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Ideas for Days Out in the Charente-Maritime

There's plenty to do in this picturesque part of the world. Here are a few suggestions...

A day at the beach

Choose from up to100 beautiful beaches along the coast and the islands just off-shore. All boast long stretches of clean, soft sand and as many are protected under the Conservertoire du Littoral (the society to protect the coastline), the scenery is unspoilt and quite beautiful. There are beaches to suit all tastes,  from surfers’ paradise to family friendly.

… or take in the zoo too

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.

Fabulous La Rochelle

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.

Roam around L’île de Ré

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-de-Ré is a lively bustling place set around a harbour filled with brightly coloured boats and the island also has two of the region’s most beautiful villages. Children can ride on the island’s famous 'donkeys in pants'.

French town charm & a trip to a lighthouse

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-shaped market is fantastic, plus there’s a lovely port to wander round, and walks that take you along the coast. Take a boat out to Le Phare de Cordouan, one of France’s oldest lighthouses and a breath-taking view from the top. Read more

Côte Sauvage

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-riding. But you can also get a sense of its beauty by going for a scenic drive. Have a meal at La Tremblade, a picturesque village where oyster farming and mussels are a major industry.

The scent of mimosa and a sea breeze

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.

Oysters & old city walls

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.

Elegant boulevards, boats & Napoleon

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-d'Aix, a small croissant-shaped island that can be walked around in just two hours. The museum is in the house where Napoleon I stayed before handing himself over to the British. His room remains just as it was then.

Roman ruins & Romanesque splendour

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-bottomed boat. Then take in two nearby UNESCO world heritage monuments – in Saintes the 12th century Abbaye aux Dames and in Aulnay-de-Saintonge, the Church of Saint Pierre d’Aulnay, one of the most magnificent Romanesque churches in France with breath-taking sculptures including the four horsemen of the Apocalypse and figures from daily life and the zodiac. When driving through this parts, enjoy the scenery of fields, vineyards and villages with houses made of local white limestone that glow in the light.

Château crazy!

If you love noseying around a château, then here are three to choose from:

Château de Dampierre: magnificent 16th century chateau in Dampierre-sur-Boutonne is set on an island in the middle of the Boutonne river. Elegant architecture and award-winning gardens including a labyrinth maze.

While you’re here stop by La Maison du Baudet du Poitou to see the Poitou donkey - Le Baudet de Poitou. This shaggy donkey is thought to have existed since Roman times but is now an endangered species.

Château de la Roche-Courbon: known as the Castle of the Sleeping Beauty after being found by French writer Pierre Loti abandoned and overgrown. In Saint-Porchaire, today you can take a guided tour of the ornately decorated interior, and see the award-winning formal French-style gardens. For children, there is an area of old-fashioned games such as ‘Indian Top’.

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.

Abbey of Saint Savin then follow the river to a most beautiful village

A UNESCO World Heritage Site, this handsome abbey was founded in the time of Charlemagne (747-814), but rebuilt many times over the following centuries. Today it is most famous for its well-reserved murals that date from the 11th century, and which illustrate  stories from the bible including  the Temptation of Adam and Eve in the Garden of Eden, the flood and Noah. Outside are tranquil gardens as well as a museum on Romanesque art history featuring interesting multi-media exhibits.

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-sue-l’Anglin which is offcially designated one of the region’s most beautiful villages. Stop for lunch, then wander the winding streets and take in the architecture that dates back to medieval times. You can visit the château that dominates the town see the remainders of two towers, the donjon and two chapels. The village is also known for its fine embroidery - see the tourist office for details. Recently opened in the Roc Aux Sorciers or ‘Witches Rock’, are replicas of prehistoric carvings that date from 14 000 years ago, found here in the 1950s but closed to the public to keep them safe.

This article was first published on Discover Poitou-Charentes the complete holiday and leisure guide to the Poitou-Charentes region. For more information visit :

Days Out in the Charente Maritime

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