The other side of the marais

Mention the Marais Poitevin and most people picture the Marais Mouillé or Wet Marsh with its tree-lined canals and shady pastures. But the Poitou marshland is divided into three zones with quite different personalities.

In the far west, the Sèvre-Niortiase flows into the Baie de l’Aiguillon, an almost circular bay that indents the coastline north of La Rochelle. This undeveloped seashore belongs to fishermen and birds, yet is a vital part of the marshland’s eco-system.

Rich mud banks, exposed twice a day at low tide, separate salt meadows from the sea and provide a haven for hungry wading birds. Out in the bay, mussels are farmed on lines of vertical poles or bouchots– visit the Maison de la Mytiliculture at Esnandes for the full story.

Inland, the Sèvre-Niortaise bisects the Marais Desséché or Dry Marsh, an agricultural plain fed by canals that is used for cattle grazing and cereal growing. At the heart lies the historic river port of Marans, an important centre in the 18th century for the treatment of animal hides.

Visit the bird reserve at Saint-Denis-du-Payré and drop in at the Maison du Petit Poitou in Chaillé-les-Marais to meet shaggy Poitou donkeys and learn about local traditions.

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