POITOU-CHARENTES: This region, known widely as Cognac Country, is home to the rich amber liquor. The unique towns and resorts that make up Poitou-Charentes are testament to a rich diversity and history that dates back to the Middle Ages. Cognac Country is known for its many churches and frescoes, as much as for the international companies that produce the famous sweet brandy. There is never a shortage of things to see and do in this region, as the cities of La Rochelle and Poitiers are always active with cultural festivals and sightseeing tours. One of the most unique sites in Western France, the narrow channels of the Marais Poitevin wetlands are suited for boat trips or travel on foot. The region is home to both the Futuroscope futuristic theme park and scores of old châteaux and cathedrals, proving that the past and future can meet in Poitou-Charentes.
ANGOULÊME: The city of Angoulême in the southwest region of Poitou-Charentes is an architectural wonder. Famous for its Romanesque architecture, the Cathedral of St.Pierre sits high upon a hill overlooking the Charente Valley. Angoulême is also home to the national center for comic strips, a popular French hobby, with areas for experimental production and exhibitions throughout the year.
AUBETERRE-SUR-DRONNE: With its many old churches and ancient monuments, Aubeterre-sur-Dronne is one of the most picturesque villages in France. Its location in the south of Poitou-Charentes overlooking the Dronne Valley makes it ideal for an architectural sightseeing trip. Aubeterre’s numerous summer festivals, ranging from the Festival of Musical Nights to the Festival of St. Jacques, provide Cognac Country with an abundance of art and culture.
CHAUVIGNY: The many churches in Chauvigny are among the most wonderful sites in the city, with their remarkable illustrations and frescoes that date back hundreds of years. Of equal importance are the remains of several fortresses whose ruins provide an artistic backdrop to the picturesque city. A small town east of Poitiers near the heart of Loire Country, Chauvigny has a rich archaeological tradition, and there is an industrial archaeology center at the Donjon de Gouzon.
COGNAC: Known throughout the world as a name for rich, sweet, brandy, the Cognac tradition began in the town of the same name. The liquor is stored in oak casks and ages in cellars on the banks of the River Charente. The town offers guided tours, as do many of the local distilleries (Rémy Martin and Hennessy, to name a few). Cognac is also home to a beautiful castle, the birthplace of King François I and now owned by the Otard cognac firm.
ILE D’AIX: The only way to reach Aix is by boat and this tiny island is reserved just for pedestrians and cyclists. With a coastline of only seven kilometers, Aix offers many theme walks about the island’s history and environment. Napoleon visited twice, and his Emperor’s residence is easy to find.
ILE D’OLÉRON: A three-kilometer bridge links the island of Oléron with the mainland of Western France. Oléron is ideal for nature lovers, who can visit the bird sanctuary and nature reserve. It’s also perfect for those who love the sea, with its famous oyster beds and sandy beaches. There are always water sports and activities, and festivals are popular in the summer at Oléron.
ILE DE RÉ: Just offshore from La Rochelle, Ré Island offers guided tours of its quaint villages and its numerous harbors and nature sanctuaries. The Ecomuseum of the Ré salt marshes is of special interest, as is the La Flotte-en-Ré Museum, which details the maritime history of the island in an authentic island home. With all this and more, there is something for everyone on Ré Island.
LA ROCHELLE: This charming resort town is highly involved with all aspects of coastal life. As the sailing capital of France (and the largest European marina on the Atlantic seaboard), La Rochelle has opportunities for boating, windsurfing, and jet-skiing.
LA VALLÉE DE LA CHARENTE: The Charente Valley in the south of Poitou-Charentes is a pleasant area. The numerous bridges, windmills, and riverboats that glide along the Charente River provide a tranquil backdrop to the many charming towns and villages around the valley. Towns like Angoulême, Saintes, and Cognac with its many distilleries are located here, connected by the Charente River that flows all the way to the Atlantic Ocean.
MARAIS POITEVIN: The “wetlands” of Western France lie east of Niort on the Atlantic coast. Likened to the “bayous” of Louisiana in the U.S., the Marais Poitevin consists of miles of waterways that act as roads through the murky, well-hidden passageways. The villages that make their home on the marsh are tiny but charming, and walking tours can be easily arranged. To experience the wildlife and understand the diverse customs of the marshes; a visitors center is available in Coulon.
NIORT: A city close to the Marais Poitevin, Niort is known for its architecture and its covered market, whose restoration was finished in 1999 after 13 years of work. In the heart of the city sit four bronze dragons, whose presence recalls the Niortais legend of a chivalrous knight who slew the dragons that haunted the marshes. Around town are galleries and museums like the Bernard d’Agesci art gallery and Musée du Donjon, which all add to Niort’s storied culture.
PARTHENAY: Parthenay, located in the Thouet Valley, and served as a stopping point en route to Santiago de Compostela. Many medieval structures and monuments remain today. A 13th century castle overlooks the Saint-James district, which was formerly the economic center for weavers but today functions as the economic and cultural center of the town.
POITIERS: As the former capital of Poitou, Poitiers is a town of great architectural and historical interest. Poitiers is one of France’s oldest cities, and its history comes alive through a visit to the old town area. A view of the city from Les Dunes reveals the majestic church of Notre-Dame-la-Grande, the Palace of the Counts, the Maubergeon Tower, and the Musée Sainte-Croix. Just outside Poitiers, the future eclipses the past at the popular Futuroscope park, a center dedicated to science and technology.
ROCHEFORT: Rochefort is known around the world as a naval base and shipyard. The dockyard dates back to the reign of Louis XIV, and it was the birthplace for many historic vessels. The current project is a reconstruction of the Hermione, the ship of the Marquis de Lafayette when he set sail for the American colonies to offer French assistance in the Revolution. Construction is slated to finish in 2007.
ROYAN: At the juncture of the Gironde estuary and the Atlantic ocean lies the grand seaside resort of Royan. The many beautiful beaches, especially the Grande Conche (great shell) at nearly two miles long, make Royan a natural summer destination. Pine trees were planted near and around the beach to secure the sand dunes. Tours of the estuary and surrounding islands are offered on boat.
SAINTES: A beautiful stone archway greets the traveler to Saintes, a small town rich in Roman and Medieval influence that dates back to the 1st century AD. The best way to see Saintes and its environs is by flat-bottomed riverboat along the River Charente. Most of the houses date back several centuries, testament to the enduring influence of its storied history. In the summer, Saintes hosts a music festival and children’s folk festival.
VALLÉE DES FRESQUES ET DE L’ANGLIN: Many of Cognac Country’s most charming artistic towns lie in this area, the Valley of the Frescoes near the Charente river, at the northeastern border of Poitou with Indre-et-Loire. The church murals at Saint-Savinsur-Gartempe are listed as a UNESCO World Heritage Site, and the frieze of the Eglise Saint-Laurent at Montmorillon is equally illustrative and impressive. The spa town of La Roche-Posay specializes in thermal and aquatic dermatology treatment, and the small city of Angles-sur-l’Anglin includes rich historical artifacts like an 11th century château and prehistoric rock formations. is no shortage of sites to see in La Rochelle, from the newly-renovated aquarium to the perfume bottle museum. The ramparts and towers that dot the oceanfront are simply breathtaking.
For additional information, visit the Cognac Country website.