De­sign Hotspot, Royan, ‘Fifties Sea­side Town

Full of vi­brant, sum­mer charm and some of the finest ex­am­ples of fifties ar­chi­tec­ture in Europe, the his­toric com­mune of Royan in Nou­velle-aquitaine, of­fers a host of hol­i­day de­lights to tempt sea­soned trav­ellers and tourists alike

Bordeaux J'Adore - - Contents - STEPHANIE IR­WIN

lo­cated at the en­trance to the gironde es­tu­ary on the at­lantic

Coast, the his­toric city of Royan be­came renowned dur­ing the 19th cen­tury for its ex­cep­tional beaches and balmy weather, when sea bathing first be­came fash­ion­able across Europe due to its health ben­e­fits. Sea bathing en­thu­si­asts trav­eled across Europe in search of the best beaches, tides and salt wa­ters, draw­ing many to Royan. Fast for­ward a hun­dred and fifty years and Royan has proudly taken on other pres­ti­gious ti­tles. Among them ‘‘France’s most ‘fifties city”, thanks to its glo­ri­ously well-pre­served ex­am­ples of post-war de­sign. In­deed to­day, Royan is seen as an in­ter­na­tional at­trac­tion for fans of ‘fifties ar­chi­tec­ture and style, but of­fers a great deal more to the dis­cern­ing vis­i­tor ea­ger to ex­plore.

Life’s a beach

When one thinks of the sea­side hol­i­days of post-war Europe one thinks of striped deck chairs, drip­ping ice creams, and hazy sum­mer days spent swim­ming in the turquoise surf. And it is this en­dur­ing and nostalgic vi­sion of sum­mer-bythe-sea that has helped Royan be­come one of the most unique and un­spoilt tourist hotspots in Nou­velle Aquitaine. To­day visi­tors to Royan are truly spoilt by the choice of sev­eral long, sandy beaches to en­joy as well as a ma­rina which reg­u­larly ac­com­mo­dates up­wards of a thou­sand boats. The city sits at the right bank of the sin­gle largest es­tu­ary in Europe, the Gironde, and en­joys shel­ter from heavy winds and has

a Mediter­ranean mi­cro-cli­mate mak­ing the beaches ideal for home-grown tourists and for­eign trav­ellers ea­ger to re­lax. La Grande Conche is the largest of the Royan beaches, run­ning for more than 2000 me­tres, south fac­ing and with fine, golden sand. Child-friendly and con­sid­ered among the finest At­lantic beaches any­where, it is here you will spot the un­mis­take­able bright-coloured tents and um­brel­las syn­ony­mous with Royan dur­ing the post-war pe­riod. But there is also Conche du Chay, the most in­ti­mate and re­laxed of the beaches which can be found to the north at nearby Pon­tail­lac. Or you can con­sider Bonne Anse, which is not only a de­light­ful beach spot but also great for watch­ing the wildlife, and Conche de Pi­geon­nier, an­other beau­ti­ful and un­spoilt beach worth ex­plor­ing.

Ar­chi­tec­tural In­spi­ra­tion

Though Royan ex­pe­ri­enced sev­eral ma­jor pe­ri­ods of in­va­sion, de­struc­tion and re­con­struc­tion it was not un­til the sec­ond world war that a move was con­sciously made to em­bark on a new and in­no­va­tive ar­chi­tec­tural jour­ney within the city. By the end of World War II ap­prox­i­mately 95% of Royan was dam­aged by allied bomb­ing. This re­sulted in Royan be­ing free to reimag­ine it­self for the new post-war pe­riod in any way it de­sired. The re­sult? Mod­ernist ar­chi­tec­ture was al­lowed to thrive in the re­gion re­sult­ing in some of the most cel­e­brated con­tem­po­rary ar­chi­tects of the ‘fifties cre­at­ing a legacy of mod­ernist her­itage un­par­al­leled any­where in France.

