ré. Around the building, don’t miss a stroll in the Parc des Baleines, towards Saint-Clément via the coastal dike, or towards the Conche des Baleines, for many the most beautiful beach on Ré.

4. La Coubre lighthouse at La Tremblade

la Coubre à La Tremblade

Photo credit: Shutterstock – Sebastien Michon

  • 📍 Commune : La Tremblade
  • Construction date: 1905
  • 📏 Height: 64 m
  • Range: 51 km

This time, we’re at the top of the highest lighthouse in Charente-Maritime, at 64 metres! In a flat region where relief is a rare commodity, the Phare de la Coubre is a giant. From its position at the tip of the Presqu’île d’Arvert, it dominates the Côte Sauvage, undoubtedly one of the most beautiful natural spots in the region, with its vast Atlantic beaches, high dunes and thick pine forest.

Out at sea, powerful waves, breaking waves, contrary currents and sandbanks make the surrounding area rather hostile to navigation… Originally, the Phare de la Coubre lighthouse was built 1,800 meters from the shore: the force of the elements, the erosion of wind and waves, now places it just 150 meters from the sea!

Above all, a visit to the Phare de la Coubre is a good excuse to explore the surrounding area: hiking, biking, long walks on the beach – the choice is yours. When the site is open, don’t hesitate to take in the exceptional panorama from the top (300 steps).

5. The lighthouses of La Rochelle’s Old Port

Phares Charente Maritime : Les phares du Vieux Port de La Rochelle

Photo credit: Shutterstock – Joaquin Ossorio Castillo

  • 📍 City: La Rochelle
  • Construction date: 1852
  • 📏 Height: 24 m
  • Range: 26 km

Designed to guide boats as they enter the Old Port, La Rochelle’s lighthouses are more peaceful in their approach than Charente-Maritime’s large ocean-going lighthouses, but they have the advantage of being two lighthouses! The Quai Valin lighthouse echoes the Gabut lighthouse, each 300 metres away from the other.

They are an integral part of the urban landscape of La Rochelle, the first set into the facade of a typical house on Quai Valin, the second standing next to the Tour Saint-Nicolas, recognizable by its large red stripes (hence its other name, Phare Rouge). You can see both lighthouses by looking up, or by taking photos along the way, as neither is open to visitors.

6. The double lighthouse on Ile d’Aix

Le double Phare de l'île d'Aix

Photo credit: Shutterstock – sylv1rob1

  • 📍 Commune : Île-d’Aix
  • Construction date: 1889
  • 📏 Height: 25 m
  • Range: 44 km

Although not the most spectacular lighthouse in Charente-Maritime, the Phare de l’île d’Aix lighthouse is just like its island: small, charming and unusual. It consists of not one, but two almost twin 25-metre-high towers, guarding the southern tip of Aix from the Fort de la Rade, next to the small town.

Deeply rooted in local heritage, the lighthouse on Ile d’Aix isn’t just there for show: it warns ships of the danger posed by the shallows around Fort Boyard, in the heart of the Pertuis d’Antioche. The active lighthouse is not open to the public, but is an ideal stop-off on a self-guided tour of the island.

7. Le Phare du Bout du Monde in La Rochelle

Le Phare du Bout du Monde à La Rochelle

Photo credit: Shutterstock – kateafter

  • 📍 City: La Rochelle
  • Construction date: 2000
  • Range: 27 km

Of all the lighthouses in Charente-Maritime, the Phare du Bout du Monde is the most anecdotal. Its symbolic value lies more in its representation of the cultural exchanges between France and Argentina: it is in fact an exact replica of another lighthouse at the end of the world, rebuilt over 12,000 km away, in southern Patagonia, at the instigation of a sailor from La Rochelle.

Built on stilts off Les Minimes, La Rochelle’s marina, it’s hard to miss the striking silhouette of the Phare du Bout du Monde: not far away on the rocky (but also muddy…) foreshore, it’s possible to get close to the building on foot during high tides, but not to visit it.