Poitou-Charentes is one of France's best kept secrets: a sunny and serene land of green meadowlands, sandy beaches, pine forests, romantic marshlands and Romanesque churches overlooking a luminous landscape of cognac vineyards. Poitou-Charentes is a region whose unspoiled treasures and timeless rhythm welcome its visitors with Old World charm.
Cognac: The world's best-known brandy comes from the peaceful countryside surrounding the Charente River one hundred miles north of Bordeaux. This slow moving river, which King François I called the loveliest river in his kingdom, passes through a placid landscape of vineyards bathed by a clear and radiant light.
Visit Cognac with our "Ultimate Cognac Tour".
Cognac, the medieval town which bears the name of the region, is a charming town filled with narrow cobbled streets and elegant Renaissance facades. World famous cognac houses such as Camus, Hennessy, Martell, Otard, Prince Hubert de Polignac, Rémy-Martin, Courvoisier, and Renault-Bisquit are located here; each has its own secret and unique process for mixing the various blends of its eaux-de-vie. Join a guided tour to learn about the double-distilling process that goes on in copper stills before the aging process continues in oak barrels. Some cognacs age over 100 years.
Angouleme: (pictured) Crowning a hill with a superb view of the valley between the Charente and Anguienne rivers, the city is surrounded by medieval ramparts. The Cathedral of St-Pierre is a fine example of Romanesque architecture.
La Rochelle: La Rochelle is most famous for its old harbor and its three outstanding medieval towers. For the locals, that familiar, inviting sight doesn't just symbolize the port's rich history: it's also a haven of style, good times and lively quayside cafes. The vibrant lifestyle attracts an international set and there are trendy bars and excellent restaurants aplenty. The town is full of fascinating details: look out for the huge chain on the restaurant-filled Cours des Dames, under the Tour de la Chaine. It used to be slung across the mouth of the harbor, between la Tour de la Chaine and its fellow sentinel, the Tour Saint-Nicolas. The third of la Rochelle's seafront towers is la Tour de la Lanterne, in which a huge candle was lit nightly as a beacon for incoming ships. In total La Rochelle is an exuberant town at any time of the year, but it excels during the summer with an international film festival and in mid-July, the nation's top musical happening, les Francofolies, in which French-speaking musicians and music-lovers from all over the world congregate. The songs may be French, but the ambiance is universal!
Marais Poitevin: The waterways of the "Marais Poitevin" are sometimes likened to the bayou of Cajun country, for man hardly appears to have made an impact on the landscape. But unlike the bayou, this is not uninviting, alligator-rich swampland! In fact, the maze of canals are all man-made. They date from the middle ages, when monks started a huge project to drain the Golfe du Poitou (a huge nearby bay). The more picturesque name given to the area, "La Venise Verte" or "Green Venice" is a hint that getting around by car in the town might be easier said than done. Roads are so scarce around these parts that city-dwellers may be disoriented. Take heed.
The surface of the water gives the impression that you could walk over it. Of course you can't-even if you set foot in the pastures, you'll notice that the "terra" is not as "firma" as you'd expect! The land is waterlogged to such an extend that if you jump up and down on it, it moves! One of the best ways of exploring the network of waterways is to hire a boat, which you can do with or without a guide. Once you know a little of the marshland's history, you might wish to hire a boat alone. Coulon, an irresistible photogenic little town about 5 miles from Niort, is the home base for most aquatic tours, although other ideal starting points include Arcais, La Garette and St-Hilaire-La-Palud. An alternative: take to the winding back roads on bicycle, in a horse-drawn caravan or by pony.
Ile de Re: Linked to the mainland by a toll bridge, the island is surprisingly flat. Whitewashed houses with green shutters, narrow little streets bordered with bright hollyhocks, long fine sandy beaches, colored church spires rising from villages and harbors, salt pans that form as patchwork of watery fields, make the island a paradise for holiday makers and a haven for cyclists.
Poitiers: Set on a majestic hilltop above the river Clain, this is one of France's oldest cities, filled with history and tales of antiquity &SHY; whether it be Joan of Arc, Richard the Lionhearted or Eleanor of Aquitaine. The visitor will discover a trove of Romanesque art and architecture, museums, a 4th century Baptistery (one of the oldest Christian edifices in France [pictured]) as well as the entirely renovated Romanesque church of Notre-Dame-La-Grande.
Futuroscope: Located just 5 miles from Poitiers, this science amusement park is a voyage into a wonderland of new technology devoted to the moving image. With the most advanced film projection techniques, the world's largest \screens and a multitude of mind boggling activities to choose from, it is no wonder that Futuroscope draws nearly 3 million visitors annually.
Saintes: Located on the banks of the Charente river, this 2000 year old town was once the Roman capital of southwestern France. The presence of one of the oldest remaining amphitheaters as well as Roman baths, which may be visited, attests to this. Between visits to the cathedral of St-Pierre and the church of St-Eutrope, be sure to stroll through the wonderful medieval city of narrow streets and markets.
Getting to the Poitou-Charentes (Cognac) region.
