France Regions

Charming Poitou-Charentes, France


Poitou-Charentes the Heart of Cognac country

The Poitou-Charentes region is one of France’s best kept secrets: a sunny and serene land of green meadows, sandy beaches, pine forests, marshlands and Romanesque churches overlooking a luminous landscape of cognac vineyards. Poitou-Charentes is a region whose unspoiled treasures and timeless rhythm welcome its visitors with Old World charm.

Places to Visit in Poitou-Charentes

Cognac: The world’s best-known brandy comes from the peaceful countryside surrounding the Charente River one hundred miles north of the city of Bordeaux. This slow moving river, which King François I called the loveliest river in his kingdom, passes through a placid landscape of vineyards bathed by a clear and radiant light. 

Visit Cognac with our “Ultimate Cognac Tour“.

Cognac, the medieval town which bears the name of the region, is a charming town filled with narrow cobbled streets and elegant Renaissance facades. World famous cognac houses such as Camus, Hennessy, Martell, Otard, Prince Hubert de Polignac, Rémy-Martin, Courvoisier, and Renault-Bisquit are located here; each  has its own secret and unique process for mixing the various blends of its eaux-de-vie.

Join a guided tour to learn about the double-distilling process that goes on in copper stills before the aging process continues in oak barrels.  Some cognacs age over 100 years. 

Angouleme: Crowning a hill with a superb view of the valley between the Charente and Anguienne rivers, the city is surrounded by medieval ramparts. The Cathedral of St-Pierre is a fine example of Romanesque architecture.

La Rochelle: La Rochelle is most famous for its old harbor and its three outstanding preserved medieval towers. For the locals, that familiar, inviting sight doesn’t just symbolize the port’s rich history: it’s also a haven of style, good times and lively quayside cafes.

The vibrant lifestyle of La Rochelle attracts an international set and there are trendy bars and excellent restaurants aplenty. The town is full of fascinating details: look out for the huge chain on the restaurant-filled Cours des Dames, under the Tour de la Chaine. It used to be slung across the mouth of the harbor, between la Tour de la Chaine and its fellow sentinel, the Tour Saint-Nicolas.

Poitou-Charentes: An image of La Rochelle from the harbor at sunset.
An image of La Rochelle from the harbor at sunset.

The third of la Rochelle’s seafront towers is la Tour de la Lanterne, in which a huge candle was lit nightly as a beacon for incoming ships. In total La Rochelle is an exuberant town at any time of the year, but it excels during the summer with an international film festival and in mid-July, the nation’s top musical happening, les Francofolies, in which French-speaking musicians and music-lovers from all over the world congregate. The songs may be French, but the ambiance is universal!

Marais Poitevin: The waterways of the “Marais Poitevin” are sometimes likened to the bayou of Cajun country, for man hardly appears to have made an impact on the landscape. But unlike the bayou, this is not an uninviting, alligator-rich swampland! In fact, the maze of canals are all man-made. They date from the middle ages, when monks started a huge project to drain the Golfe du Poitou (a huge nearby bay).

The more picturesque name given to the area, “La Venise Verte” or “Green Venice” is a hint that getting around by car in the town might be easier said than done. Roads are so scarce around these parts that city-dwellers may be disoriented.  Take heed.

A canal in the "Marais Poitevin" in Poitou-Charentes, France.
A canal in the “Marais Poitevin” in Cognac, France.

The surface of the water gives the impression that you could walk over it. Of course you can’t-even if you set foot in the pastures, you’ll notice that the “terra” is not as “firma” as you’d expect! The land is waterlogged to such an extend that if you jump up and down on it, it moves! One of the best ways of exploring the network of waterways is to hire a boat, which you can do with or without a guide. Once you know a little of the marshland’s history, you might wish to hire a boat alone.

Coulon, an irresistible photogenic little town about 5 miles from Niort, is the home base for most aquatic tours, although other ideal starting points include Arcais, La Garette and St-Hilaire-La-Palud. An alternative: take to the winding back roads on bicycle, in a horse-drawn caravan or by pony.

