• From the green valleys of the Vienne and Charente rivers to the Sèvre niortaise, from the Marais Poitevin to the regions of Cognac and Saintonge, from the "big" ocean islands (île de Ré
, île d'Oléron
) to the shores of La Rochelle and Royan, this region is firmly based on the Atlantic Ocean with all its many facets. This vast destination, known generally as the "west of France" is full of attractions for tourists.
Gastronomy and local produce
• The Atlantic coast's principal offering to French gastronomy is of course oysters, and the Marennes-Oléron area (at the mouth of the Seudre) has become the reference. The most famous of oysters are the "claires", from the breeding basins with their combination of sand and clay, fresh water and seawater, where a nourishing seaweed feeds the famous mollusc. These seaside flavours (oyster beds and salt marshes) can also be enjoyed on the île de Ré or the tiny île Madame
(with its one and only farmhouse inn) opposite Rochefort and the Charente estuary.
• Further inland, vines of several different grape varieties, and especially the expertise handed down through the generations (since the 16th century) have brought us the famous Cognac
and the delicious aperitif Pineau des Charentes (not to be confused with the Pinot grape variety). The first is primarily based on the art of distilling the grape juice (the must) then leaving it to age in oak barrels to obtain an incomparable eau-de-vie, while the second is produced from a blend of "eau-de-vie and must". Even further inland, the pastures of Poitou are excellent for dairy products: butter and goat's cheese (like the PDO Chabichou
• Romanesque art is very conducive to hiking
, in Saintonge for example, with a loop of 64 km of PR (easy hiking) trails (around Pons) or near Melle, a listed village nestling on a plateau, near Niort. The Melle triad comprises three 11th-12th century Romanesque churches. These hiking trails marked out for "Romanesque heritage" often take over from the GR 655 which follows the path of the Via Turonensis on the pilgrimage to Santiago de Compostela. Several sites in Poitou-Charentes are listed by UNESCO.Cyclotourism
• Cycling is very popular here, thanks to an attractive network of small roads and cycle paths. Elsewhere in the region, you will find ten or so mountain bike sites (with FFC approval), for example near the lakes of Haute-Charente and Chambon (on the border with Périgord). Several green routes are being built, including the Galopine in the Saintonge region, and the vallée du Thouet
(to the north of Parthenay) provides 120km of easy cycle paths. Of course, the île de Ré
and île d'Oléron are also excellent for cycling, as they are relatively flat.Navigable waterways
• The Sèvre Niortaise and the Mignon and Autize canals provide 100 km of navigable waterways
, but the Charente, a coastal river, is really perfect for river cruises, between Angoulême, Saint-Sireuil and Rochefort.
• A boat is also the best means of transport to explore the Marais Poitevin
, (the Poitou marshlands) especially at Coulon, a sort of capital of "green Venice".