Now a French Regional Natural Park, this 900 square miles of shady meadows and waterways, built originally by eleventh century monks around the Sevres Niortaise, is known officially as the Marais Poitevin, but referred to locally as ‘La Venise Vert’ – Green Venice - because of its system of canals, dykes and slow flowing rivers amongst green pastures and poplar trees.
Traditionally, farmers would travel between fields in flat bottomed punts, sometimes carrying livestock.
Holidaymakers can explore this natural paradise by punt. Take a guide to point out wildlife from eels to egrets. Cycle via miles of well marked trails, stopping at pretty marsh villages such as Arcais or Le Vanneau, which hosts a traditional floating market in summer.
Find information on the customs and traditions of marsh life at the Maison des Marais Mouilles (visitor centre) in Coulon using computer animated models. (Open every day during the holiday season).
The village is one of France’s ‘Plus Beaux Villages’ and developed as a river port in the twelfth and thirteenth centuries due to its strategic position on the River Sevre Niortaise when goods were carried by boat between Niort and the sea. Taxes ‘coutume’ were collected for rights of navigation and mooring.
Stroll amongst Coulon’s pretty whitewashed houses stretching down to the riverside lined with quays and boats, visit its Romanesque church which has an exterior pulpit, and enjoy the atmosphere of the Friday and Sunday markets. Take the family for a ride on the little Pibalou tourist road-train but also be sure to include a trip on the waterways - perhaps with a picnic to enjoy by the riverbank.
Covering 4800 hectares of oak and beech, the Foret de Chize is Poitou Charentes’s largest forest. There are picnic areas and a strong educational involvement. For more information, tel: (00 33) 5 49 77 17 15.
The mild climate of the green countryside in northern Deux-Sevres around Thouars and Bressuire ensures a rich agricultural region ideal for the production of fruit, cereals and vines which dot the hillsides.
The classic Vendeen Bocage landscape is a patchwork of irregular fields bordered by hedges and small groves of trees set amongst gently rolling hills. The clear waters of the River Thouet team with fish making it popular with anglers.
The area is ideal for all manner of green leisure pursuits and, like long ago pilgrims along the route to Santiago de Compostela, you will find the pleasures of the countryside matched by the beauty and welcome of the towns and villages with their Romanesque churches set high along the river banks.