- Grand castles, sandcastles
- Country life
- Brandy-soaked suppers
Topped by the Loire valley, tailed by Bordeaux, cooled by Atlantic breezes, Poitou-Charentes is the home of cognac, and a coast-to-country destination par excellence.
Beautiful beaches are the main draw, with bucket-and-spade Royan and yachtie La Rochelle the star-billed sands, and Ile d’Oléron and Ile de Ré the offshore jewels. Meandering from north and east, a network of rivers once vital for paper mills and vineyards is now populated by kingfishers and canoeists. Gourmets will easily fall for this green and fertile land, where oysters and sirloin of beef are equally prized, and eaux de vie flow sociably. Whether you take your apéritif countryside or seaside, it’s the region’s easygoing calm you’ll raise a glass to.
Perfectly Poitou-CharentesThe Atlantic waters help create the eaux de vie that Cognac is famous for. White wine is double distilled, and aged in barrels until fierily strong and caramel smooth. Visit the cognac houses (in Cognac, of all the places) and go home with your own labelled bottle. Camus, at 29 rue Marguerite de Navarre (+33 (0)5 45 32 28 28), is a fifth-generation family firm; Rémy Martin, at 20 rue de la Société Vinicole (+33 (0)5 45 35 76 66) is famous for champagne cognac; Hennessy, on Quai Richard Hennessy (+33 (0)5 45 35 72 68) is good for a quick tour and a general overview.
- It should be easy to hunt down a cab in bigger towns such as La Rochelle, Rochefort and Angoulême. In villages, c'est pas évident, though your hotel should be able to organise one for you.
- Tipping culture
- A service charge is normally added to your bill (service compris) in restaurants and cafés but it’s still customary to leave a small tip. For taxi drivers, add 10 percent to the metered charge.
- Siesta and fiesta
- hops and banks shut between 12pm and 2pm. Outside high-season months (June to August), many shops and restaurants take a two-day weekend on Sundays and Mondays. Dining is always a serious business, so whatever time you want to head out to a restaurant, it’s best to book.
- Packing tips
- Riding boots – the region has many horse trails. A hip flask for your cognac. Deck shoes and a Breton top for mingling on the marina at La Rochelle.
- Recommended reads
- Maigret comes to La Rochelle in Georges Simenon’s Le Voyageur de la Toussaint. Or pack mid-20th-century novels Claire or Les Destinées Sentimentales by local writer Jacques Chardonne, for light social commentary against a Charentais backdrop.
- Regional specialities
- Tourteau fromagé is a sponge cake made with goat’s cheese, identifiable by its raisin-dark crust. The handmade butter from the dairy at Echiré is 183 Poitou-Charentes acclaimed worldwide as a connoisseur’s choice. Head to the coast for sumptuous seafood: langoustines, oysters, crabs, mussels... Livestock farming takes place throughout the region, too, so your beef, mutton or pork shouldn’t have travelled far. The area was prized for its truffles in the 19th century, though all that remains now are the truffle cheeses, such as Jonchée and Chabichou, sold in local markets.
- Euro (€).
- Time zone
- GMT +1.
- Dialling codes
- France: 33. South-west: 05 (drop the zero when ringing from abroad).
- Do go/don't go
- When schools break up for summer, the region’s beaches fill with families; only go in July and August if you don’t mind sharing with them. Autumn is a great time to visit: the Atlantic is as warmed by the summer sun as it will ever be, and the grape harvest (September to October) brings festivals.
Don't go home without...
…taking a sunset stroll around the fortified marina at La Rochelle, accompanied by the ‘ting ting’ of yacht stays on masts. Yachts rub bows with gin-palace cruisers and the sun bathes the cream-stoned harbour walls in rosy light.