Ile de Re: Linked to the mainland by a toll bridge, the island of Ile de Re is surprisingly flat. Whitewashed houses with green shutters, narrow little streets bordered with bright hollyhocks, long fine sandy beaches, colored church spires rising from villages and harbors, salt pans that form as patchwork of watery fields, make the island a paradise for holiday makers and a haven for cyclists.

An aerial view of the old lighthouse on the Ile de Re in the Cognac region of France.
An aerial view of the old lighthouse on the Ile de Re in the Cognac region of France.

Poitiers: Set on a majestic hilltop above the river Clain, this is one of France’s oldest cities, filled with history and tales of antiquity; whether it be Joan of Arc, Richard the Lionhearted or Eleanor of Aquitaine. The visitor will discover a trove of Romanesque art and architecture, museums, a 4th century Baptistery (one of the oldest Christian edifices in France as well as the entirely renovated Romanesque church of Notre-Dame-La-Grande.

Futuroscope: Located just 5 miles from Poitiers, this science amusement park is a voyage into a wonderland of new technology devoted to the moving image. With the most advanced film projection techniques, the world’s largest screens and a multitude of mind boggling activities to choose from, it is no wonder that Futuroscope draws nearly 3 million visitors annually.

Saintes: Located on the banks of the Charente river, this 2000 year old town in Poitou-Charentes was once the Roman capital of southwestern France. The presence of one of the oldest remaining amphitheaters as well as Roman baths, which may be visited, attests to this. Between visits to the cathedral of St-Pierre and the church of St-Eutrope, be sure to stroll through the wonderful medieval city of narrow streets and markets.

Getting to the Poitou-Charentes (Cognac) Region

By air:
Regular services:
Poitiers – London (Ryanair); 
La Rochelle – London (Ryanair); 
Poitiers, La Rochelle and Angouleme airports have connections with the Clermont-Ferrand hub which allows links with the major French towns (Paris, Dijon, Mulhouse, Strasbourg, Marseilles, Toulon, Nice, etc.)
 
By train:
The high-speed Atlantic TGV links Paris Montparnasse station with:

  • Poitiers (1 hr 30 mins)
  • Angouléme (2 hrs 15 mins)
  • Niort (2 hrs 12 mins)
  • La Rochelle (2 hrs 51 mins.

Four direct daily return services with Lille Europe and European fast trains from the North such as Thalys (Belgium, Netherlands) and Eurostar (London) to Poitiers and Angouléme.

Return services to Paris connecting in Bordeaux or direct from Angouléme and Poitiers. 

By car:

From Paris, take direction Orleans – Bordeaux motorway A 10 (toll highway) or Nationale Road 10 (same directions). Three hours drive to Poitiers and 4 hrs 30 minutes to Angouléme, Cognac, La Rochelle.Musems in the Poitou-Charentes Regions

Angouleme
Le Centre National de la Bande Dessinee (Cartoon museum)
Entirely dedicated to the art of the cartoon: works and original strips- 250,000 albums and magazines.
  
Bougon
The Musee des Tumulus (Tumulus Museum) in Poitou-Charentes offers a rich collection of prehistoric archeological objects, including exhibition of Neolithic burial mounts (5,000 B.C.).

Chateau d’Oiron
16th century château with sumptuous painted ceilings and galleries and numerous rooms dedicated to contemporary art.

La Rochelle
Musee du Nouveau Monde – New World Museum: Located in an 18th-century townhouse, this museum is dedicated to the transatlantic trade and commerce between France and the New World.

La Rochefoucauld
Chateau de la Rochefoucauld: This 12th-century Renaissance château is entirely furnished and has a magnificent stairway, and a library of over 18,000 books.

Les Tours du Vieux Port
The Tour of the Lantern, Tour de La Chaine and Tour St-Nicolas, former “doors” protecting La Rochelle during the 14th and 15th centuries, have been transformed into museums.