Over the sub­se­quent decades, the town took on a new rep­u­ta­tion as a cen­tre of ar­chi­tec­tural her­itage thanks to ex­quis­ite ‘fifties land­marks that cat­a­pulted the city into the ar­chi­tec­tural lime light. In fact it is now im­pos­si­ble to visit Royan and not be swept away by the unique­ness of these re­mark­able build­ings which dot the city. Royan now en­joys a cul­tural her­itage mar­ried to its ar­chi­tec­tural legacy, so that as you walk the streets, you are not ex­pe­ri­enc­ing a pas­tiche of ‘fifties life, but some­thing gen­uine. Royan in­vited a gen­er­a­tion of ar­chi­tects to put their unique stamp on the cul­tural iden­tity of the city and the re­sults, even to­day some sixty years later, are still stag­ger­ing to see. The in­flu­ence of artists like Nadu Marsaudon can be recog­nised all over the city in the shapes, vi­brant colours and styles of the pri­vate houses and pub­lic of­fices that make up the ur­ban panorama.

Thanks to its fifties-in­spired vista Royan now wel­comes up­wards of 90,000 french and for­eign tourists every sum­mer who come to en­joy the surf and see the per­fectly pre­served ‘fifties ar­chi­tec­ture for them­selves. Royan has been de­scribed as a ‘Lab­o­ra­tory for Ur­ban Ar­chi­tec­ture’, thanks to new tech­niques and greater use of con­crete in the de­sign process af­ter the war and though the en­tire town is worth ex­plor­ing, a few must-see ex­am­ples of this in­no­va­tion are wor­thy of spe­cial at­ten­tion. Don’t miss the Church Notre-dame, de­signed and con­structed be­tween 1955 and 1958 to re­sem­ble a mighty boat or ship fac­ing out to sea. The Cen­tral Mar­ket shaped like a shell and de­signed by ar­chi­tects Louis Si­mon and An­dré

Moris­seau in 1955 with the en­gi­neer René Sarger is worth a visit too. The Boomerang Villa is un­mis­tak­able in its in­flu­ences and de­signed by Pierre Mar­mouget. And if you have time, do ex­plore the Congress Palace build­ing, de­signed by Claude Fer­ret in 1957 and still full of sump­tu­ously pre­served de­sign and ar­chi­tec­tural high­lights.

The Light­house of Kings

Be­sides beau­ti­ful beaches and re­mark­able fifties ar­chi­tec­ture, the Royan coast is also home to the Phare de Cor­douan. The tenth largest tra­di­tional light­house in the world, if not the most ex­trav­a­gant in de­sign, this re­mark­able con­struc­tion even has its own chapel. Records in­di­cate that as far back as 1360 a bea­con tower was erected on the site of the light­house on the or­ders of the Black Prince, Ed­ward of Wales. This first tower was known as the Tour aux Anglais and though prim­i­tive was a func­tion­ing warn­ing light for mariners sail­ing the treach­er­ous coastal wa­ters for many years.

Some 25 years af­ter work on a new and ex­trav­a­gant light­house was be­gun un­der Henry III, the am­bi­tious project was com­pleted in 1611. At the time it was con­sid­ered to be the most beau­ti­ful light­house in the world and the 8th Won­der of the World, such was the scale and en­gi­neer­ing am­bi­tion of the project.

To­day, as tourists did in the ‘fifties, you can still take a boat out to visit the light­house in sum­mer. As the last re­main­ing off-shore light­house still open to the pub­lic, it of­fers tourists to­day a unique chance to ex­plore the en­gi­neer­ing in­no­va­tion, ar­chi­tec­tural am­bi­tion and his­tor­i­cally in­spir­ing de­sign that has made the Phare de Cor­douan, the Light­house of Kings.

