The Charente Maritime
This part of France enjoys the long hot summers and mild winters so necessary for the production of the fine grapes used to make fine wines and cognac. Located along the Atlantic with 200km of coastline, the area is a magnificent and exceptional part of France. This is a quiet agricultural area, mostly vineyards and sunflower fields, wheat and maize. The population density for the Charente Maritime is on a par with Cumbria – England’s least populous county – for those used to Britain’s congested roads the comparative peace of rural French roads makes driving a pleasure again. Royan, 40 minutes to the west of La Renaudrie, is a popular holiday destination for the French who enjoy the excellent beaches and appreciate the local oysters, mussels and freshly caught fish. All the local restaurants have excellent fresh fish dishes. A visit to the morning fish market in Royan is a pleasurable education!
If you fancy a bit more hustle and bustle, the famous town of Cognac is about 45 minutes’ drive. Cognac has been making the grape-based spirit for more than 300 years and by the river you’ll discover ancient warehouses that still store barrels of the drink, blackened by the alcohol evaporating.
A cruise on a replica gabarre, the traditional flat-bottomed oak boat that once transported cognac, salt and other produce, is a great way to see the town from the river and takes about two hours.
Back on dry land, step back in time to find out more about the town’s history, by following the signposted walking routes. Of course one of the most popular tourist attractions is a tour of one – or more – of the many cognac producers to find out about the drink’s history, how it is made and sample a tasting.
About 40 minutes away are the sandy beaches at Meschers sur Gironde and St Georges de Didonne. As you travel west the beaches get smarter and at Royan. you can hire a blue and white striped tent and join the ultra-smart set beach. On the other side of Royan is our favourite beach near La Palmyre zoo. Further up the coast are wonderful beaches for surfing.
‘Zoo de La Palmyre’ the most visited tourist attraction in the Charente-Maritime. This is a breeding zoo, with an emphasis on conservation, so leaving many of the 1,600 animals free to roam.
Towns and villages in the area
The nearest village to La Renaudrie is St Ciers-du-Taillon. There is a small supermarket; the village also has a restaurant (le Cheval Blanc), a boulangerie, charcuterie, wine merchants, garage and excellent chemist/pharmacist. It suffers through being on the D730 road leading to Royan.
Mirambeau, is about ten minutes away and is the nearest town, it boasts a Super U supermarket, a wonderful boulangerie (Les Delices d’Autan) two hairdressers plus a range of other shops. It has a Saturday morning market and a fair on the last Saturday of the month.
Royan is one of the most prestigious seaside resorts on the Atlantic coast, a favorite with the French. Rebuilt since the Second World War, it has a fifties charm and ultra smart beaches.
Les Jardins du Monde
A flower and leisure park with tropical greenhouse, orchid exhibition, collection of bonsai, theme gardens and themed landscapes around a lake such as a Japanese garden; bamboo maze and children’s play area. (Tel: 05 46 38 00 09).
Take your car on the short ferry crossing over the Gironde to the Medoc where you can tour visit the great Claret producing estates or surf on long sandy Atlantic beaches.
For the evenings try the Casino Barriere by the Pontaillac beach, open every day until 3am, for roulette, stud poker and Black Jack. Its Atlantic café has quiet areas, plenty of cocktails and somewhere to eat. Live music on Saturdays from 10pm.
Saintes is the nearest major town and is set on the Charente River – said by François I to be the most beautiful in France, (he was born in Cognac). The town still retains many echoes of its Roman origins including a fine ampitheatre. The Arc de Germanicus dating from 18AD stands close to the centre of town, near the main bridge.
Just off the main street is the oldest quarter with an interesting array of shops in pedestrianised streets. There are street markets twice a week and then on the first Monday of each month the entire town centre is closed for a large street market. You can hire electric boats on the Charente or else take trips on traditional wooden boats (Tel: 05 46 74 23 82). Saintes is 45 minutes away.