The town of Cognac lives and breathes its world famous product - 80% of which is exported - and many producers offer free tastings.
The Hennessy Cognac Company has been in the same family for 7 generations and makes a good starting point for a visit. Their tour begins with a film explaining where cognac can be produced and the various factors affecting its quality.
Visit Distillerie Otard based in the medieval chateau where Francois I was born. 18km northwest of Cognac, between Migron and Authon, the ‘Ecomusee du Cognac’ gives a history of the double distilled brandy, including tastings of cognacs, liqueurs and cocktails.
Try Pineau des Charentes -an aperitif made from brandy and sweet, unfermented grape juice. Notice the black fungus growing on warehouse roofs caused by evaporation (known as the angels’ share) as the spirit ages.
Cognac itself is a typical old Charentais town with narrow cobbled streets and fifteenth and sixteenth century buildings in the rue Grande. The town’s Musee du Cognac displays pre-historic artefacts and a collection of fine paintings alongside the history of the famous brandy.
Ask at the tourist office about river trips from the port in summer.
Pretty hillside town above the River Vienne at its confluence with the River Goire. Confolens has twelfth century castle ruins, ancient churches and a narrow medieval bridge across the river.
The steep narrow streets bordered by ancient houses are thronged with thousands of visitors during Confolens’s International Folk Festival each August which attracts top musicians from all over the world.
At quieter times, the town is a great centre for ramblers, cyclists and fishermen and offers plenty of opportunities for watersports enthusiasts. For cycling with a difference try the Velo-Rail (bicycle-rail) along the old railway line from Confolens to Manon where there’s a café for refuelling! Each vehicle can take 2 peddlers and 3 passengers. Great fun, but wear sensible shoes and warm clothing. Usually open July and August and weekends in June and September.
Situated on a hilltop with a superb view of the valley between the Charente and Anguienne rivers, Angouleme is surrounded by 3km of medieval ramparts.
Visit the Romanesque St-Pierre Cathedral with its inspiring twelfth century façade. Once famous for papermaking, Angouleme now only has a free museum dedicated to the craft - located in an old cigarette-paper factory on the rue de Bordeaux.
More famous is the town’s Centre National de la Bande Dessinee - showing the development of French print and film cartoons. There’s no doubt the French regard comics as a serious art form; the collection houses 4,000 original drawings with subjects from politics to ‘Peanuts’. Have fun browsing through the English comics in the library section.
Angouleme holds an annual international comic strip festival - usually the last weekend in January - attracting visitors from all over the world.
Ask at the tourist office about guided tours around this pretty flower-decked town which also permanently exhibits wall paintings by some of the more famous cartoon artists. Enjoy a meal in the little restaurants of the old quarter and remember there’s a great market in place Victor-Hugo on Sundays.
Pretty small market town on the banks of the River Charente set in typical rolling Charentais countryside. The walled town has castle ruins and an interesting twelfth century western façade to its church of St Andrew.
Ruffec was a centre of the Resistance in WWII and a rallying point for escaping British pilots. Now popular with holidaying Parisians, Ruffec is a great centre for canoeing, fishing, walking and horse riding. Its Wednesday and Saturday markets are known for their good selection of local produce including cheeses.
This pretty market town on the banks of the River Tardoire is perhaps best known as home to one of the most impressive chateaux in France. The Chateau de la Rochefoucauld standing on a rocky spur overlooking the town and Tardoire Valley has been home to the family of the same name for over 1000 years.
The current Renaissance building is so beautiful it is known locally as the ‘pearl of the Angoumois’. Definitely worth a visit - especially for the ‘son et lumiere’ usually shown in July and August. The Chateau is open for guided tours every day except Tuesday from April until the end of December and Sunday afternoons January - March.
If the 20 rooms of period furniture, library with 18,000 books, and impressive art collection give you a taste for refined living, part of the Chateau is now a hotel. La Rochefoucauld also has a thirteenth century church, pottery and pre-history museums and visitors can enjoy good shopping and fine dining.
Take a quiet walk through the garden of Saint-Florent tucked beside the Tardoire and enjoy the colours and perfumes of over 700 varieties of plants.
For more strenuous exercise, follow walking trails in the surrounding Braconne Forest where underground streams working on the limestone have exposed mysterious gaping holes (fosses) giving rise to a host of local legends.
La Rochefoucald is a great base for cycling, horse riding, rambling and fishing.
One of the most beautiful villages in France, Aubeterre’s name comes from the latin ‘alba terra’ meaning white land - a reference to the white cliffs on which the town is built in a semi-circle overlooking the River Dronne.
The narrow streets with their open wooden balconies and curved roof tiles give Aubeterre, benefiting from Charente’s mild climate, a very Mediterranean atmosphere. A square tower dating from the sixteenth century is all that remains of Aubeterre’s castle.
Lovers of architecture should appreciate the wonderfully decorated Romanesque west front of the church of Saint-Jacques inspired by oriental art and underground church of Saint-Jean - 20m high and thought to be the largest troglodyte church in Europe.
Mystery surrounds this church carved into the cliff in the twelfth century with its origins going back to the sixth century tombs found within. Beside the river, a tree-lined beach (supervised from mid July to mid August) is a popular summer venue for families. Canoe outings are also available and the local tourist office has information on walking and cycling routes.