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Sunny autumn days are perfect for escapism

à la Plage

T

With springtime about to slip into summer, we’ll soon be heading back to the beach...

he call of the sea is nothing new, yet the idea of spending a little time relaxing beside it is a comparatively modern one. While our friends the Romans established coastal resorts around 2000 years ago, ‘seaside towns’ as we now know them did not appear in France until the mid-18th century, in response to the newly perceived health benefits of the coastal climate. Everything changed with the dawn of the industrial revolution and the construction of the rail network, whose investors were naturally keen to find new destinations with visitor potential to boost passenger revenue. Having witnessed the visionary development unfolding further south at Arcachon (see Living Magazine Aug/Sept 2015), the Compagnie des Chemins de Fer des Charentes was convinced that there must be further opportunities along the Atlantic

WORDS: ROGER MOSS

coast line which it had inaugurated in 1871, and which was already bringing new visitors to La Rochelle and Rochefort. They identified what looked like two enticing locations at Fouras and Châtelaillon. The fact that the railway was already transporting oysters and mussels from the latter made it an obvious choice for a make-over, although the company wasn’t the first to spot and exploit the site’s potential. In 1882 the rise of ‘bains de mer’, which was transforming humble fishing villages elsewhere into fashionable resorts, inspired Barbezieux notaire Gabriel Fauconnier to create 80 building plots along what is now Boulevard de Lattre de Tassigny. He then added a chapel, a covered market hall and 16 new homes but his hoped-for buyers failed to materialise, so to kick-start things he decided to offer free plots to the first takers who would commit

to building a villa without delay. It worked. Before long buyers were jostling to snap up the final unsold plots, a success story which prompted the railway company to acquire 25 hectares of land and offer for sale 72 plots (each around three times the size of Fauconnier’s offer) laid out neatly on the rigid, geometrical ground plan we can still see today. The addition of the suffix ‘Plage’ proved to be an inspired marketing move, adding a touch of sophistication which even wealthy buyers from nearby Rochefort were powerless to resist. In 1886 a post office, a school and a railway station for passengers were added, and on July 16 1893 a large, elegantly proportioned casino opened its doors on the promenade, an event which marked the final stage in Châtelaillon’s transformation into a seaside resort. The rail company’s faith was rewarded

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Living Magazine April/May 19