When it comes to our summer holidays, we can all be indecisive. Would we prefer the summer sun at the beach or in the rolling countryside? How about historical sight-seeing and museums for the children? If you’re struggling to choose, you’re in luck because the Charentes – Charente-Maritime and Charente are the French departments that have it all! With more than 90 beaches to choose from, picturesque market towns, forests and fields full of sunflowers, the Charentes are your calming escape.
So, if you’re someone who enjoys variety during your summer holidays, look no further, here are 15 brilliant things to do in Charente-Maritime:
Stay at No. 22 Cognac
First, you need somewhere comfortable to return to after days of exploring, and nothing could fit that description better than No. 22 Cognac. Hidden amidst fields of rippling sunflowers is this beautifully converted 4-bedroom farmhouse. Complete with a fully-equipped kitchen, comfortable bedrooms, and a private garden, No. 22 Cognac is the ideal hideaway, particularly for families. Enjoy the use of all the amenities including wifi, a barbecue and outdoor eating area, and splash around in the heated indoor pool.
No. 22 Cognac is based in the quiet village of Louzignac. Its location is perfect – embrace a slower pace of French life during your stay, and meanwhile take day trips to the nearby river, historic towns and beaches.
Sample French cuisine
Louzignac may be peaceful, but that didn’t stop celebrity chef Jean-Yves Corvez opening a restaurant nearby! Take a 20-minute walk from No. 22 Cognac and you’ll find La Table du Chef Corvez. Dine amongst vineyards in his renovated 19th century barn, and feast on the lunch or evening tasting menus. All the dishes are made in-house and celebrate the local region’s terrain. Only two years since opening, the restaurant has been honoured by the prestigious Gault & Millau awards, and – the icing on the cake – Corvez’s daughter sells her adorable chocolate creations there!
La Roche Courbon
Enjoy a family day out at Château de la Roche Courbon, a 15th century castle in the grounds of elegant walled gardens. Prior to its conversion by Jean-Louis de Courbon in the 17th century, the castle was steeped in history from ancient times, as prehistoric dwellings are exhibited as part of the castle’s tours. Abandoned after the revolution, the castle became overgrown and dilapidated, leading to its nickname ‘Sleeping Beauty’s Castle’. Now the castle is full of activities and events, including educational games and tours for children.
The ancient town of Saint-Jean d’Angély is a must-see destination in Charente-Maritime. Its abbey, a UNESCO heritage site, dates all the way back to the 9th century and houses the relics of St John the Baptist. Its towers, which were once used as a prison, loom over the roofs yet remain unfinished. The town is a quaint labyrinth of alleys, while the buildings are a mish-mash of white stone and ancient half-timber. There is also the famous Musée des Cordeliers displaying the collection of Andre Citroën’s explorations of Africa and Asia.
If you love exploring the outdoors, the marshy Marais Poitevin in the north of Charente-Maritime is where you’ll find your natural habitat! This stunning nature reserve is full of criss-crossing waterways along which you can travel by boat, some even with a personal gondolier! It’s not called Green Venice for nothing. Discover the huge variety of flora and fauna, the 250 species of birds, and watch the dragonflies float lazily over the water.
La Palmyre Zoo
For another exciting day out with children, visit La Palmyre Zoo. Home to over 1600 animals across 18 hectares of pine forest, a vast range of species await your visit including lions, cheetahs, flamingos, and 30 species of primates! The zoo is also heavily involved in the conservation of endangered species. Thanks to its breeding programmes, La Palmyre records 200-300 births every year.
This region is proud of its markets, and so it should be! In total, there are 125 scattered across the region. There’s an incredibly popular covered market in Saint-Jean d’Angély and another spilling out onto the streets of La Rochelle. Pick up fresh fruit and vegetables and local seafood, or simply go to dine on regional delicacies. Don’t miss the market in Matha for a remarkable range of sweet oysters and mussels.
For a relaxed day of sight-seeing, Jarnac is a more peaceful town than the famous Cognac, yet still boasts a gripping history. Within the region of the ‘cognac appellation controlée’, the town is famous for its cognac production, none more so than that from the famous Château Courvoisier distillery. Book a tour of this fascinating museum and enjoy the available tastings! Afterwards, explore Jarnac – stroll along the river and discover the Roman-style church which dates back to the 11th century.
Charente-Maritime’s coast stretches over 460km of soft fine sand, so pack up the car for a day at the beach. If you are a lover of the sea, then this coast is the summer destination for you. It has everything – water sports, naval bases, migrating birds, and oyster beds. Spot the Cordouan Lighthouse at the mouth of the Gironde Estuary or hop between the four islands along the coast – Ré, Oléron, Aix and Madame – each with their own beautiful landscapes.
The Charente river meanders its way through the department and its waters just beg for serene boat trips. Choose available cruises or boat hire from local towns including Jarnac, Cognac, and Angoulême. For other watery adventures, visit the amusement park Port Miniature de Saint-Savinien-sur-Charente. Here, children can have a go sailing their very own miniature warships and galleys!
On the bank of the Charente river is Rochefort – not to be mistaken for Roquefort! This city is famous for its nautical history in which over 550 ships were launched from the former Royal Dockyards built in the 17th century. Visit the charming, reimagined early-20th-century village at Le Musée des Commerces d’Autrefois and climb aboard the replica of the frigate Hermione berthed in the dockyard. The real Hermione was launched in 1779 before sailing to America to play her part in the American War of Independence (also called the Revolutionary War).
Distilleries and vineyards
Charente is famous for its huge variety in wine thanks to its incredible terrain of clay and limestone. Tastings and tours are available, and at Le Cep Enchanté, activities such as treasure hunts and escape games keep children and adults alike entertained. Of course, this is the region of cognac, so you must visit the distilleries. Cognac Painturaud Frères is a family-run distillery in Segonzac, and their tours include the vineyards and aging cellars, and end with a delicious tasting session.
Nicknamed ‘the balcony of the southwest’, Angoulême overlooks the Charente river, its tree-lined ramparts surrounding the city. This is Ville de l’Image, named after its love of the comic arts. As such, 30 cartoon murals decorate the city which you can visit by downloading an app for a self-guided tour. Most importantly, of course, is its Marche des Halles selling delicious food and specialities from all over the region.
Cycling and hiking
Discover the beautiful cycling and walking routes of Charente and Charente-Maritime. La Flow Vélo is a 350km cycle path curving through the major towns. Between each stop, traverse along the river and through vineyards and forests, soaking up the spectacular scenery. If that wasn’t enough, the hiking trails stretch to 5,000km! Walk along the estuary or immerse yourselves deep in the countryside – The Haute-Saintonge combines 30 trails and, if you’re feeling adventurous, hike to the magnificent pearly blue Lake Guizengeard.
Last but certainly not least, is Cognac. Here, as the name suggests, is where the popular brandy originated, so with over 200 producers in the area, there are plenty of distilleries to discover. To learn more about the drink, visit the Musée des Arts du Cognac. Beyond the city’s namesake, there is the beautiful old town to explore. Full of charming narrow streets, the history of this merchant town is truly charming.
Want more things to do in the area? Check out Cognac No. 22’s free guide to the Charente and Charente-Maritime on their website and book your stay at: cognac-no22.com
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