On the French Atlantic Coast, Poitou-Charentes is located between the South and North of France and thanks to its central location it has a very pleasant and temperate climate – not as stiflingly hot as the far south but with much warmer weather than the north. This region in central western France comprises four departments: Charente, Charente-Maritime, Deux-Sèvres and Vienne. The regional capital is Poitiers.
Beaches, castles and churches
It is an unspoilt region with long sandy beaches, harbours, vineyards, castles, fabulous Romanesque churches, lush green countryside and fields of sunflowers. A place of historic importance, its lands were once the domain of Eleanor, Duchess of Aquitaine who married King Henry II in 1152, an alliance which bought English rule for 300 years. A popular region with holiday makers, there are plenty of hotels, chambres d’hotes and campsites near the coast and in the interior.
There are around 450 kms of safe sandy beaches on the coast of Charente strewn with dunes and pine trees – the pine and brine scent in the warm summer air charms the influx of holiday makers and it is very popular with the French as well as the foreigner.
There are four islands, Ile d’Oléron is the largest followed by the lovely Ile de Ré – both connected to the mainland by a bridge. The upmarket holiday resort beaches of the Ile de Ré have more hours of sunshine than anywhere else in France except the Mediterranean coast and the charming green shuttered white houses provide much inspiration for artists and photographers. It’s also a cyclist’s paradise – though not if you’re training for the Tour de France. Only for those who like leisurely and gentle cycling – its very family friendly with safe, and in the summer months slow moving, crowded cycle paths.
Facing the island are the ports of La Rochelle and Rochefort. La Rochelle is considered to be one of the most unspoiled and picturesque ports of France with its 17th and 18th century houses and charming shops. Rochefort was created in the 17th Century by Colbert, Naval Minister to Louis XIII and though not as charming as La Rochelle it is a pleasant place to while away time or enjoy a terrific seafood meal.
Lush marshland, vineyards and theme parks
Further inland to the north of the region are the famous Poitevin marshes, hugely popular with families and visitors who enjoy the varied boat trips on its thousands of canals and with plenty of water sports on offer. Known locally as the Green Venice of France, it’s an area of outstanding natural beauty with fens and meadows, poplar trees providing leady shade, canals, dykes and slow moving rivers. There are forests to explore, beautiful cycle routes on a fairly flat landscape away from the coast, hiking trails and horse riding.
Popular with visitors – particularly French holiday makers is Futuroscope, a giant high tech film theme park which draws in around 2,000,000 visitors a year. It may not sound that exciting but this is a theme park with a difference – there are high tech virtual reality rides here which are guaranteed to please thrill seekers. The rides are not for children or those of a nervous disposition – they are full on fast, adrenalin fuelled and extreme. Apart from the rides there are huge 3D film screens, video and virtual games, giant screens where the viewing seats move in time with the film being shown, a magic carpet ride with a screen in front and below which induces the most amazing presentation and oversized bikes to ride on a lake where you can also take a boat ride. It’s a whole day outing for family with older children and teens will probably love it.
Poitou-Charentes is also an area of vineyards and wine production and is the second largest area of production of cognac in France (Bordeaux is the biggest producer).
Things to do and see in Poitou-Charentes
A visit to Futuruscope in Poitiers the Capital will please the whole family.
Visit the world famous distillery town of Cognac.
Soak up the sun on the beaches of the Ile de Ré – the sunniest in France excluding the Mediterranean coast.
Sample the succulent seafood at La Rochelle – the charming port town with its lively, preserved historic centre and superb seafood restaurants.
Hire a boat or a bike and cycle or float around the Poitevin marshes and investigate the fabulous wild life and fauna of the Venise Verte.
Pop in on Angoulême with its vibrant atmosphere, excellent seafood restaurants and great nightlife.
Getting to Poitou-Charentes
By Air: There are airports at Tours, La Rochelle, Nantes and Poitier.
By Rail: Fast train from Paris. TGV service from Poiters, La Rochelle, Royan and Angoulême.