Poitiers – London (Ryanair);
La Rochelle – London (Ryanair);
Poitiers, La Rochelle and Angouleme airports have connections with the Clermont-Ferrand hub which allows links with the major French towns (Paris, Dijon, Mulhouse, Strasbourg, Marseilles, Toulon, Nice, etc.)
The high-speed Atlantic TGV links Paris Montparnasse station with:
Poitiers (1 hr 30 mins)
Angouléme (2 hrs 15 mins)
Niort (2 hrs 12 mins)
La Rochelle (2 hrs 51 mins.
Four direct daily return services with Lille Europe and European fast trains from the North such as Thalys (Belgium, Netherlands) and Eurostar (London) to Poitiers and Angouléme.
Return services to Paris connecting in Bordeaux or direct from Angouléme and Poitiers.
From Paris, take direction Orleans - Bordeaux motorway A 10 (toll highway) or Nationale Road 10 (same directions). Three hours drive to Poitiers and 4 hrs 30 minutes to Angouléme, Cognac, La Rochelle.
Museums in Poitou-Charentes
Le Centre National de la Bande Dessinee (Cartoon museum)
Entirely dedicated to the art of the cartoon: works and original strips- 250,000 albums and magazines.
Musee des Tumulus (Tumulus Museum)
A rich collection of prehistoric archeological objects, including exhibition of Neolithic burial mounts (5,000 B.C.).
16th century château with sumptuous painted ceilings and galleries and numerous rooms dedicated to contemporary art.
Musee du Nouveau Monde - New World Museum (pictured): Located in an 18th-century townhouse, this museum is dedicated to the transatlantic trade and commerce between France and the New World.
Chateau de la Rochefoucauld: This 12th-century Renaissance château is entirely furnished and has a magnificent stairway, and a library of over 18,000 books.
Les Tours du Vieux Port
The Tour of the Lantern, Tour de La Chaine and Tour St-Nicolas, former "doors" protecting La Rochelle during the 14th and 15th centuries, have been transformed into museums.
Right across the region stand some 600 examples of the Romanesque sanctuary, a heritage which began around the 10th century. Monuments line the ancient route to Santiago de Compostella the most famous ones are Notre-Dame-la Grande in Poitiers with its beautifully carved facade, Saint-Savin-sur Gartempe with its 11th century biblical frescoes protected by the world heritage organization UNESCO as well as the Saint-Pierre d'Aulnay de Saintonge, a major example of Romanesque monuments.
18th century Military Harbor: A former military port with its 374 meter-long Royal rope factory and its dry dock where the French vessel "Hermione", Marquis de La Fayette's frigate, which served during the American War of Independence, is being rebuilt. (pictured: The Church of Saint-Louis in Rochefort)
Historic Museum of the Royan Pocket: Royan, a city entirely rebuilt in the Fifties: it was razed by the Allies in the morning of January 5th, 1945 and liberated by the French troops of General de Larminat on April 15th. The "historic museum of the Royan Pocket" features the great moments of this period.
Sports and Leisure in Poitou-Charentes
Sea, River and Canal pleasure: In the Marais Poitevin: accompanied tours in flat bottomed boats from each village of this fascinating, mysterious "bayou of France". Canoeing along the Marais Poitevin or the Charente river houseboats: possibility of hiring pleasure boat cruisers 2 to 12 berth) for weekends or week- long holidays for a memorable journey down the Charente river and opportunity to visit Saintes, Cognac, Jarnac along the river itself. Or along the Marais Poitevin.
Sailing, windsurfing and beach combing from the resort towns on the Atlantic: Royan, La Rochelle, Saint Palais-sur-mer, Vaux-sur-mer and the offshore famous islands of Re and Oléron linked by car.
Biking, hiking and the great outdoors: Bicycling tours on the gentle roads of the Saintonge province, the valleys of the rivers Charente and Vienne and in the Marais Poitevin. "Roulottes"(horse-drawn caravans) in the Poitou and the Saintonge provinces, off the beaten tracks.
Golf: Fourteen golf courses throughout the region satisfy players of all levels.
Spa/Thalassotherapy: Sea therapy centers are located in Royan, Châtelaillon, lIe de Re and lIe d'Oléron.
Gastronomy in the Cognac Region
In Poitou-Charentes or Cognac country, the traditional dishes of the country and "la grande cuisine" in town are not so very different: they both use the freshest local ingredients. From the simplest to the most refined, restaurants offer a modern gastronomy inherited from regional recipes. World famous eau-de-vie Cognac is made in this region and this palatable brew is present in most recipes. Variety and quality are the secret of the regional products.
Seafood: If you are determined to sample seafood as fresh as can be, Poitou-Charentes is the right region since its coast overflows with bounty: a great variety of fish: sea-bass, dover sole, mullet, halibut, frog fish, skate, sea bream, scallops, clams and of course mussels and oysters ideally from the Marennes-Oleron beds, the only oysters in France with the distinctive Red Label.
Do try "ceteaux" Le Divellec's favorite grilled or pan fried with lemon and butter: they are small soles carried by the tide from the open sea round the ile d'Oleron and are only to be found in this region.
