L'Île-d'Yeu is a small yet magical island off France’s Atlantic coast. It has the ruggedness of the Scottish highlands with its rocky edges and untamed moors, the charm of the Greek isles in its picturesque port towns, and a little of the Riviera in its hidden coves lapped by aquamarine waters. And now, the Domaines de Fontenille group brings boutique retreat Les Hautes Mers to its shore. It has the distinction of being the only oceanfront hotel here and of having a fresher, more modern look than the competition. And with slick service, adventuring courtesy of Mother Nature, and fresh-out-the-net seafood, you’ll want to ride this particular wave to the high seas.
12 noon, but flexible, subject to availability. Earliest check-in, 3.30pm.
Double rooms from £203.78 (€235), including tax at 10 per cent. Please note the hotel charges an additional local city tax of €1.32 per person per night on check-out.
Rates don’t usually include the buffet breakfast (€30 an adult, free for kids under-12), but guests get a welcome gift from organic skincare brand L:A Bruket and a tasting of local delicacies chosen by the chef and minibar soft drinks.
There’s one adapted room suitable for guests with mobility issues and most public areas are well spaced and have room for manoeuvring.
The hotel has big plans for the future, with eight extra bedrooms, a spa, indoor swimming room and meeting room in the works.
The hotel will be open from April to September in 2022 and 2023, then year-round come 2024.
At the hotel
Sea-facing terrace, garden, pétanque court, concierge, laundry service, free high-speed WiFi. In rooms: Flatscreen TV, minibar with free non-alcoholic drinks, coffee- and tea-making kit, air-conditioning and L:A Bruket bath products.
Our favourite rooms
We like the cut of the hotel’s jib. Rooms and suites are simple in style, painted in the colours of a captain’s uniform with a chic array of furnishings and plenty of light through large windows. Of the house rooms, those on the upper floor overlook the terraces on the ground floor, so for seclusion, go up in the world. And, three rooms are set apart from the main hotel – of these, the Junior Suite Terrace Ocean View takes first place for its sizeable furnished terrace and the best view in the house: a panoramic shot of the Atlantic from on high.
Lope down the Roman steps into the large heated pool that’s sunk into the hotel’s gardens and you’ll have an unimpeded view of the ocean. It’s a mightily soothing spot, with a Jacuzzz at one end, and the wooden deck is lined with white loungers where you can waste time in the best of ways. Ask nicely and the staff will bring you a glass of wine to go with that.
Bring activewear for both land and sea – there’s a lot of get up and go on the island. But don’t forget your downtime distractions too.
The hotel takes its name from L'Île-d'Yeu’s motto: ‘light and shelter on the high seas’.
Children are welcome. There are two family rooms and some take extra beds, and while the only distraction at the hotel is the pool, older kids will love being let loose on the island.
Older kids who can take part in the rough-and-tumble of the island’s fresh-air pastimes.
There are two family rooms, but some can sleep an extra bed on request.
There’s little to do onsite aside from swim and play pétanque, but energetic little ones will be tuckered out after biking and scooting, riding and swimming, kayaking and sand-yachting.
There’s no lifeguard by the pool, but kids are welcome to swim, and there are wide entry steps and loungers where parents can keep a watchful eye.
If your little ones are squeamish about fish, you may have a problem, but the hotel staff are on the ball and eager to please, so if you request something your fusspot will eat then they’ll do their best to make it happen.
Locality is a strong suit here; the hotel works closely with the fisherman families who’ve cast their nets for generations (from which some of the staff hail).
Lovely as the hotel is, that’s not where you want to be looking – if you can see water, you’re doing it right.
Bust out the Breton stripes.
The restaurant overlooks Ker Châlon Bay, and watching the roiling waters of the Atlantic might give you a clue as to what you’ll be dining on. Fishing has been the life blood of the island for generations and so sea-to-plate was really the only way to go, forging strong ties with local suppliers and the community at large. Due to the fickle nature of the waters, it’s hard to nail down specific dishes – in the hotel staffs’ own words, it depends wholly on ‘what the sea will give us’, but you can be sure it’ll be fresh and flavourful, and cooked in various styles (grilled, fried, in silky sauces…). With some meat, because this is still France.
Wine here, wine there, wine everywhere… The hotel doesn’t have a dedicated bar space, so the world’s your drinkery, whether you want to sit and sip on your terrace, in the garden, by the pool or wherever your whim takes you.
The restaurant opens for breakfast from 7.30am to 11am, and then serves until 10.30pm.
Les Hautes Mers is buoyed upon the L'Île-d'Yeu, a tiny islet in the bay of Biscay, close to Port Joinville and a few hundred metres from the Vendée department’s Atlantic coast in western France.
Nantes is the closest airport; from there you’ll need to drive (or catch a bus to Port Fromentine, a drive of just under two hours), then hop on the 30-minute ferry to the island. The hotel can arrange transfers from the airport on request. The second closest is La Rochelle, a three-and-a-half-hour drive away, which serves a handful of city destinations in the UK, Switzerland, Luxembourg, Ireland, Belgium and Portugal. If you fly into Paris, the journey from Orly is around seven hours, slightly longer from Charles de Gaulle.
If you’re arriving via the Eurostar, it’s possible to get the TGV to Nantes in two-and-a-half hours, but you’ll still need to travel on to the port and cross on the ferry, so it’s a roundabout way of arriving.
There aren’t many roads on the island, and some won’t hold anything bigger than a quad bike. To stay environmentally sound, two wheels are better than four (and there’s not much ground to cover), but if you do take the pricier crossing over with your car, there’s gated free parking at the hotel, open all day with a video surveillance camera. It’s possible to hire a car at Port Joinville, but it’ll likely be an electric vehicle which better resembles an off-roader or slightly bulkier quad. In high season, the picturesque streets are busy with bikers, so it makes a car all the more impractical.
