There's plenty to do in this picturesque part of the world. Here are a few suggestions...
Choose from up to100 beautiful beaches along the coast and the islands just off-
If you don’t fancy spending all your day at the beach and you’re near Royan, then enjoy four hours or so at the Zoo de la Palmyre. Considered one of the best zoos in Europe, it’s set in 14 hectares of pine forest that’s part of the forêt de la Courbe. See more than 1,600 types of animal from all five continents including polar bears and snow leopard to Siberian tigers, elephants.
Definitely one of France’s loveliest coastal towns with a historic port that’s beautifully preserved. Walk through the Gothic gateway, Porte de la Grosse Horloge, and explore the maze of pedestrianised streets – don’t miss the market. The aquarium here is one of Europe’s best with more than 10,000 sea creatures. There is also the old port to explore, with its historic towers, plus take a boat trip out into the harbour and visit one or more of the many excellent and unusual museums. There are plenty of places to eat, along the lively seafront or in the atmospheric streets.
Known as the French Hamptons, this is where the French glitterati spend their summers.
They come for the white, sandy beaches, the villages of white houses and pastel coloured
shutters, with hollyhocks growing in the gardens, and the getting away from it all
feel – cycles are a popular form of transport. The main town of Saint Martin-
The seaside town of Royan is a mix of beautiful Belle Époque mansions and contrasting
modernist architecture (it was bombed by the Allies during WWII and then rebuilt).
The seafood market in a shell-
The wildest part of the Atlantic coast boasts long sandy beaches and crashing waves
backed by towering forests of pine. Within in the interior is the la forêt de la
Coubre, a huge pine and green oak forest that was first planted in the 19th century
to stop erosion in the sea. Today it’s protected and a lovely place to go walking,
cycling or even horse-
Connected to the mainland by a bridge, L’île d’Oléron is France’s largest island after Corsica and boasts hugely varied landscape, from pine forests and sand dunes to marshland and salt beds, soaring cliffs and long, sandy beaches. In the summer months the scents of mimosa and oleander are carried on the sea breeze, wafting over the many holidaymakers (the island is a French favourite). Take a boat trip from the island around Fort Boyard, owned by the television channel France 2, so not open to the pubic, but it’s still worth the trip.
Much of the Atlantic coast around here is devoted to oysters, but those from Marennes are particularly prized. Tour the area on foot, cycle, bus or boat, seeing the oysters beds and the farmers at work before tucking into a dozen or so of these delicious shellfish at one of the many restaurants. Later head to Brouage, once an important harbour town. Today it has silted up and the town fell into ruin. It’s an interesting place to visit – you can walk along the two kilometres of ramparts and see inside the underground waterways that linked the main square with the sea.
Start your day in Rochefort, a 17th century ‘new town’ built with wide boulevards
on an octagonal grid pattern so the sea breeze could sweep through the town. Stop
off at La Corderie Royale, once the royal ropeworks and now an excellent museum.
Then head to the nearby dockyard where the Hermoine, an 18th century frigate, is
being reconstructed. From here, explore the nearby Fouras peninsula with its beautiful
beaches, interesting walks and prolific wildlife. If you have the time visit the
Musée Napoléon on L’île-
Established by the Romans, Saintes is a pretty market town with a number of excellent
Roman ruins including the L’Arc of Germanicus that was originally built in 19AD and
Les Arènas, the remains of an amphitheatre originally constructed in 40AD and once
holding 15,000 spectators. From here you can take a cruise down the Charente river
on a gabere, a traditional flat-
If you love noseying around a château, then here are three to choose from:
Château de Dampierre: magnificent 16th century chateau in Dampierre-
While you’re here stop by La Maison du Baudet du Poitou to see the Poitou donkey
Château de la Roche-
Château de Crazannes: a 14th century château built on the site of an 11th century fortress – you can still see the chapel and castle keep – and whose illustrious guests have included the Black Prince and King François I of France. As well as the fairytale turrets and elaborately carved entrance, inside it is luxuriously decorated and furnished.
A UNESCO World Heritage Site, this handsome abbey was founded in the time of Charlemagne
The abbey is on the Gartempe river and the surrounding scenery is very beautiful.
Take the road that follows the river to the village of Angles-
This article was first published on Discover Poitou-
Days Out in the Charente Maritime
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