A former lobster fishing village, St-Clément-des-Baleines is bordered to the west by the wild coast, to the east by the salt marshes and to the north by the immense beach of the Conche des Baleines and its lighthouse. You can also enjoy getting away from it all thanks to the miles of cycle tracks through the vineyards, the fields of new potatoes, and the salt marshes; and you can give in to tempting culinary escapades during your holiday.
It is one of the island’s smallest villages, with a population of barely more than 700, but holidaymakers all head there as soon as they arrive. Welcome to Saint-Clément des Baleines, famous for its lighthouse which shines for miles around and its large beach considered the most beautiful on the island, and much more besides. Time to explore!
A lovely little village, authentic and unaffected
Small in size, but big in reputation, the village of Saint-Clément des Baleines lies between the Côte Sauvage and the famous La Conche beach, on the edge of the forest, at the very end of the island.
But why was the little village given this name? It;s due to the fact that whales often beached there until the early 20th century (“baleines” is French for “whales”). Even in antiquity, Pliny the Elder mentions it in his writings, speaking of 300 cetaceans that beached in the Gulf of Aquitaine. And what do we call the residents of Saint-Clément-des-Baleines? Whales? Whalers? Well, no. They are called, quite simply, the “Villageois” and the “Villageoises” (villagers), in memory of the villages which joined together to form Saint-Clément, an independent commune of Ars-en-Ré in 1874.
The Baleines lighthouse, the jewel of the island’s heritage
The village owes its fame to its gentle way of life, its kind inhabitants, and above all to its lighthouse, the most visited monument on the island. To its lighthouses, we should say, as Saint-Clément has three!
For centuries, the fearsome reefs of the Pointe des Baleines, constantly swept by violent currents, caused many shipwrecks. The decision was therefore made to build a lighthouse on land to guide ships. The first lighthouse was built by order of Vauban, in 1682. It is the old whale tower that still stands today.
The Conche des Baleines beach
Just a short distance from the village is the island’s largest sandy beach, and the most beautiful too! We are lucky as our small family campsite is located just 100 metres from this magnificent beach which stretches for 3 km from the Baleines lighthouse to Les Portes en Ré.
Bordered by the Lizay forest, the immense beach of fine sand is excellent for families and for surfers and kitesurfers in search of waves and wild landscapes. The area is rocky and is popular with shore fishers. At low tide, the sea reveals the Moufette fish lock, one of the last stone fisheries on the island of Ré, a living symbol of the island’s maritime heritage. We’re not going to say anything more; dwe’ll leave it up to you to discover the Conche des Baleines beach.
Beach, forest and marsh – places to walk
In addition to the many water sports activities offered by the beach of Saint-Clément-des-Baleines, families will be able to explore the surrounding area without ever getting bored.
If you are a keen cyclist, get on your bike and pedal through the countryside, meandering through the vineyards and apple orchards (AOC, of course!). You’ll come across fishing and farming hamlets near the village of Saint-Clément such as Gillieux, Chabot, Tricherie, Griveau and Godinand. The nearby Lizay forest also offers wonderful opportunities for walks in the midst of fauna and flora. Do you like horse riding? Go for a horseback ride on La Conche beach or in the salt marshes of the nature reserve of Lilleau des Niges, between St-Clément-des-Baleines and Les Portes-en-Ré.