Tasty Treats & ‘Fifties De­lights

But Royan has more to of­fer to­day in terms of ‘fifties-in­spired style and hol­i­day fun than just ar­chi­tec­ture. There is also the fab­u­lous Flea Mar­ket ‘Le Garage du Chineur’ full of ‘fifties and ‘six­ties-in­spired mem­o­ra­bilia on Rue Font de Cherves, and the Con­fis­erie Lopez, now cel­e­brat­ing forty years of pro­vid­ing Royan with the finest in gourmet treats. An ice-cream in­sti­tu­tion in the town, the Con­fis­erie Lopez per­fectly com­ple­ments the ‘fifties sea-side vibe of this colour­ful, coastal area. It now boasts two lo­ca­tions where you can buy de­li­cious ice-cream to en­joy on the board­walk. In terms of places to stay with a uniquely ‘fifties vibe, try Hô­tel Le Tri­dent Thyrsé, fur­nished in the post-war style or in sum­mer dis­cover the le Ciel de Royan on Av­enue des Con­grès.

If you are ea­ger to ex­plore a lit­tle fur­ther afield, it is pos­si­ble to take some fun day trips to sur­round­ing towns such as La Rochelle, Ile de Ré, Ile d’oléron and Bordeaux.

trails, per­fect for pony trekking. The for­est is also the lo­ca­tion of one of the big­gest Na­tur­ist Re­sorts in France, Hélio-marin. If you’re feel­ing ad­ven­tur­ous, why not give it a go? Please note - Na­tur­ism is not as strict as nud­ism, clothed, or par­tially clothed - guests are warmly wel­comed!

The Great Lakes

La­canau, an­other par­adise surfers boasts beaches backed by Hop­per-es­que dunes. But surf isn’t all that’s on of­fer. The town is also po­si­tioned on a huge lake of­fer­ing every kind of wa­ter-sport known to man, from kitesurf­ing and wind­surf­ing to wa­ter-ski­ing, wake-board­ing and ex­cur­sions in cata­ma­rans. Per­haps the re­cent craze for Sup’ing or Stand Up Pad­dle Board­ing is more your style? It’s said to be one of the best ab­dom­i­nal work-outs go­ing.

The lake at Car­cans-hourtin is France’s largest fresh­wa­ter lake. Fringed by dense pine for­est, much of which falls within a na­tional park, and mea­sur­ing 57 kilo­me­tres squared, this is Europe’s an­swer to Lake Ta­hoe. Come here to fish, sail or spend a whole day idly hug­ging the shore­line in a kayak. If wa­ter-sports are not your idea of per­sonal nir­vana, then maybe fish­ing is? Lo­cal an­glers brag about the gi­ant spec­i­mens of carp, perch and other fresh­wa­ter fish lurk­ing in the lake’s depths. In the vil­lage of Hourtin is a camp­site with a dif­fer­ence. Per­haps more of a ‘Glamp­site’, it’s en­tirely Wild-west themed. Stay in either a tee-pee, a clap­board bun­ga­low, or a mo­bile home in one of the ‘vil­lages’ - ‘One Horse Town’, ‘Lit­tle Louisiana’ or ‘Prairie Band Reser­va­tion’, then sad­dle up and ride off into the sunset. West­ern has its own eques­trian cen­tre, and long treks along the lake­side or into the for­est are par for the course. The camp­site is done up to look like some­thing straight out of the gold rush, and of­fers a range of ac­tiv­i­ties in keep­ing with the theme - like Na­tive Amer­i­can-style drum­ming, archery, totem-carv­ing, and you guessed it - pan­ning for gold.


‘Boomerang’ Villa.


Phare de Cor­douan.


‘Spirou’ Villa.


‘Boule­vard Garnier’ Villa.


‘Toaster’ (‘grille-pain’) Villa.


Grande Conche Beach.


Top right: Clas­sic VW Camper­van. Along­side: Cy­cle paths through the for­est. Left page: Stand-up Pad­dle Board­ing on lake Car­cans-hourtin.


Top left: Life­guard Sta­tion at Ven­days-mon­tal­ivet.

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