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Charente Maritime holiday guide

Posted on 27 July 2015 by

27.07.2015
Charente Maritime holiday guide

Coastal county of the Poitou-Charente region, Charente Maritime offers an irresistible mix of sea, sand and stunning countryside. Pictures and words by Gillian Thornton.

What to Expect

Just three hours’ drive from St Malo, the département – or county – of Charente-Maritime includes over 460 km of coastline, four islands and more than 40 pleasure ports.  Families can enjoy beach and water sports, easy cycling, and horse riding, with plenty to satisfy heritage lovers too.

Just a road bridge away from the mainland lie the twin holiday islands of Ile de Ré and Ile d’Oléron, whilst the unspoilt shoreline of the Côte Sauvage between La Palmyre and Ronce-les-Bains offers a combination of sand dunes and pine forest where you can be as active or passive as you please.

The inland scenery is equally varied, from the ‘Green Venice’ of the Marais Poitevin in the north to the Gironde estuary in the south, and the tranquil Charente valley flowing into the sea near Rochefort.   Four of the elite band of ‘Most Beautiful Villages in France’ dot the coastline – Ars-en-Ré and La Flotte-en-Ré; the craft village and old port of Mornac-sur-Seudre; and Talmont-sur-Gironde, founded in 1284 by our own Edward I, ruler of Aquitaine.

Heritage fans won’t want to miss the four main towns – La Rochelle, Saintes, Rochefort and Royan – and the department boasts no less than five UNESCO World Heritage sites including the Vauban citadel in Saint-Martin de Ré, and key churches on the Saint-Jacques de Compostella pilgrims’ route.  Some of the best Romanesque monuments in France are to be found here in the ancient region of Saintonge.

Saintes in Charente Maritime

Charente-Maritime is home to two of the top ten provincial tourist attractions in France –La Rochelle Aquarium and La Palmyre Zoo, whilst the interactive imaging theme park of Futuroscope near Poitiers make an unforgettable family stopover on the journey down or back.

And for the ultimate chill-out, remember that Charente-Maritime is the leading department for wellness with six thalassotherapy centres and three thermal resorts – Jonzac, Saujon and Rochefort.

Must-see Sites

The Old Port, La Rochelle – feel the buzz round this idyllic harbour with its twin towers, pavement cafes and summer street entertainers, but leave time for the arcaded streets and ancient buildings behind the quays.

La Rochelle Aquarium – home to 12,000 weird and wonderful marine mammals.  Late closing in July and August.

Ile de Ré – Dubbed ‘The White Island’ for its clear light and whitewashed cottages fringed with hollyhocks. More than 100 km of level tracks for safe family cycling close to nature.  Discovery centres on salt, fishing and island life.

Ile d’Oléron – France’s second largest island after Corsica with wealth of family-friendly facilities including 25 sandy beaches.  Visit the citadel at Le Château d’Oléron, climb the Chassiron lighthouse, and visit the bird reserve and oyster beds.

La Palmyre Zoo – conservation and environmental education are priorities in this 18-hectare pine forest, home to 115 different species.  Big favourites are the chimp, orang-utan and gorilla families in Ape Space, and up to 300 animal babies every year.

Hidden Gems

Babin Brothers ice cream parlour by the Old Port in La Rochelle.   Try sea salt or melon flavour, or batonnets, little sticks of ice cream in coconut and white chocolate or mango and dark chocolate.

Donkeys in trousers – on the ramparts at St-Martin-de-Ré, watch for shaggy Poitou donkeys in striped trousers, a reminder of the era when donkeys once worked the salt pans and wore pyjama style outfits to protect their shaggy legs from salt and insects.

Charente Maritime donkeys

Ile Madame and Ile d’Aix – away-days with a difference on the area’s smallest islands.   Cross to Ile Madame by causeway at low tide and take the boat from Ponte de Fouras to Ile d’Aix where Napoleon spent his last days on French soil.

Hermione – authentic replica in Rochefort of the frigate that took Lafayette to the aid of General Washington in 1780; visit the shipyard and walk her decks before Hermione begins sea trials after the summer, prior to an Atlantic crossing in 2015. Also visit former Corderie Royale (Royal Rope Works) of Louis XIV’s naval HQ.

Charente Maritime hidden gems

St-Palais-sur-Mer – delightful small resort between La Palmyre and Royan, with sandy bay tucked between tree-lined headlands and studded with Belle Epoque villas.

Local Flavours

Marennes-Oléron is Europe’s leading oyster-producing area, the colour due to the presence of microscopic algae present in the small basins where they mature.   But you don’t need to like eating them to enjoy a guided visit to the oyster beds.

Charente-Maritime is renowned too for mussels and a variety of fresh fish, but other local specialities include Fleur de Sel sea salt and potatoes from the Ile de Ré, snails and of course cognac.   Adult visitors shouldn’t miss a guided tour of one of the great cognac houses located in Cognac and nearby Jarnac, nor a glass or two of pineau, the traditional local aperitif made from grape juice and cognac.

Further information from www.visit-poitou-charentes.com

Where to stay

There are three superb siblu holiday villages in Charente Maritime. Les Charmettes is a large site with a wonderful leisure complex including an indoor and several outdoor pools, plus indoor and outdoor stages for evening entertainment. Bonne Anse Plage is a forest-set holiday village within cycling distance of brilliant beaches, and La Pignade is the smallest of the destinations, located on the edge of La Coubre forest.

See our range of holidays in the Charente Maritime, or find out more about becoming a holiday home owner at one of siblu’s superb holiday villages.

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