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The department of Charente in southwest France, is in Nouvelle Aquitaine, previously known as Poitou-Charentes. It’s one of the sunniest corners of France with roughly 25% more sunshine hours than the UK. It’s a land of vineyards, fields of sunflowers, and small villages and towns. Just 45 minutes’ drive will bring you to the Atlantic Coast. It’s served by excellent motorways, airports close by, plus fast trains to Paris from the departmental capital Angouleme.

We look at some of the main attractions and best things to do in Charente…

Angoulême

The upper town of the city of Angoulême is a fascinating place to visit. The view from the ramparts of its hilltop perch are stunning. The streets of the old district are peppered with bars, cafés and restaurants with tables spilling out onto cobbled terraces.

The city is famous for its Comic Museum, La Cité Internationale de la Bande Dessinée et de l’Image. Comics are taken seriously in France, they are accepted as a respected art form. Each year the Comic Museum of Angoulême holds a comic festival that attracts more than 200,000 visitors.

The town is also the street art capital of France and you can hardly turn a corner without spotting a fabulous wall mural, speech-bubble street name or statue honouring a comic artist.

Don’t miss the Cathedral “Tresors” when you go to Angoulême. You’ll need to join a guided tour but it’s absolutely worth it. The art installations in this cathedral were created by artist Jean-Michel Othoniel including a room created from glass and metal which houses the treasures which gave this exhibition its name “Le Tresor”, the treasury. Ancient religious relics, including some rather gory body parts of saints, crowns embellished with jewels and diamonds, altar art, candles and more. It is quite simply dazzling.

Afterwards pop next door to the Museum of Angoulême to learn more about the history of the city and admire the eclectic collection of paintings, furniture, ancient artefacts and more.

Tourist office: www.angouleme-tourisme.com

Cognac

Cognac is a pretty town with a “City of Art and History” label. It’s easy to spend a day here wandering it’s ancient streets, taking in the sights, relaxing by the river and indulging in the local cuisine. The town has a feeling of peacefulness, prosperity and good living.

If you want to know about cognac the drink as well as the region, the Museum dedicated to Cognac is a great place to start. You’ll discover all there is to know about the creation of cognac and the area in which it is made. There are thousands of objects to bring the story to life as well as a rather fascinating section of posters and labels.

Nip next door to the Discovery centre to find out all about the heritage of Cognac and the Charente area. You’ll get a great overview of how Cognac came to be, the different areas of Cognac production, the vineyards, landscape and villages.

You really have to do a cognac tasting in Cognac, (the Royal Chateau de Cognac is simply superb in the former chateau where King Francis 1 was born in 1515). It’s a great town to wander the old and winding streets, taking a break in one of the many restaurants or bars.

Cognac Tourist Office: www.tourism-cognac.com/uk

Aubeterre-sur-Dronne

Aubeterre-Sur-Dronne (top photo) is officially one of the prettiest little villages in France. Surrounded by beautiful rolling countryside, the town has narrow twisting streets and lots of artisan shops. Don’t miss a visit to the extraordinary, monolithic, underground Church of St Jean and the Romanesque Church of St Jacques, with its stunning façade. If you’re feeling active there are plenty of waterfront activities along the river Dronne from Kayaking to boating. Relax in the lively Place Trarieux where you’ll find some great restaurants.

Aubeterre-sur-Dronne Tourist Office: www.aubeterresurdronne.com

For more to see and do in Charente: www.infiniment-charentes.com

Check out our listings in Charente and enjoy your sunshine holiday – we love to help make your holiday dreams come true….

The Vendée department is in the region of Pays de la Loire, south of Brittany. With a long coastline and excellent countryside peppered with villages plus home to the Marais Poitevin marshlands, there’s loads for the whole family to enjoy here.

Seaside fun

With 18 famous seaside resorts, you’ll never run out of beach activities. 250km of protected coastline and 140km of golden sandy beaches give you plenty of choice for where to lay out your beach towel. Many beaches have blue flag status and you’ll find activities galore including sailing, fishing and surfing – try La Tranche sur Mer which is famous for its Atlantic rollers and regularly holds championship contests.

The most popular beaches include the island of Noirmoutier, with its mimosa trees and picture postcard pretty whitewashed fishing villages, iconic St Jean de Monts in the north, and Sables d’Olonne with its buzzing harbour and lots of shops.

