The Charente-Maritime is a department in the Poitou Chartente region and a popular tourist destination for the French. They particularly like the upmarket resort island of the Ile de Ré and the smart boutiques of nearby La Rochelle.
Royan is a highly recommended resort to visit, situated on the east coast close to the river Gironde estuary in the Charente-Maritime. It was badly damaged by allied bombing towards the end of World War 2. As a consequence Royan has been re-built and is thoroughly modern in contrast to most other towns in the Charente-Maritime. It boasts 5 beaches of fine sand, a Zoo with 1600 different animals and a school for surfing.
Why you should visit the Charente-Maritime for your next holiday in France
From gently shelving beaches of golden sand and historical ports to oyster farms, blue lakes and Roman sites, Charente-Maritime really does have it all.
Watersports are popular in the region because it is endowed with some of the Atlantic's finest beaches. Boat rides down the Charente offer a delightful change and a visit to a cognac distillery is a must. Other activities include golf, walking, tennis, fishing trips, casinos and cycling with many marked cycle tracks and bike rental available at several points.
Access to the area by air is either via Nantes to the north or Bordeaux to the south. There are good road connections to the ferry ports of St. Malo, Cherbourg and Caen. There are also excellent trains to Paris.
What to see and do in the Charente-Maritime
Charente-Maritime coastline stretches from La Rochelle down south to Rochefort and Royan, inland to Saintes and south to Jonzac and Montguyon.
La Rochelle the capital of Charente-Maritime started life as a small fishing village in the 10th century and has thrived as a base for the wine and salt industries. It is a delightful ancient seaside town, most famous for its unspoiled old harbour and its three outstanding medieval towers. The harbour is also the biggest yachting centre on France's Atlantic coast and is surrounded by stately buildings. Visitors can spend many happy hours wandering through the old streets with their bars, restaurants and fascinating architecture. La Rochelle also has a large aquarium and has France’s largest zoo.
Travelling south is the old ex-naval town of Rochefort with its military buildings, including the amazingly long former rope factory, which now houses a superb exhibition on the life of sailors and fishermen. At Rochefort a major project is underway to build a replica of the frigate Hermione, the ship that took the French general La Fayette to the New World to fight alongside the Americans against the English in 1780.
Further south is the more modern seaside resort of Royan with its sandy beaches and a seemingly endless parade of waterside fish restaurants. It also plays host to the annual marbles contest.
The beautiful, wooded Saintonge area of the department is full of history, and an important centre of Romanesque architecture. Scores of fine old churches can be found here, along the many walks and cycle trails that criss-cross the department. The area also has many farms, vineyards, water mills and wind mills and pigeon lofts.
Places to visit
- Ile de Ré - The island is rich in birdlife and boasts some of the most expensive real estate on the west coast. St-Martin-de-Ré, the island's main village is worth a visit.
- Ile d'Oleron - is the second largest French island after Corsica and has some excellent beaches, vast pine forests, nature reserves and cycle tracks.
- La Rochelle - a commercial centre and busy port since the 11th century, the Aquarium is well worth a visit and boasts 10,000 specimens. There are motor boat tours available to see the nearest islands and Fort Boyard.
- Marennes - with its famous oysters. It is by far the largest oyster cultivation area in all of Europe. The combined growing and refinement area covers approximately 15,000 acres (approx. 6,000 hectares). In the grounds of the château de la Gataudière is a treetop adventure playground for children.
- Pons - a pretty medieval town, complete with castle keep and pilgrims‘ hospital. At the Chateau d'usson now called Chateau des Enigmes there is a puzzle to solve. There are interesting walks around the town through ancient alleyways and the gardens around the Town hall.
- Rochefort - the town was purpose-built by Colbert in the 17th century to be the greatest shipyard in France, producing over 300 sailing vessels per year.
- Saintes - a beautiful town steeped in art and history, was the capital of the Roman province of Aquitaine in the first century. There are museums, the Abbaye aux Dames, superb churches, a roman amphitheatre, the arch of Germanicus amongst many other architectural treasures.
How to get to the Charente Maritime
- London Stansted/La Rochelle with Ryanair
- London Gatwick/La Rochelle with Easyjet
- Birmingham/La Rochelle, Southampton/La Rochelle, Manchester/La Rochelle with Flybe.
Eurostar has made the journey easy from London, St Pancras International to Paris, Gare du Nord is just 2 hours 15 minutes.
From Paris (Gare Montparnasse) there are trains to La Rochelle, either direct or with a change at Poitiers.
Arrive at Calais (Eurotunnel) then take the motorway via Rouen, Le Mans, Angers and Cholet.
All ferry routes can be used to get to Charente maritime by car, however the nearest ports are St Malo, Cherbourg, Caen and Roscoff.