Located in western central France, the region of Poitou-Charentes is a varied one. In the west, along the coast, the beaches of Charente-Maritime are popular with French vacationers. Off the beaches, there are historic towns, island cruises and fresh seafood. Inland, the region is characterised by vineyards, forests and winding river valleys. In the department of Deux-Sèvres, the landscape is marked by rambling country lanes and the marshes and canals of the Marais Poitevin.
Poitou-Charentes has a sunny climate, with long, warm summers and clear autumns. It is the warmest and sunniest part of the Atlantic coast, with its coastal areas receiving more sunshine than anywhere in France other than the Mediterranean region. Winter can be very chilly, particularly in the inland regions, which have a more typically continental climate. Early spring is still a little cool, making the best time for a holiday in Poitou-Charentes probably the late spring and early summer.
One of the most famous exports of the region is Cognac, the famous brandy. Equally refined is the historic town itself, with half-timbered medieval buildings lining its narrow streets and numerous warehouses full of the town's most famous product. The town is a pilgrimage destination for those who appreciate this fine liquor, and one of the major draw for a holiday in Poitou-Charente – together with its coastline.
Other historic cities in the region include Poitiers, La Rochelle and Angoulême. Poitiers was once the seat of the dukes of Aquitaine, and was the home of the famous Eleanor of Aquitaine, who would later be queen of England. Its most famous sight is Notre-Dame-la-Grande, a 12th century church with an exceptional carved facade. It's also home to the 4th-century Baptistry of St John, one of Europe's oldest Christian structures.
Angoulême is another medieval town, although more modern ramparts have replaced its medieval walls. It's famous for its paper-making industry, a heritage that is reflected today in its connection with comic books (bandes dessinées in French). Walls throughout the city are painted with bright comic murals, and the city hosts both a comic strip museum and an annual festival.
La Rochelle was Renaissance France's greatest port, and much of its historic limestone city centre is still preserved as a pedestrian zone. This city was once a haven for France's Protestants, until they were driven out in the 17th-century wars of religion. Today, the city is best known for its beautiful centre and waterfront, as well as miles of nearby beaches. Nearby, don't miss the 17th-century naval base of Rochefort.
More rustic beauty is on display on Île de Noirmoutier, a small island off the coast known for its beaches, woods and marshes. In a single day, visitors can visit a 12th-century castle, the Plage des Dames and a variety of different landscapes. Cycling is a relaxing way to get around this beautiful spot.
One of the most unusual parts of the Poitou-Charentes region is the Marais Poitevin, a large area of wetlands which was once a large tidal marsh. Canals and footpaths crisscross the region, which is known as “La Venise Verte” (the Green Venice) because of the green duckweed which gives the canals their colour. Barge tours through the Marais Potevin reveal the hidden, tranquil beauty of this unique place.
Poitou-Charentes is most famous for Cognac, but there's much more to Poitevin food and drink than brandy, no matter how fine.
Size: 25,809 square kilometres
Population: 1,722,000 people
Capital city: Poitiers
Provinces: Charente, Charente-Maritime, Deux-Sèvres, Vienne
Landscape: Sandy beaches, historic towns, vineyards, river valleys, flowering meadows