Charentes area is
part of the Atlantic coastal plain of France, located between the Loire
valley and Aquitaine. Its coastline is one of the sunniest
Old port of La Rochelle
(TGV) from Paris Gare Montparnasse or Gare d'Austerlitz. Access by road
from the UK, via any of the Channel ports, then via Paris or via Rouen
. The Poitou-Charentes region is crossed by the main motorway between
Paris and western / southwestern France, the A10
(Paris-Tours-Bordeaux). By air
low-cost carriers fly to La Rochelle, or to airports just outside the
region, at Bordeaux, Bergerac and Limoges.
sculptures on the facade of Notre Dame la Grande, at Poitiers
introduction to the Poitou-Charentes region
Poitou-Charentes region of western France is not a historic region of
France, but was formed in 1956 from the major part of the old Poitou
area, plus three smaller areas in the south. The climate
of the Charentes
is one of the mildest in France, and the coastal area of this region is
the sunniest part of France outside the Mediterranean coastal areas.
In brief, the region covers the central part of France's Atlantic
coastal plain, together with a gently undulating hilly area further
inland, the first foothills of the Massif Central. In the southern part
of the region, extensive vineyards provide the grapes that are used in
the production of Cognac and the famous local apéritif wine Pineau des
In the north of the region, the departments of Deux
Sèvres (79) and Vienne (86) make up the historic Poitou region,
centered on the ancient city of Poitiers; the low-lying departments of
Charente (16) and Charente- Maritime (17) make up the southern part of
the region. The whole region is largely rural, and even the regional
capital Poitiers has less than 100,000 inhabitants. Niort, capital of
the Deux Sèvres department, is specialised in financial services,
notably insurance, and mail-order, which is surprising for a town of
just 60,000 inhabitants; however the town was hit hard in 2008 by the
collapse of the CAMIF, one of France's big mail order cooperatives, and
by the financial crisis in general.
The regional council has tried
hard to develop the regional economy; the creation of the Futuroscope
theme park, just north of Poitiers, opened in 1986, was designed to
give an economic boost to the region; but though it has generally been
a successful tourist venture, and is one of the twenty most visited
attractions in France with an average of over 1.5 million visitors a
year, it has not transformed Poitiers into one of France's major
cities, and many of those who visit the Futuroscope, located beside the
A10 motorway, are just passing through on their way to the coast, or
The coastal area, including the towns of La
Rochelle, Rochefort and Royan, is popular for seaside tourism and also
with yachtsmen; however many kilometres of the coastline are given over
to oyster beds, oysters being one of the big local specialities. The
coastal islands of Oléron and Ile de Ré are famous for their beaches
and maritime environment. Some parts of the coastal area lie at or even
marginally below sea-level; in Spring 2010, high tides and heavy seas
pushed by hurricane Xyntia broke through the sea defences causing
serious flooding. As a result of this, some 1500 houses in the Charente
Maritime and Vendée departments are to be demolished.
Main tourist attractions in the
Part of the Futuroscope theme park Photo St.A
12th century fresco - St Savin sur Gartempe
By the river Sèvre Niortaise Photo Dynamosquito
Romanesque sculpture on a Saintonge church
The old citadel at Brouage
Charente Maritime coast near la Tremblade
Marais Poitevin - Venise verte.
"Green Venice" covers much of the sea-level flat land inland from the
coast, mostly in Deux Sèvres and Charente maritime. It is an area of
slow moving rivers and channels, woods and fields. Boating and
kayaking, angling, rambling and riding are among popular activities
here. There is a good network of marked cycle tracks.
Charente Maritime department
(16) Attractive hill town, with an old but not particularly historic
town centre. The cathedral, of romanesque origin, was extensively
renovated in the 19th century.
(16) small town with unusual romanesque "monolithic" church, carved out
of the rock. One of the "most beautiful villages in France" -
consequently full of tourists in busy periods.
(16) Visit the great cognac
houses, and the cognac and pineau cellars.
Deux Sèvres department
the citadel (17).
Remarkable 17th century walled garrison town, birthplace of Samuel de
Champlain, the founder of Quebec. Once a major Atlantic port, Brouage
was abandoned, and survived just as a village on the Charentes
fenlands. Off the beaten track, it has remained virtually unchanged,
its fortifications rising from the marshes.
historic Altlantic port city, with mediaeval fortifications. The
Aquarium at la Rochelle is one of the 20 most visited attractions in
Small city just inland from the coast, once a major naval arsenal. Old
naval buildings, including the old naval rope works, and the Maritime
museum, with historic collection of model sailing ships, and a shipyard
where a replica 18th century frigate, the Hermione, is
being built. Also the unusual House of Pierre Loti, a French
century traveller, with its genuine Moroccan interior.
(17) : classic seaside resort. The la Palmyre zoo
is one of the best in France. Jardins du Monde offers a discovery of
garden styles from round the world, plus a butterfly house.
Lying on the river Charente, Saintes was once the capital of the Roman
province of Aquitaine. Today a small town, it is most famous for the
Roman triumphal arch (Arch of Germanicus) and remains of the Roman
amphitheatre and other remains from antiquity. The historic Abbaye aux
Dames is the largest example of Saintonge romanesque architecture.
(17). Train des
- the Seagull line - 21 Km from Saujon (between Royan and Saintes) to
la Tremblade, along the estuary of the Seudre. Steam trains on weekdays
in the holiday period.
(17) a remarkable ensemble of 11th and 12th century romanesque
churches, with magnificent carved porches and stonework. So many
villages harbour marvels of medieval heritage, that sometimes they are
not even signposted.
de Ré and Oléron - Popular offshore islands, accessible
via road bridges from the mainland.
The capital of the Deux-Sèvres department is a classic old French town.
Though the outskirts are modern - Niort is home to the major French
insurance cooperatives or "Mutuelles" - the old town is a sleepy
ensemble of stone buildings dominated by a mediaeval castle overlooking
the river Sèvre Niortaise .
(79) . Small town on the river Thouet, best known for its
impressive mediaeval fortified bridge.
the town of the five castles. Five impressive castles and a romanesque
church make up the mediaeval quarter of this old town built on a rocky
spur beside the river Vienne, just east of Poitiers.
(86), Regional capital, Poitiers is an old hill-town with an attractive
old centre. The city is most famous for its ancient churches, including
frescoes in St. John's Baptistry, reputedly the
oldest place of Christian
worship in France, and the Notre-Dame la Grande church, one of the most
famous and distinctive romanesque churches in France.
- Futuroscope (86) A
future-based theme park, famous for its variety of high-tech cinemas
including IMAX and 3D
Savin sur Gartempe (86). UNESCO world heritage site, a
romanesque abbey church with a remarkable collection of mediaeval
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