Popular with the French, the Vendée beaches can get busy in the summer but out of season, the vast beauty of the coastline is simply stunning and largely uncrowded.

Amazing theme parks

Puy du Fou is one of the most famous and popular tourist attractions in France. Multi award winning, this is a theme park on a grand scale on several levels. Don’t expect a park full of rides at but be assured the wow factor is off the radar. The shows here are monumental, think Universal studios plus plus plus. From the Romans to the Vikings, and shows which represent historic events up until the 20th century. Ships set on fire, thousands of actors, incredible stunts, stunning special effects, I promise you’re never going to be bored for a single moment when you visit this place. There’s far too much to take in in one day so pick what you really want to see and don’t miss the Bal des Oiseaux Fantômes, the Ballet of the Birds. It includes falcons, vultures and owls which swoop from a large air balloon in the sky and perform above your heads! It’s truly astonishing. Details: www.puydufou.com

Grand Defi is where you’ll find the Parcour Des Arbes, like Go Ape in the UK, but on a much bigger scale. There are family trails and incredible zip slides across a lake, paintballing, pony rides, galactic laser and more. Do as many of the 22 trails and zip slides as you like in a three hour slot (no need to book in advance).

Explora Parc is a smaller trail park and includes base jumps an activities like archery.

Marais Poitevin

The Mairais Poitevin is a sleepy labyrinth of canals lined with poplars and weeping willows also known as the “Green Venice”. It was first created in the 10th century by monks and later refined by the Dutch. Here you’ll find punting, artists and the stone cottages of Arcais with its Angelica liquor and twisting streets. Don’t miss the pretty village of Benet and the waterside town of Damvix.

Countryside

Head inland to discover the bocage, countryside, of the Vendée. Rolling hills, dramatic lakes and rivers, historic, fortified market towns and unspoilt forest. Field after field of sunflower field mingle with lush vineyards. There are hiking trails and freshwater swimming lakes, and dozens of picturesque towns and villages that beg you to stop for a homemade dish, a glass of wine and the chance to enjoy the gorgeous views.

At French Connections, we have lots of lovely holiday homes in the Vendée, nip over to our listings search pages and find the holiday of your dreams…

 

The department of Calvados in Normandy is blessed with historic towns, beautiful villages, wonderful countryside and a stunning coastline. Among the many jewels of Calvados are picturesque Honfleur, stylish Deauville and historic Caen. We take a look at some of the best places to visit and things to do in Calvados…

Calvados | Eau de Vie

Calvados the department gives its name to Calvados, a sort of apple brandy. This strong drink is created by distilling cider twice, maturing it in wooden barrels and blending it. Enjoyed with a coffee in the evening, it packs a powerful punch.

Discover more about Calvados at the Calvados Experience, a cross between a museum and an innovative show utilising the most up to date multimedia themes. You’ll enjoy a tasting at the end of your visit and there’s a great shop selling Calvados, cider and local products, plus there’s a picnic area and café.

Details: calvados-experience.com/en – you can take the tour in eight languages.

Deauville

Famous for its racecourse, casino, golf course and long sandy beach lined with beach huts named after American movie stars (in honour of the annual American Film Festival held in Deauville), called the Promenade des Planches. Here you’ll find the rich and beautiful promenading; wealthy, tanned old ladies lying under the colourful beach parasols and smartly dressed visitors enjoying the unique ambience of elegant Deauville.

Honfleur

Wandering around the harbour and up and down the wiggly cobble stone streets of Honfleur is one of life’s great pleasures. It’s one of the finest places in France for simply sitting and watching the world go by from a terrace café with a steaming bowl of moules mariniere and a glass of chilled wine. It’s a buzzing, vibrant, colourful and truly enchanting little place that is quaintly charming and full of character despite the high number of tourists.

Caen

The port town of Caen is the capital of Calvados as well as William the conqueror’s last hometown. The old part of the town, Vaugeux district, is small but has some pretty half-timbered houses, lots of cafés, bars and restaurants where whiling away an hour or several isn’t hard. Don’t miss a visit to the monumental Abbeys in the town – the Men’s Abbey was built by William the Conqueror and the Women’s’ Abbey by his wife Matilda. There’s also a museum and Fine Arts Museum in the former Caen Castle. Around six miles from the city centre is the famous Pegasus Bridge, a major landmark and historic site of World War II which played a significant role in the D-Day Landings.

