Visitors to the department of Charente will never find themselves far from the river from which it takes its name or one of its tributaries.
The waterways here were once an essential means of communication and transport, with flat-bottomed ‘gabares’ taking cognac, paper, cereals and stone to the Atlantic and returning with salt and spices.
Today, you can cruise the same routes admiring castles and churches. Moor up for provisions at little riverside villages, watch the river wildlife, or fish along banks lined with irises and meander past vine covered slopes and limestone cliffs.
The Charente is navigable for cruisers from Angouleme to Rochefort with 147km of waterways. Look on line for boat hire or contact the Charente Tourist Board. Boats need no licence and tuition is given. Have fun negotiating the locks and visit the old barging village of Saint Simon where you can take a trip on an old sailing barge. The Tourist Office at Jarnac can arrange this – see www.jarnac-tourisme.com
Canoes and kayaks are widely available for hire on a variety of rivers such as the Vienne and the Dronne, there’s plenty of fishing including fly fishing on the Touvre, and places such as Aubeterre have supervised swimming beaches. Ask at local tourist offices for details.
For those who prefer not to take to the water there are plenty of quiet roads alongside the Charente and towpaths for walkers and cyclists.
The upper Charente is an area of lush pastureland and coppiced woodland where the River Charente finds it source.
Two lakes have been created here offering a wealth of activities for lovers of the outdoors around their 400 hectares of fresh water. Lake Mas Chaban and Lake Lavaud both have a host of walking trails around their perimeters, through forests and beside pastures between local hamlets.
Signposted green trails indicate routes accessible for those with limited mobility. Visit the ornithological observatory at Foucherie on Lake Lavaud for early morning sightings of little grebe and greenshank along with many other nesting, migratory and wintering species.
Summer supervised swimming is available at the Lake from beaches at La Guerlie and Videix and shore fishing is allowed on both lakes with a fishing permit. Dinghy sailing, catamarans and canoeing are on offer at the Watersports Centre on Lake Lavaud but no outboard motors allowed - they could disturb the wildlife. The local Maison des Lacs has more information about provision for people with restricted mobility, tel: (00 33) 545 65 26 69.