Tourist attractions, holidays and things to do and see in Poitou-Charentes
So, why choose the Poitou-Charentes for a holiday? Well first of all, as well as lots of things to do and tourist attractions - see the Top Attractions in the Poitou-Charentes - there’s the climate. The region is south of the Loire Valley and parts of the Poitou-Charentes are reckoned to have the most sunshine hours a year in France outside of the Mediterranean.
The summers are generally quite long, warm and sunny, though you can expect a few rainy days too, while the autumns are usually clear and bright. The winters can get cold the further inland you go, but they don’t last long, and you can often expect a warm spell in March or even February.
Another great reason is the food and wine in the Poitou-Charentes. It’s not only home to cognac, but also the underrated aperitif pineau and some excellent local wine - especially from the Haut-Poitou area in the north of the region close to the Loire Valley.
The region is equally and rightly noted for its great local delicacies too – for example cheese, honey, poultry, butter and snails – as well as fine restaurants, hotels, cafes and bars.
Then there is the sheer variety of things to do and see in the Poitou-Charentes, such as leisure parks, golf and beautiful towns and villages. It’s divided into four departments – the Charente, Charente-Maritime, Deux-Sèvres and the Vienne – and each has its own charms, character and tourist attractions.
THINGS TO SEE AND DO IN THE CHARENTE-MARITIME
If it’s a beach holiday you want, then look no further than the Charente-Maritime. From the gorgeous islands of Île de Ré and Île d'Oléron down to Royan, this beautiful department has miles of long sandy beaches to tempt you. It’s a coastline that is popular with tourists from France, so staying at these beach resorts will give you a glimpse into how the French enjoy themselves on holiday too.
Away from the beaches it’s still easy to find things to do and see in the Charente-Maritime. La Rochelle is one of the most fascinating small cities in France, with a great location and harbour, excellent restaurants and hotels and lots of other tourist attractions too – such as the La Rochelle Aquarium and the Maritime Museum which is housed on historic ships.
Further down the coast the historic naval port town of Rochefort is a great place to visit. Here you can see the replica of the Hermione, the famous ship that took the Marquis de La Fayette to America in 1780 to fight in the War of Independence against the British. This year – 2011 – is the last you can see it in dry dock before it takes to the sea.
while inland there’s the historic town of Saintes and the fascinating interactive prehistoric site called Paléosite. Off the coast, meanwhile, there’s a chance to get up close to the fortress-turned-TV icon Fort Boyard and to take a cruise around other islands.
Royan is another lovely seasside town with a fantastic seafood market, nearby is La Palmyre Zoo where there are 1,600 species, among them are several endangered species, such as the White Rhinoceros, which the zoo is helping to save with breeding programme. The lovely gardens of Jardins du Monde with electric boats to ride on and a butterfly house, is also a great day out.
THINGS TO SEE AND DO IN THE CHARENTE
Next door to the Charente-Maritime is the department of the Charente. Again, you will have no problems finding things to see and do in this part of the Poitou-Charentes. This is where you find Cognac – both the town and the famous cognac drink (take a tour of a cognac house) – and the historic town of Angoulême with its historic, atmospheric town centre, great bars, restaurants, hotels and nightlife.
The Charente is also home to some stunning countryside, from the undulating vineyards of the west, the forests, mills and valleys of the east and the buttercup meadows of the Charente-Limousine. The River Charente – conduit of the old cognac route in the past – offers plenty of scope for day trips on boats or longer trips on barges and river boats as well as canoeing and kayaking.
But though the Charente is rightly famed for the beauty of its countryside, there are also some great towns to visit, including pretty Aubeterre - officially one of the Most Beautiful Villages in France - and its intriguing underground church, and Confolens, wonderfully situated on the River Vienne and host to an acclaimed international festival. And as so much of this region, the Charente landscape is studded with châteaux, including the impressive La Rochefoucauld château (open to visitors) and the château at Verteuil (pictured above, not open to visitors), and offers scope for cycling, fishing and nature-based breaks.
THINGS TO SEE AND DO IN THE VIENNE
We’re halfway through our guide to tourist attractions and what to see and do in Poitou-Charentes …and now it’s time to head north to the lush department of the Vienne, named after the large river that flows through it and which has created some stunning countryside.
One of the pearls of this department is the capital town of Poitiers, a town steeped in world, French and English history, and whose old streets are brought to life now thanks to its large student population. The Vienne boasts a lot of great places to visit, including the internationally-known Futuroscope theme and leisure park, the Crocodile Park, Snake Island and the Valley of the Monkeys.
On top of these tourist attractions there are many other fine places to see such as the UNESCO World Heritage site of the Abbey of Saint-Savin-sur-Gartempe and its beautiful frescoes, and the market town of Chauvigny, with its impressive hilltop ruins and bird of prey centre known as the Géants du Ciel.
WHAT TO SEE AND DO IN THE DEUX-SÈVRES
Last but certainly not least is the department of Deux-Sèvres, a land known for its rolling farmland, its valleys, rivers and winding lanes. The two main towns of this beautiful department are Parthenay and Niort, the latter managing to combine bustling modernity and restaurants and hotels with history. Another of its stand out places to visit is undoubtedly food – it’s hard to go anywhere in the Deux-Sèvres without stumbling across the local speciality, cheese.
But the biggest tourist attraction in Deux-Sèvres is one of the most remarkable landscapes of the western half of France – the Marais Poitevin. This area of marshes and waterways has earned the nickname of ‘Green Venice’ (La Venise verte in French) and is a must place to visit. Here you can hire a boat and enjoy the spectacular scenery, the wildlife and the sheer tranquilly of this unique area. The village of Coulon is generally reckoned to be one of the prettiest places to visit. So, as you can see from this brief travel guide to tourist attractions in the Poitou-Charentes, this region really does have a lot to offer!
Words: Michael STREETER
Photo of château at Verteuil: I-Stock
Great Days out in the Poitou-Charentes
Summer festivals in the Poitou-Charentes
Accommodation in Poitou-Charentes
Restaurants in Poitou-Charentes
Pineau producers in Poitou-Charentes
Cognac producers in Poitou-Charentes
Golf courses in Poitou-Charentes
The official tourism site for Poitou-Charentes