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Charente (department number 16) is located in the region of Poitou-Charentes in central France and it covers an area of 5,956 km². It has an estimated population 339,628 inhabitants (approximate in 1999). The department is named after the river Charente.
Charente has a peaceful unspoilt landscape offering a unique and varied environment for walkers and mountain bikers with its many rolling hills. Throughout the Charente you will find forests and fields of vines, corn and sunflowers with scattered churches and castles here and there, pretty medieval villages, rivers, ponds and lakes suitable for boating, fishing, and water sports.
Why you should visit Charente for your next holiday in France
The department of Charente offers a peaceful alternative to the busy beaches and roads of the Atlantic coast and at the same time offers the following attractions:
- Many historic towns such as Cognac, Angoulême and Jarnac
- Quiet picturesque villages such as Aubeterre, Brossac, Villebois la Valette, Villefagnan and Tussan.
- Cognac - home of Brandy. Tastings at local distilleries in Charente are highly recommended for connoisseurs and any enthusiasts of this amber liquid.
- Pineau des Charentes - a delicious mix of cognac and grape juice (white, red or rosé) drunk as an aperitif, always served chilled.
- Vineyards - most grapes are grown for Cognac and Pineau
- Chateaux and churches
- Charentaise slipper - ultimate winter footwear for indoor use
- The ever-present 'snail' known in the Charentes as 'cagouilles'
The climate is fairly temperate, with early springs and hot summer days lasting up until autumn. Along with the Charente Maritime, it enjoys the second highest level of sunshine hours in France
What to see in Charente
Angoulême - a large fortress town and capital of the Charente Department. This ancient town, with wonderful ramparts, overlooks the Charente valley below. The town was the centre of the French paper industry in the 17th century, a tradition that carries on today: Angoulême remains the centre of French comic-strip production.
Historical Angoulême sits majestically on a hill above the river Charente, while the modern, industrial Angoulême lies in the valley below. It is in this bustling part of the city that you will find a rich labyrinth of winding alleys and streets. The writer Balzac wrote of Angoulême: 'Up above the Nobility and Power, below, commerce and money. Two social zones that can't stop viewing each other as enemies.'
Places of interest in Angoulême
- Ramparts from 4th century extend into a 3km fortification.
- Saint Pierre Cathedral (12th century) is a beautiful example of Romanesque heritage. Its interior is rich in art and history.
- Saint Andre Church re-build in early 1800s. Its interior mixes the Romanesque and baroque styles with harmony.
- Hotel de Ville - great town hall where the sister of Francois 1st, Marguerite was born. This fortified castle with its two remaining towers dates back to XII century.
Cognac - is the home to Hennessy, Martell, Otard and Camus cognac houses. Located on the banks of the river Charente, Cognac was the birthplace of Francois I. From April to November it is possible to visit the various local producers for tastings.
Remy Martin - a quality brandy producer since 1724 in Merpins, offers a tour that includes a ride on the Fine Champagne Train through the facility, a miniature vineyard and several cellars, and finishing up with a tasting.
Jarnac - located further upstream from Cognac on the Charente river. The main square of this delightful town is dominated by the Chateau du Courvoisier. The region is associated with the finer art of champagne brandy production since the 1800s. Jarnac is also home to some of the excellent but less well known cognac houses.
Confolens - a medieval town rich with a great history, today is enjoying a natural beauty. The Old Bridge from 13th century made of granite has wonderful views of the old town. It is known thanks to Festival de Folklore in August.
Rochefoucauld - a charming walled town perched on a rock overlooking the river. It has a beautiful 13th century chateau.
Chassenon - a good stopover and a place to enjoy the Roman Baths.
Some annual events that take place in the area are:
- Annual international comic strip festival in Angoulême
- International Jazz Festival in Angoulême in June
- Blues festival in Cognac during the last weekend of July - highly renowned
- Festival de Folklore in Confolens in August
- 'Circuit des Remparts' old cars rally around the Ramparts in Angoulême in September
- Chocolate festival in Jarnac in October
- Gastonomade market in Angoulême in November
How to get to Charente
Daily Ryanair flights from London to Angoulême available. Alternatively, the nearest international airports are in La Rochelle, Limoges or Poitiers.
The A10 goes from Paris towards Bordeaux to Cognac and St Jean d'Angely. The journey from Calais is about 750 km (470 miles) and about 7 hours drive time excluding stops.
Take the Eurostar from King's Cross St Pancras in London to Angoulême with one change in Lille (about 6 hours) or take the Eurostar to Paris then TGV to Angoulême (2 hours)
To get to Cognac from Angoulême take a taxi, hire a car, or take a local train to Cognac
There is a TGV connection from Bordeaux into Angoulême.
A railway line links Cognac and Angoulême with Saintes along the Charente river.