Bayeux

Bayeux is famous primarily for being the home of the Bayeux tapestry which depicts the Norman conquest of England. Almost 1000 years old, a real life Game of Thrones tale, captured in thread – it really is an extraordinary piece of work. The area around the historic cathedral is great for a wander and the old town is very pretty. Next door to the Cathedral, the Museum Baron Gérard is located in the former episcopal palace and houses an excellent collection which dates from prehistory to the 20th century. Visit the superb Memorial Museum of the Battle of Normandy to explore the history of the D-Day landings through to victory.

French Connections has loads of great holiday homes in Calvados including gites, apartments, cottages, villas and even chateaux and a watermill.

Amboise is in the department of Indre-et-Loire, Loire Valley. It’s a town that packs plenty of wow factor with not just one, but two famous castles. Plenty of restaurants, cobbled streets, walks along the river and wine tasting are just some of the things on offer when you visit Amboise.

Amboise town

Nestled on the side of the grand Loire River, the longest in France, Amboise has a mostly sleepy feel though it does get a bit more packed in summer as tourists throng to its castles. It’s easy to walk around but if you want to get your bearings, there’s a petit train in summer months (details at the tourist office).

There are bistros and cafés and a lovely main street over which a 14th century clock hangs. Don’t miss the lovely Bigot chocolate and patisserie, the terrace is just perfect for a spot of people watching!

Most visitors miss the Pagode de Chanteloup. This rather unusual French folly, an 18th century Chinese style pagoda is in the grounds of a former château that was demolished in 1823. Climb the 149 steps to the top for an amazing view of the countryside. It’s set in a park where you can take a boat ride, a great place to relax. It’s a 10 minute drive from the centre of Amboise.

Chateau du Clos Luce – last home of Leonardo da Vinci

Leonardo da Vinci spent the last three years of his life living in this bijou chateau, a grace and favour home offered to him by French King Francis 1 who was a great admirer of the Italian genius. He died here in 1519 and his bones are buried just down the road at the Chateau of Amboise.

Visit this exquisite 15th century chateau today and you’ll almost believe that da Vinci has just nipped out to the gorgeous gardens and might be back soon. The chateau has been restored to look just as it did when da Vinci lived here. There is a beautiful study complete with sketches, paintings and artefacts. His cabinet of curiosities was filled with oddities and somewhat macabre. But, you don’t get to draw the insides of bodies of humans and animals by looking at the outside so it’s not a surprise to discover such bits and pieces.

The room in which he died is often enhanced with the castle cat, Minette, asleep on the four poster bed studiously ignoring tourists.

There are magnificent gardens at the chateau, filled with the designs of Leonardo da Vinci such as his tank and paddle boat. There’s a lovely cafe and restaurant where you can take a break and enjoy the scenery.

The Chateau du Clos Lucé is one of the most atmospheric da Vinci sites in the world and makes for a truly fascinating visit.

Chateau of Amboise

This beautiful Renaissance style castle is much smaller today than it was. At one point the chateau was virtually a city, not just a castle. There were wild animals in the moat, it had its own church, law courts and barracks. Today the castle is much smaller but incredibly beautiful. Over the centuries bits were pulled down or destroyed, but it retains an aura of greatness.

You enter via a ramp from the street. The tall walls and turrets dominate the town but give no indication of what you will see once you’re inside the castle gates. From the terrace there are magnificent views over the river and countryside, the restored gardens are truly superb.

Inside the Chateau there are rooms in late Gothic style as well as Renaissance. Some rooms are furnished with tapestries, paintings and furniture. Columns in the state room are encrusted with fleur de lys, a bust of Francis I looks down on all who walk through.

Leonardo da Vinci is buried in the Chapel of St Hubert, wedged against the ramparts. It was built by Charles VIII at the end of the 15th century for his wife Anne of Brittany. The chapel is an absolute jewel, with the sun shining through its beautiful stained glass windows, stunning carved doors and exquisite sculptures, it is sublime.

Why not stay in a chateau yourself in the Loire Valley… we have a great range of gites and chateau stays in the area. Just nip over to browse our fabulous selection of Loire Valley holiday homes – we love to make your holiday dreams come true.

