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Guide to The Poitou Charentes region of France
The Poitou Charentes region is almost completely unspoilt with virtually no industry and is one of the most tranquil in France. Its long Atlantic coastline is noted for long sandy beaches, marinas, golf courses, and islands. Two popular large islands, the Ile de Ré and the Ile d'Oléron have been joined by bridges to the mainland.
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Poitou Charentes lies on the west coast of France between the rivers Loire and Gironde, spreading inland from the Atlantic at La Rochelle to just north of Poitiers.
The landscape of the Charente is generally speaking, flat, wooded, agricultural land until you reach the hills of the Vendée . Angoulême is the principal town and a busy centre with good shopping. It has an interesting old quarter and 75 restaurants. Worth visiting nearby is La Rochefoucauld, the chateau is reminiscent of the chateaux of the Loire and the Italianate Grand Courtyard there is one of the finest in France. A few kilometres away, Lusignan has an ancient ruined castle said to have been built by the fairy Melusine.
Angoulême lies at the head of the navigable part the River Charente, which flows along a wide valley from there, through Cognac, to the old Roman town of Saintes. Situated on the left bank of the river, Saintes has many fine mediaeval and 18th and 19th century buildings and was the birthplace of Dr. J.I. Guillotin, inventor of the guillotine. La Rochecourbon, north west of Saintes is a 15th c. castle, which was restored by the novelist Pierre Loti in the 1920's and has some stunning gardens.
From Saintes, the river flows to its mouth just below Rochefort-sur-Mer. This is the Charente-Maritime, an area of marshland that runs along the coast known as the Marais and famous for its oyster beds. The Marais Poitevin in particular, is best explored by boat. Royan is a relatively modern town and seaside resort with good beaches.
The busy port of La Rochelle caters for both huge ocean-going commercial ships and a large fishing community. Despite this industrial presence, the town, with its old harbour defences, arcaded houses and parks, has preserved much of its character and is a popular holiday centre. Good shopping, an excellent fish market near the Old Harbour and numerous bistros.
Founded by the Romans, the historic city of Poitiers in the north of the region, is situated on a rocky plateau above two rivers. It is a pleasant, lively university town and a good base from which to explore the Vienne.
Excellent fish and shellfish in the Charente-Maritime, oysters almost everywhere. Abundant fresh fruit and vegetables and the wines, cheeses and charcuteries of all regions of France. Pineau, is a delicious brandy based wine, usually taken as an aperitif.
Good sailing, swimming and water sports on the coast and the islands Noirmoutier, Oléron, and Ré have fine beaches. There are several golf courses, inexpensive and easily accessible. Good cycling country. Each town and village has a market on different days of the week and there are numerous bric-a-brac and brocante (country antique) markets from May until September. Fresh water fishing in the rivers. Music festivals, theatre and dance throughout the summer.
The river Charente is navigable from Angoulême to the sea and there are many opportunities to hire boats or take excursions along the river.
Futurescope, near Poitiers, is a vast science and technology park, which has an impressive variety of audio-visual, interactive and virtual reality experiences.
More information on local attractions and events can be found at the official website for the Poitou-Charentes Tourist Board.
A warm, balmy, maritime climate, an early spring and a long dry summer with temperatures often reaching 30 degrees C. or more. The influence of the Gulf Stream produces winters as mild as the Mediterranean. Rain, in winter and spring takes the form of a steady drizzle, although it seldom rains all day.
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Getting to Poitou Charentes
There are regional airports with flights from the UK at La Rochelle (Ryanair, flybe), and Poitiers (Ryanair). Just over the border in the Lomousin is Limoges airport (Ryanair, flybe)
The journey by car to the capital of the region Poitiers takes around 6 hours and is approx 630km from Calais
The TGV service runs from Paris Gare Montparnasse to Poitiers (90 minutes) and Angoulême (2 hours). There is a branch line to La Rochelle.
Poitou-Charentes (Vacances S.)
Poitou Charentes (Michelin Regional Maps)