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The French departments (counties) of Charente (16) and Charente
Maritime (17) make up the southern half of the Poitou-Charentes region,
in central western France. Stretching from the Atlantic coast to the
first foothills of the Massif Central, this area of the Poitou
Charentes region enjoys a generally mild climate, and is the
sunniest part of France outside the Mediterranean coastal strip.
Essentially rural departments, Charentes provide a pleasant
and relaxing environment for holidaymakers in search of a few days or
weeks away from the hustle and bustle of urban life. The largest city
in the Charentes, the port of La Rochelle which is the capital of the
Charente Maritime department, has well under 100,000 inhabitants; and
Angoulême, capital of the Charente department, has less than 50,000.
Beyond these local "big cities" Charentes is a profoundly rural area,
with small country towns, villages, chamlets, and acres and acres of
farmland and vineyards; and in recent years, it is an area that has
attracted a large number of holidaymakers from northern Europe,
particularly from the UK and the Netherlands.
Tourism is one of the region's main economic
activities, and naturally is is concentrated most heavily along the
coast, including the offshore islands of Oléron and Ré (photo above),
where there are plenty of fine sunny and sandy beaches. The coastline
also attracts surfers, windsurfers and yachtsmen, thanks to it regular
winds and small ports and marinas. La Rochelle is a mecca for
yachtsmen. However, it should not be imagined that the whole
coastline of the Charentes is fringed with beautiful sandy beaches,
szince this is not the case. Between the beaches, other economic
activities occupy their share of the coastline, notably the large areas
of oyster beds, for which the Charentes coast is famed. The
Marennes-Oléron oyster beds are among the most extensive in Europe.
As for the hinterland of
Charente Maritime, and the department of thea Charente, these areas
offer plenty of opportunities for rural tourism, cultural tourism or
river tourism. The river Charente is a long tranquil river, winding
through the area, and navigable for a distance of over 100 miles from
the mouth, at the small port of Rochefort sur Mer, as far
inland as Angoulême.
The region's other major economic activity is wines
and spirits; indeed, the Cognac vineyard area covers over 150,000 acres
spread over the two departments, centered on the town of Cognac, famous
as the world's brandy capital. But "Cognac" is not the only great local
drink; much of the local grape harvest goes to making a sweet apéritif wine
known as Pineau des Charentes, which is popular throughout France and
and tourist attractions in Charentes:
Rochelle (17); one of the great historic ports on France's
Atlantic coastline. Harbour, marina, old town, fortifications. (photo
opposite). The La Rochelle aquarium is one of the finest
(17). This small port at the mouth of the Charente was once an
important naval base. Among the sights worth visiting are the old Royal
Rope Works, and the house of the 19th century writer and traveller
Pierre Loti, with its authentic Moroccan interior, imported by Loti
from north Africa.
(17) : One of France's classic seaside resorts, at the end of the
Gironde estuary. Nearby the Palmyre zoo is the largest private zoo in
France, and reputedly one of the best in Europe. The Gardens of the
World park in Royan has typical gardens from different countries.
(17). Once the Roman capital of this part of Gaul, Saintes
has a Roman triumphal arch and amphitheatre. It also has an attractive
old centre, with the 11th century Abbaye aux Dames, St
Peter's Cathedral, and mediaeval streets.
(17) This area around Saintes is famous for its remarkable
collection Romanesque churches adorned with intricately
carved medieval statues, doorways, corbels and capitals. Particularly
noteworthy are the churches at Saintes, Talmont, Aulnay, Rioux and
Chadenac, to name but five.
(17). Train des Mouettes -
The Seagull Line , almost 14 miles of track between Saujon (between
Saintes & Royan) and la
Tremblade, along the Seudre estuary. Steam-hauled trains
operate during the summer weeks.
of Ré and Oléron (17) - Located a short distance off the
mainland, and accessible by bridges (toll), these islands are very
popular with holidaymakers on account of their climate and fine beaches.
Martin de Ré (17)
- on the island of Ré; small port town
with impressive fortifications designed by the great military architect
Vauban in the late 17th Century. A UNESCO world heritage site.
(16) The capital of the Charente department has a historic walled city
centre and a famous cathedral dating from the early mediaeval period,
but extensively renovated and embellished in the 19th century..
- Aubeterre sur Dronne: a very pretty village,
reputed one of the prettiest in France, with a famous mediaeval
(16) Visitors can take guided tours of
Cognac cellars and the old town (photo opposite)
by : Alain Pepper, Tuxman, J-P Bazard, Tobi Toaster