Romanesque Art
Across Poitou-Charentes stand some 600 examples of the Romanesque sanctuary, a heritage which began around the 10th century. Monuments line the ancient route to Santiago de Compostella the most famous ones are Notre-Dame-la Grande in Poitiers with its beautifully carved facade, Saint-Savin-sur Gartempe with its 11th century biblical frescoes protected by the world heritage organization UNESCO as well as the Saint-Pierre d’Aulnay de Saintonge, a major example of Romanesque monuments.

Rochefort
18th century Military Harbor: A former military port with its 374 meter-long Royal rope factory and its dry dock where the French vessel “Hermione”, Marquis de La Fayette’s frigate, which served during the American War of Independence, is being rebuilt. The Church of Saint-Louis in Rochefort)

Royan
Historic Museum of the Royan Pocket: Royan, a city entirely rebuilt in the Fifties: it was razed by the Allies in the morning of January 5th, 1945 and liberated by the French troops of General de Larminat on April 15th. The “historic museum of the Royan Pocket” features the great moments of this period.

Sports and Leisure in Poitou-Charentes

While Poitou-Charentes as a region would seem to be all about a carefully-made luxury drink made from very particular white grapes (Ugni blanc in case you wondered), it’s an outdoor paradise as well. From the Marais Poitevin’s flat-bottomed boat tours through the so-called “bayou of France”, to canoeing and house-boating on the Charente river, to sailing and wind-surfing along the Atlantic coast, Poitou-Charentes is a water-lovers dream. Inland, the region’s lovely rolling hills are made for cycling, and of course, well-laid-out golf courses. Fourteen to be precise. 

Spa afficionados swear by the centers at Royan, Châtelaillon, lIe de Re and lIe d’Oléron, especially for thalassotherapy, that very distinct French sea water therapy.

Gastronomy in the Cognac Region

From the simplest to the most refined, restaurants in Poitou-Charentes offer modern gastronomy inherited from regional recipes. World famous eau-de-vie Cognac is made in this region and this palatable brew is present in many recipes.

Rochefort cheese on a black platter.
Poitou-Charentes: The home of Rochefort cheese.

If you are determined to sample seafood as fresh as can be, Poitou-Charentes is the right place to be since its coast overflows with bounty: a great variety of seafood from sea-bass, dover sole, mullet, halibut, frog fish, skate, sea bream, to scallops, clams and of course mussels and oysters (ideally from the Marennes-Oleron beds).

A must try in Poitou-Charentes is the “ceteaux” or wedge sole­. Typically served ­ grilled or pan fried with lemon and butter. The fish is carried by the tide from the open sea round the ile d’Oleron and are only found in the region.

The best butter in France comes from the Poitou-Charentes region. For over a hundred years, regional production companies have remained faithful to traditional production techniques that are unparalleled worldwide.

Also famous are the local goat cheeses. A perfect way to end any meal while visiting Poitou-Charentes. The region is also one of the top producers of quality beef, pork, and lamb in France.

Poitou-Charentes lamb and beef are much-prized ingredients, in no small part because of the luxuriant ancient grasses of the region that fatten the free-range animals, raised in the time-honored way.  Locals celebrate special occasions with slow-roasted pork, or sometimes baby goat with sorrel and green garlic. Though Cognac is dominant, local lighter red wines are gaining in reputation and complement goat and pork very well.

Cognac is a white wine produced and double distilled into an “eau-de-vie”.  Some do indeed think of it as the “water of life”, which is the English translation. Cognac results from blending and aging different eau-de-vie vintages in Limousin oak barrels. Aging is inimally two years, but could be 100!.. Once transferred out of the oak wood casks into bottles, like whiskey, Cognac stops aging. The designations are precise:  

Any Cognac fan, be they expert or newbie, should visit the town of Cognac with our “Ultimate Cognac Tour”.

V.S. (Very Special) two and half years old

V.O. (Very Old), V.S.O.P. (Very Superior Old Pale), Réserve must be at least four and half years old

X.O. (eXtra Old), Réserve, Extra, Hors d’Age and Napoleon six and half years or older

For additional information, visit the Poitou-Charentes website.