Poitou Charente, a tradition of taste: Everyone is aware that the best butter in France comes from the Charentes. For over a hundred years, regional milk production companies have remained faithful to a traditional production.
Also famous are the local goat cheeses. Poitou-Charentes offers numerous and very tasty kinds and the different ways cheeses are refined, their degrees of maturity, their origins will have you enjoying their flavor at the end of every meal.
The meat producing tradition: The rich, thick grasses and a temperate climate generate cattle breeding and explain the quality of the meat produced in the region.
Poitou-Charentes lamb is a farm meat, with well marbled, well balanced and light flesh. The Parthenian race is a beef race coming from a long tradition of stock-rearing; its "top of range" meat with appetizing color is juicy and tasty. The people of Poitou have remained keen on kid, which is prepared with green garlic and sorrel. Also pork remains a traditional product and is accommodated in recipes combining the locally produced wines.
Cognac: It is a white wine produced and double distilled into an eau-de-vie. About 90% grapes used are of St.Emillion (Ugni Blanc) kind. The rest are Folle Blanche and Colombard. The grape growing, harvesting and Cognac production is accomplished in a limited and strictly controlled area of South West France. This area is characterized by chalky soil, wet winters and sunny summers and it spreads through two departments of South West France; Charente and Charente Maritime. Two small growth areas are also in the Deux Sevres and the Dordogne departments. The Cognac producing region is divided into six growths areas (crus).
Visit Cognac with our "Ultimate Cognac Tour".
- Grande Champagne; about 13,000 hectares of clay and compact chalk soil
- Petite Champagne; some 16,000 hectares of clay and a more compact chalky layer of soil
- Borderies; only 4,000 hectares of unique soil on the plateau above Charente river. The eau de vie has a slight nutty taste.
- Fins Bois; 37,000 hectares of soil. characterized by quick aging environment. A subtle flowery bouquet characterizes this eau de vie.
- Bon Bois; less chalky but more earthy soil of 16,000 hectares that is well reflected in the eau de vie
- Bois Ordinaires et Bois Communs (Bois a Terroir); 30,000 hectares of soil influenced by the Atlantic climate
Cognac is the result of blending and aging of different eau-de-vie vintages. An unblended, straight vintage Cognac is very rare and available only in small quantities.
Cognac is aged in Limousin oak casks (barrels). It's aging period is between 2 to 50plus years. Once transferred out of the oak wood casks into bottles, Cognac stops aging. To prevent cognac reacting with the cork, its bottles must be stored vertically.
The aging is a very delicate process of interaction between outside air and the alcohol inside of the oak wood cask. This interaction is accomplished through the porosity of the oak. During this process about three percent of Cognac evaporates; this loss is referred to as "the angels share". For example, to obtain 100 liters of Cognac aged over 10 years, you will need to produce about 135 liters of Cognac. Thus the "angels share" contributes to the price of Cognac.
The age is indicated on the labels. It reflects the youngest eau-de-vie used in the Cognac blend. The age is based around the legal limits during which wine is distilled; The distillation period ends at midnight of the 31st March each year. Thus the following age indication applies:
*** and V.S. (Very Special) two and half years old
V.O. (Very Old), V.S.O.P. (Very Superior Old Pale), Réserve must be at least four and half years old
X.O. (eXtra Old), Réserve, Extra, Hors d'Age and Napoleon six and half years or older
These label designations indicate more of a taste and style of a blended Cognac.
Pineau des Charentes: It is a result of a mistake of a wine maker in the town of Burie in 1589. He had put new grape juice into a barrel containing a small quantity of Cognac. And forgot about it. Sometime later, the wine maker tasted it, liked it and that is how Pineau des Charentes was born.
Today, Pineau des Charentes must be made by Pineau producers from the same grapes and in the same region as Cognac. There are two types of Pineau des Charentes;
White which is made of white grapes like St. Emillion, la Folle Blanche and Colombar. Fruity wines are sometimes added (sweat Merlot, white Jurancon, Semilion or Sauvignon)
Rose is made of Malbec, red Merlot, Cabernet franc and Cabernet Sauvignon grapes.
Cognac is blended with the new grape juice within hours of grapes pressing to produce Pineau des Charentes. Grapes must be very ripe in order to obtain grape juice that is rich in natural sugars. Pineau des Charentes is the result of stopping the fermentation of the grape juice by adding Cognac which must be at least one year old. Pineau des Charentes must contain between 16.5% to 22% alcohol. Production is strictly controlled to assure high quality through proper blending and ageing.
It's a great drink served cold.
Poitiers is the capital of the Vienne department in western France. With a little over 100,000 residents, 25 percent of which are students, it's a quaint, historically preserved hilltop town, situated at the meeting point of the Boivre and Clain Rivers.
European tourists tend to visit picturesque, medieval Poitiers more than international tourists, interested, ironically, in the cutting edge technology of Futuroscope, a theme park of the audio visual, featuring many 3D and even 4D cinemas, examples of which can be seen nowhere else in the world.
Each year, the park picks a new theme with which to stun visitors. In past years, robots, dinosaurs and the cosmos have been the focus.
For additional information, visit the Cognac Country website.