Ferries (both foot and vehicle) to Ile d’Yeu arrive at Port Joinville, a lively seaside resort and fishing port. They depart from Fromentine, Barbâtre or Saint Gilles Croix de Vie. Crossings take from 30 to 45 minutes, depending where you’re coming from. Or, you can go up in the world with Oya Vendee Helicopter, which will charter you a 10-minute chopper ride from La-Barre-de-Monts. It’s short but super sweet, with spectacular views from above.
Worth getting out of bed for
At a diminutive 40 square kilometres, L'Île-d'Yeu could have a Napoleon complex, but rather it offers resplendent natural scenes, prehistoric relics, pockets of golden beach and many different ways to get your adrenaline pumping. A lot of character for such a small land mass. Start your day with a swim off Ker Châlon Beach, just a five-minute walk from the hotel, then decide if you’ll spend the day at sea or on land. If you choose the former, you could find yourself diving amid wrecked ships, fishing with the locals, sailing along the shore, kite surfing or kayaking through soaring rocky outcrops. Or you could hop local beaches for wild-swimming spots that are wildly beautiful. Hop over to the opposite coast to Belle Maison, an inlet presided over by the formidable Vieux-château, which has survived pirate invasions and the like over the years, and even made a cameo appearance in Tintin comic The Black Island. A little along the coast is peaceful Les Sabias, a slick of fine sand topped with fisherman’s huts. And then a smidge further south is Anse des Fontaines, between mossy, wildflower-strewn natural buttresses – a green-and-gold cove. Throughout the island you’ll see millennia-old Neolithic dolmen and menhirs, but another monolith that stands out is the pierre tremblante, a boulder that teeters tentatively on its edge, which you can find below Port de la Meule, worth visiting to watch boats bob by and to see the minimalist Notre Dame de Bonne Nouvelle chapel. Also of historic interest, and a good picnicking spot (the hotel will pack you one on request), is the Napoleonic La Citadelle Fort Pierre-Levée, which was also used to hold political prisoners as late as World War Two. But, the island’s most engaging sights weren’t built by man, and can be found along the hiking, biking and scooting routes that criss-cross the island. Most choose a two-wheeled method of transport here and it really is the easiest way to see the tucked-away corners. But you could speed things up with a spot of sand-yachting, an exhilarating – if curious-looking – beach-based sport, or by jumping on horseback. Then rove the craft ateliers and wine shops of Saint Sauveur, join a yoga or qigong session held on the sand, or take a sunset cruise before heading back to the hotel. And, there is a third option for exploring the island: by air. You can swoop over the scenery in a helicopter tour, or even book a flying lesson if you’re feeling bold.
The hotel has its pick of choice fish and crustacea and it’s served in elegant surrounds, so you don’t really need to go looking elsewhere for sustenance (the menu might be different each day, depending on what Poseidon puts out there). But, there are some local eateries of interest if you want to mix it up. Le Mille Pâtes is a modern hangout which serves pizzas and tapas dishes with seasonal flavours. Temptingly, a section of the menu is dedicated to pizzas with crème fraîche bases, and after dinner there might be some dancing. Bistro Le Navigateur has a whole fishing boat as its bar, plenty of nauticalia, and friendly owners Hugues and Stéphanie, who’ll ply you with briny oysters, fish curries, and steaks sizzled on the grill. Le Gavroche – the less-famous one – has cheesy potato-ey comfort food and yet more seafood on a very reasonable set menu, while Foxy Burger has some sexy buns, filled with the likes of caramelised onion, chorizo and goat’s cheese.
Every hotel featured is visited personally by members of our team, given the Smith seal of approval, and then anonymously reviewed. As soon as our reviewers have returned from this sea-and-be-seen oceanfront stay on petite and picturesque L'Île-d'Yeu and unpacked their pedal-pushers and settled their sea legs, a full account of their riding-a-wave break will be with you. In the meantime, to whet your wanderlust, here's a quick peek inside Les Hautes Mer off France’s Atlantic coast…
The Domaines de Fontenille group, who have luxurious châteaux, fincas and boutique resorts scattered throughout France and Spain, have taken former stay Le Caillou Blanc (‘the white pebble’), and given it the more swashbuckling name Les Hautes Mers (‘the high seas’) alongside a sophisticated makeover. And indeed, L'Île-d'Yeu, the teeny yet immensely beautiful island off France’s Atlantic Coast where the hotel is the only oceanfront property, certainly feels like a place for breathless adventure – at its edges wave-battered cliffs give way to peaceful coves lapped by Caribbean-hued waters, tropical flowers brighten left-wild moorland and there are neolithic tombs and mediaeval fortresses to discover. Days pass in a whirlwind of biking or scooting along rugged pathways, bombing about in a sand yacht, wreck diving and getting a new perspective on a helicopter tour. But, take a breather, because that ‘haute’ carries a lot of weight – this is the coolest hangout here by far and has the best ocean views on the island. Decor is clean-cut and modern with white and wine-dark-sea walls, trompe-l'œil pebbly floors and most rooms with a romantic terrace or balcony. The restaurant serves seafood so fresh it could have jumped onto your plate, there’s the option to berth your own boat here (should you own one), and the pool could pose for Slim Arons. All very in keeping with the glamorous Greek island feel to the island’s ports, with their whitewashed buildings and blue shutters. And, at the heart of it all is a sense of the isle’s identity (some staff hail from fishing families), authentic rustic hospitality, and service that bends to guests' wills. All excellent reasons to hit the high seas.