Charente-Maritime is Poitou Charentes’ coastal department and one of the sunniest areas of France.
The dunes and fine sandy beaches backed by pine forests so typical of the Atlantic fringes have long been a favourite holiday destination for the French.
Parisians in particular make for the stylish resort island of Ile de Re and the chic boutiques of La Rochelle.
The islands Re and Oleron offer the visitor to Charente-Maritime a breath of fresh, clean island air in truly traditional settings.
Easily accessed by bridge and viaduct, there are great opportunities here for watersports, horse riding, walking and bird-watching on the nature reserve and salt marshes which also produce the d’Oleron oysters. Small, family friendly resorts abound such as Saint-Palais-Sur-Mer.
Inland, the landscape is dotted with farms, vineyards, water and windmills. History lovers will enjoy the eleventh century church at Talmont-sur-Gironde on the old pilgrim route to Santiago de Compostela in Spain and the ancient town of Saintes is a must for lovers of art and Romanesque architecture.
Visitors to the Forest Museum in the wooded Saintonge area may not be lucky enough to see the elusive genet – a rare wild cat - but back at the coast Royan does have exotic animals to view at its zoo – the second largest in France. Royan is also credited with launching the fashion for sunbathing on its 5 sheltered beaches.
Famous La Rochelle, one of the best natural harbours along the Atlantic coast, has long been a favourite holiday base and is a major sailing centre. It is host each September to the largest floating boat show in Europe – the ‘Grand Pavois’.
Take a stroll around La Rochelle’s ancient walled town ending at the old port still guarded by 2 fourteenth century towers. The marina has moorings for 3,500 yachts alongside traditional fishing boats and the waterfront is vibrant with seafood restaurants serving everything from oysters and clams to turbot and sea bass. Do as the locals and start proceedings with a glass of Pineau des Charentes.