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motorway aires: 19

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motorway aires[1]
In Poitou-Charentes
- the A837


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A837 - motorway of birds/l’autoroute des oiseaux
la Pierre de Crazannes
des Oiseaux
end notes

Motorway aires are designed to provide a suitable environment for relaxing, refreshing and recovering during the long, hard journeys. As well as facilities of often dubious nature, picnic tables and seats, a telephone kiosk, there are often optional extras such as a play area or a display related to some local interest or event.


A837 - motorway of birds/l’autoroute des oiseaux

Why ‘Motorway of Birds’? Charente-Maritimes and its countryside welcomes the most diverse variety of birds. Migratory, field or marsh birds, rare and protected species, find a protected refuge in the countryside.

ASF [Autoroutes du Sud de France]and the French League for Protection of Birds [LPO] have collaborated to provide information billboards that signpost the principle areas where birds congregate, or can be seen, all along the A837.

This short motorway spur, 32 kilometres in all, that takes the driver to Rochefort, has two large aires worth visiting, one in each direction and practically opposite each other - la Pierre de Crazannes as you go north, and les Oiseaux on the southbound direction.

The péage [toll station] at Cabariot has service station facilities (in both directions), but is of interest only for its services.

la Pierre de Crazannes

On the northbound carriageway of the A837, is the Aire de la Pierre de Crazannes, located within the confines of former quarries. The Crazannes quarries, west of Saintes and near the Charente river, were hewn from before Gallo-Roman times.

Its stone was used for the Germanicus arch at Saintes [built in 18 or 19 A.D.], Cologne Cathedral, the base of the Statue of Liberty, Fort Boyard, and probably to build many Romanesque churches. The quality of Crazannes stone lends itself well to sculpture because of its hardness and fine grain. The site was abandoned due to lack of profitability, at the end of the Second World War. Now the quarries have been invaded by a superb lush vegetation, with many ferns.

And the stone? Well, it is a sort of sedimentary limestone [calcium carbonate - CaCO3]. The rock is composed gravel-sized lumps of rock, held together by clear to translucent calcite crystals with a rhombohedral cleavage (called spar or sparite) acting as a cement. The sparite was precipitated from fresh or marine water percolating through the sediment after deposition, but before final cementation.

Above: A verdant, wooded aire whose welcome is a circular pergola with honeysuckle starting to cover it.

Left: Nearby is a view over former quarries cut deep into cliffs.

With the strong summer foliage, you need to peer closely to see the galleries in amongst the rampant greenery.

Below: Looking into the former quarries.

Looking into the former quarries

Also close by is the museum that presents the history and techniques of the old quarry, focusing on the quarry and their workers, together with their tools and the diverse uses for the quarried stone. The museum opening times are from 1st June to 30th September, 10:30 to 12:00 and 14:00 to 19:00 [2pm to 7pm].

Left: Models of quarrymen, with the video viewing area reflected in the glass.
Right: various quarry handtools.

Just round the corner is a gated entrance to a protected area. Here, you may take a guided (not free) walk through a wooded nature trail, marked at its start by a man-sized stone mason in stone. You approach the quarries more closely, being given a safety helmet to wear. The walks are at set times of day, so not always available. Note that there are eleven sets of stairs, 280 steps in all, so this walk is not suitable for invalids or pushchairs. Dogs are also not allowed
















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When exploitation at the quarry ended, a carpet of greenery gradually covered the rocks and trails. Now the trees grow above the dark and deep gorges and plunge their leavy branches into the void. The shade keeps temperature constant and humidity high. The lushness of the plants is reminiscent of an Amazon forests.

Ivy grows on the cliffs like trees, and often descends to the ground in long tresses. Clematis climbs to reach the highest branches to find a little more light. The green quarry carpet includes many temperate ferns, such as hart’s-tongue fern, and even those usually found at the bottom of deep wells. In drier areas, you might see orchids such as the hanged man orchid [Orchis anthropophora], or the Bee Orchid.

Animals roam amongst the quarries: mammals such as badger, deer, genets, foxes; amphibians such as agile frogs [Rana dalmatina] and salamanders. There is a proliferation of birds, both nocturnal and diurnal, including barn owls and short-toed eagles.

Further into the aire, along a wooded walkway with wild flowers and mushrooms (depending on the time of year), is another ‘subterranean’ exhibition room.

Wooded walkway to subterranean ehibition room
Wooded walkway to subterranean ehibition room


aire des oiseaux

On the Aire des Oiseaux you will find the “Farm of the Pouzinerie”. The old farmhouse has been renovated, and now there is an exhibition centre that provides a graphic display of the birds that come to Charente-Maritime and the countryside there.

Outside, in another part of the aire, is a circular ‘lawn’.

Lawn, showing the pergola and the zeotropes

Around one side is an arched pergola covered in honeysuckle, buddleia and butterflies during the summer, that shelters a series of picnic tables. The road just visible on the left takes visitors through the aire, and a bit further to the left is the start of the Brossard woods walkwhere you may see various birds in their natural habitat.


In the centre are six cylindrical zoetropes which, when turned, give the illusion of the characteristic flights of different birds when observed through the vertical slit. Unfortunately, they are rather sadly neglected.

Photographed through the 'slit' when the cylinder was still
Photographed through the ‘slit’ when the cylinder was still

Around the other side of the ‘lawn’ is a display of bird silhouettes and information boards to help both to help identifying birds and to understand their life and habitats [information boards in French], as well as several silhouettes of birds on long poles. Unfortunately, these have not been kept in good repair.


end notes

  1. aire: in this context, an area —
    aire de loisirs: recreation area;
    aire de pique-nique: picnic area;
    aire de repos: rest area;
    aire de services: services , motorway (GB) or freeway (US) service station.

  2. A small, noctural carnivore, related to the civet. Common genet. Author: Guérin Nicolas

  3. A device invented by William George Horner, British mathematician [1786 – 1837], in 1834. The zoetrope gives an illusion of action from a rapid succession of still images by viewing through a narrow slit. This creates an illusion of a moving image. Those living in the UK may sometimes see the zoetrope method used by BBC2 as a corporate advertising lead-in to their programmes.

on first arriving in France - driving motorway aires, introduction
travelling by rail to and within France individual aires                                             
A75 autoroute from Clermont-Ferrand to Béziers and its aires Les Pyrénées, A64 Poey de Lascar, A64
A89 autoroute from Bordeaux to Clermont-Ferrand and beyond - aires Pic du Midi, A64
Hastingues, A64
Dunes, A62
Mas d’Agenais, A62
A7 - aires on the busy A7 autoroute from Lyons to Marseille Pech Loubat, A61
Port-Lauragais, A61
Mas d’Agenais, A62
Garonne, A62
A9- aires on the motorway to Spain Ayguesvives, A61
Renneville, A61
Catalan village, A9
Tavel, A9
A62 - aires on the autoroute of two seas three aires on the canal du midi, A61 Lozay, A10
Poitou-Charente, A10
A65 : the autoroute de Gascogne, from Langon to Pau Carcassonne, A61 Les Bréguières, A8
A64 and A61 - aires on the other autoroute of two seas  
A83 motorway in Poitou-Charentes - aires A63: the French Wild West, Bordeaux to the Spanish border - formerly the N10
A837 motorway in Poitou-Charentes - aires A20 - aires on the Occitane autoroute, from Brive to Montauban
A42 and A40 motorways - aires from Lyon to Switzerland and Italy A87 motorway and its aires in Poitou-Charentes

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