The Charente region in southwestern France is perhaps best known as the home of cognac, that most French and most refined of after-dinner libations, produced under strict guidelines in the great distilleries of Cognac, on the Charente River. The air in the town is redolent with the “Angels’ Share”, the vapours of the distilling process; you can get your share at the end of one of the many fascinating tours offered, followed of course by leisurely tasting sessions.
Poitiers is famous for its 12th century cathedral of St-Pierre with its fabulous stained glass, and for being the scene in 733 where Charles Martel stopped, for the time being at least, the Muslim invasion of Western Europe. Not far from Poitiers is the unmissable theme park Futuroscope, with its mind-boggling high-tech futuristic exhibitions and dazzling architectural fantasies. Angoulême, with its imposing city ramparts and 11th century Byzantine cathedral, and Saintes, with its Roman ruins including a fine triumphal arch, are well worth visiting. The impressive château at La Rochefoucault brings a taste of the elegance of the Loire to the region.
The Charente-Maritime has some of the loveliest coastline in France, with miles of unspoilt beaches. La Rochelle is one of France’s venerable old harbours; you can take walks around the old city ramparts or visit the aquarium, simply stroll around the first French Zone Piétonne, or take a pleasant ride over to Ile-de-Oléron or Ile-de-Ré with miles of cycling trails.