Burgundy, in east-central France, is a region that’s renowned thanks to its vineyards, with wine producing villages like Chablis and Nuits-St-Georges known throughout the world.

Burgundy is a land of picturesque villages, rolling vineyards, medieval abbeys, the Burgundy Canal and historic cities. There’s so much to see that it’s hard to know where to start but Dijon, the capital city, should definitely be on your list.

What to see and do in Dijon

Dijon is probably best known for its mustard, However there’s far more to this ancient town than this piquant sauce.

It was once home to the fabulously wealthy Dukes of Burgundy who were more powerful than the King until their empire became part of France in the 15th Century. In their wake they left an architectural and cultural legacy that’s just mind-boggling. Dijon is amazingly well preserved and boasts over 100 hectares of magnificent monuments, medieval buildings and 100 hotel particuliers (grand mansion houses). The Palais des Ducs is stunning, built on the site of the Gallo-Roman castrum (a fortified building), the Roman influence is evident in its architecture. It was rebuilt in 1366 and then again in the 17th Century by architects Jules Hardouin-Mansart (Versailles) and Ange-Jacques Gabriel (Fontainebleau). The Palais has been home to the Musée des Beaux Arts since 1799, one of the oldest and most beautiful museums in France.

Climb the 15th century Tour Philippe le Bon for views over jewel-coloured tiled rooftops, crooked medieval streets, and, further afield, vineyards, forests and villages. The hundreds of stairs are worth the effort.

Visit the free Museum of Burgundy Life which has a quirky and eclectic and mix of objects as well as superb recreations of shops from the 19th and early 20th Centuries.

Finally, don’t forget to rub the owl! It’s a legend in Dijon that it will bring you luck to run the small stone owl on the wall of the 13th century church of Notre Dame. On top of the church is a 14th Century mechanical clock known as “Jacquemart” whose four figurines chime every quarter of an hour as they gaze over rue de Musette and the second hand book sellers on a Saturday morning.

Where to eat out in Dijon

There are hundreds of cafés and restaurants in the town. For views and a great ambiance, head to the Place des Ducs, or Place Francois Rude with its little carousel where mamans and papas sip coffee while their enfants play.

Les Halles, Dijon's main covered market, was designed by the famous son of Dijon - Gustave Eiffel. It’s excellent for food shopping and has a great café, perfect for people watching. (Market days are Tuesdays, Thursdays, Fridays and Saturday mornings).

You can’t really go to Dijon and not visit Boutique Maille. The famous mustard shop has hundreds of different mustards and a tasting bar.

At the end of the day, join the locals and relax with a kir. This typical Burgundian aperitif is made from local speciality, creme de cassis, (blackcurrant syrup) - and aligote (a Burgundian white wine).

We have a great selection of holiday homes in Burgundy, just head over to our listings pages and find one that’s just perfect for your holiday…

When it comes to camping near the seaside in France, there’s a huge choice. From pitching your tent in the dunes, to a cool cabin right on the beach, glamping under the pine trees, parking up in your mobile home or renting a chalet. What’s not to love about the sound of the sea lapping against the sand, a glass of wine under the twinkling stars and the fresh air that always seems so much more pure at the coast…

Seaside holidays in Brittany

With its beautiful beaches, enthralling coastal scenery and family friendly campsites, Brittany is brilliant for seaside holidays. Explore the Emerald Coast which runs west along the north coast of Brittany from the legendary Mont-Saint-Michel. Or the Pink Granite Coast (top photo), which takes its name from the colours of its unusual rock formations, beaten into fantastical shapes by the weather and the sea.

You’ll discover a land of silky sand beaches, dramatic cliffs, a plethora of islands and secret bays.

When it comes to local produce, it’s hard to resist the famous pancakes of Brittany. They’re not like the pancakes we’re used to in the UK but, made with buckwheat flour and stuffed with fish, meat and cheese, they’re hearty, tasty and scrumptious. From the oysters of Cancale, cider, mouth-watering cheeses and the freshest sea food, indulge your senses in this gastronomic paradise.

Perfect beaches in Provence

Provence is a beautiful region, rich in history, gastronomy and wine, famous for its lavender fields, picturesque villages and vineyards. It’s also a playground for families and perfect for holidays with lots of sunshine. The coast of the French Riviera with its sandy beaches, swish resorts and beautiful old villages and towns is utterly alluring.

