Charente-MaritimeCharente-Maritime is a department in the Nouvelle-Aquitaine region of southwestern France.
- — a fort located on the West coast
- – a beautiful place to visit.
- – a lovely town, bombed by the Allies in WWII, it has managed to rise, phoenix-like, from the ashes to become a chic, very French, resort.
This beautiful area of southwest France was born out of the French Revolution. The two areas of Saintonge, based on the old Roman town of Saintes, and Aunis, based around the old Huguenot stronghold of La Rochelle, were merged and Charente Maritime was born. This is where the French themselves go on holiday because of the beautiful scenery, mild temperate climate combined with the luminous quality of the light (a painters haven) and almost 500km of beautiful coastline.
Fly to La Rochelle (LRH) or Bordeaux (an hour's drive from the southern Charente Maritime), Poitiers.
Many of the villages are steeped in history, man has occupied this land for a long time. At the southern tip of the region is the "Haute Saintonge". This special area is a bit like the land that time forgot. Some of the locals still wear their blue overalls and slippers for all occasions. The land glows with light and warmth. The houses with their Roman tiled roofs and their ramshackle outbuildings invite further investigation. The architecture is predominantly Romanesque. It is littered with fabulous churches, farms, wells, market halls. The ornamentation on the churches is awesome. Visit the church of Sainte Fortunata at St Fort sur Gironde and see the horses heads, or the church at Lorignac or Sainte Ramee. Grapes and sunflowers, as well as tobacco and maize, are grown here. Most villages have a local wine maker, some have several. 100 years before the revolution a wine producer had a moment of serendipity. He poured some grape juice into a seemingly empty cognac barrel. He forgot about it and rediscovered it a few years later. The nectar known as "pineau" was invented. This area has lots of pineau producers, you can visit most of them and of course taste the pineau.
Visit the local wine producers and have a degustation (wine tasting). Taste the wine, pineau, and, of course, the world-famous cognac houses. Hennesy, Remy Martin, Otard, Martell and others all have tours in English as well as French. Chateau de Beaulon is in the heart of the Haute Saintonge and you can visit the distillery in Lorignac as well as visit the chateau itself at St Dizant. There is a huge wetland park at Vitrezay where you can walk along the shores of the Gironde or round a series of lakes. The beaches are nearby. There are golf courses in the area. It is a ramblers paradise with miles of marked walks. There are thermal springs in Jonzac as well as Caribbean-themed indoor water sports (Les Antilles de Jonzac).
Plenty of waterside restaurants dotted around the small ports of Mortagne, Port Maubert, and Vitrezay plus many other restaurants ranging from humble €10 meals to haute cuisine. Melon au pineau is a speciality as is a whole range of seafood and the salt marsh lamb.
This is the land of wine, pineau, and cognac. Take your pick, you won't go far wrong. The vins de pays Charentais is quite a find. It was born out of necessity when the demand for grapes for cognac declined, but has been improving rapidly and is a perfect summer drink.