By Maggie LaCoste
The Marennes-Oleron region is a very unique area of France, and to experience it by bike is a very special experience. To begin with, the people are genuine, warm and welcoming. We were approached everywhere we went by locals asking where we came from, truly amazed that we would travel from the United States to Marennes. This is the City of the Oyster, an area that covers over 15,000 acres and produces 45,000-60,000 metric tons of oysters a year, just over 40% of the oysters in France.
We stayed overnight at Le Logis du Canal, run by Alexander Winkler and his wife. Located on the Route de Cayenne, it is perfectly located for exploring the oyster farms along the channel, as well as the oyster museum. The oysters raised in this area of France are different in that they end their growth cycle in “claires”, which are ponds dug in clay, most often old salt pans. The “claires” are where the Marennes oyster get their color and taste.
People around here are real oyster connoisseurs and it is amazing to hear them discuss the different classifications as wine connoisseurs discuss wine. Our friends recommended that we keep it simple, requesting either “bien en chair”, firm, crispy with a mild taste, “bien equilibrees”, a balanced taste and smooth flesh or ” bien en eau”, not too fleshy and a little salty. The most popular way to eat them is raw, with a little vinegar and onions. They quickly became a favorite of mine.
A trip to the local oyster museum is also a must. It makes is much more fun to eat them when you
understand how they are raised.
Our experience here in Marennes, meeting with the local oyster producers would make the following days in oyster country so much more enjoyable, both in eating oysters and in understanding the very special life of oyster farmers.