Take your pick of superb beach locations from lovely La Ciotat not far from Marseille to captivating Cassis. Or how about exquisite Eze near sunny Nice, famous for the stunning views over the Mediterranean from its hilltop perch, or wonderful Menton where orange and lemon trees grow alongside the main coastal route.

Seaside holidays in the Vendée

The Vendée, in Poitou-Charentes, on the Atlantic in southwest France is best known for its shining, soft sandy beaches. Around 70 miles of unbroken coastline, peppered with seaside towns are enough to please everyone. One of the best locations for seaside holidays is Les Sables-D’Olonnes, known as the “Pearl of the Ocean”. It’s a large seaside town with an enormous beach 1.5 miles long. This vibrant town has loads to offer. Plus there are lots of fabulous cafés, perfect for a refreshing after beach aperitif as the sun sets. There’s a thriving fishing port and a marina, watching the boats come and go is so relaxing. With five markets, ferry service, museums, the nearby salt marshes, boat trips and absolutely loads of activities – you’ll never be bored here.

Browse our thousands of listings of gorgeous holiday homes by the sea – we love to help make your holiday dreams come true…

The sunny city of Bordeaux nestles in a land of vineyards dotted with famous wine towns like Saint-Emilion and Medoc. It’s the famous wine of the area that has largely influenced how Bordeaux has evolved for the last two millennia.

The architecture of the city is mellow: neoclassical masterpieces built by rich wine merchants and traders. And, Bordeaux is home to the most wonderful wine bars which definitely adds to the happy and relaxed vibe in the city.

The Roman legacy

The Romans were the first to start making wine in Bordeaux. When they arrived they imported wine from Italy and Spain but in 1AD they planted the first vines, the ancestor of Cabernet Franc. There are ruins of an amphitheatre known locally as 'Le Palais Gallien' and a few towers but you can’t walk more than a few steps in the city without reminders of that monumental decision the Romans took. There are wine bars everywhere. The locals recommend Maison Gobineau, smart and elegant with tapestries and stained glass windows alongside contemporary style wine racks and an extensive wine list which starts at just €2 a glass.

Must-sees in Bordeaux

Cite du Vin

In the 18th century, rich city merchants began commissioning fabulous buildings in the neoclassical style. Today they contribute to Bordeaux’s status as a UNESCO world heritage centre. The Opera National de Bordeaux is a veritable landmark in a city of landmarks.

Miroir d’Eau, a water sculpture in front of the impressive Place de la Bourse, draws people day and night to marvel at and enjoy. On a hot day, kids splash love to splash in the water and cool down in the misty spray.

The great door or the Cathedral of Notre Dame in Paris was modelled on the doors of the 11th century Cathedral of Bordeaux where Eleanor of Aquitaine married Louis VII in 1137. In the 14th century, Bordeaux's Archbishop became Pope Clement V and moved the seat of Papal rule from Rome to Avignon.

UNESCO listed churches on the Camino de Santiago. You’ll see little brass floor plates as you walk through the city indicating that you’re on the Way of St James (Camino de Santiago). There are 3 UNESCO listed churches on the route.

Don't miss the magnificent Cité du Vin a superb win museum with innovative displays, high tech marvels, a most fabulous wine tasting area with panoramic views over the city. The superb wine store and gift shop are also worth a visit.

When your legs are weary from walking the streets of this wonderful city, just hop on a boat and take a tour to admire Bordeaux from its river, said to be one of the cleanest in Europe.

Eating out in Bordeaux City

With more than 3000 restaurants it’s not easy to know which are the best but these names crop up from locals’ recommendations:

Le Petit Commerce, traditional, friendly, great menu and full of locals. 22 Rue Parlement Saint-Pierre

Braderie Bordelaise “a taste of Bordeaux” is how the locals described it. If you’re a steak frites fan, you’ll love this one.

Seven at Cité du Vin. The 7th floor restaurant at the wine museum has a fabulous menu, brilliant wine list and absolutely stunning view over the city. It’s open for lunch, dinner, afternoon tea and any time for a glass of wine!

Useful website: www.bordeaux-tourisme.com

We have loads of lovely holiday rentals in and around Bordeaux – making your holiday dreams come true…