A 19th century three-bedroom family holiday farmhouse in the heart of the picturesque Poitou-Charentes region of France, ideally placed between the market towns of Chef Boutonne and Melle. more info...
Sitting on France's Atlantic coast between the lush Loire Valley and the Bordeaux wine region, Poitou-Charentes is often overlooked in favour of its famous neighbours, but this green region offers fabulous scenery and fascinating towns to those willing to search them out. Stretching 300 miles along the Atlantic shore, it's home to excellent beaches as well.
The region's major town is Poitiers, once the regional capital and now Poitou-Charentes' cultural and economic centre. The town's long history is visible still today in the buildings and monuments that have survived the ages, like the Roman amphitheatre, the 4th-century Baptistery of Saint John and numerous medieval churches and palaces. Just as attractive are Poitiers' fabulous fresh markets and its busy street caf? culture.
Yet perhaps better known to travellers is La Rochelle, a bustling port sitting on the Bay of Biscay. Considered by many people to be the prettiest seaside town in France, La Rochelle has played an important part in France's sea trade since the 12th century. A handful of Gothic monuments and a few good museums make up the cultural offerings here, but the town's real draws are its setting and the unspoilt islands that sit just off shore.
From town, you can drive across a 3km toll bridge to the island of Oleron, France's second-largest island, for swimming and sunbathing along its long, sandy beaches. There are several towns on the island, like St. Pierre and Boyardville, where you can eat and find accommodation. Another bridge connects the mainland with the island of R?, though to reach the smaller (and far less developed) island of Aix you'll have to go by boat.
Other popular seaside towns in Poitou-Charentes include Royan, known for its fine sandy beaches and enviable setting among pines and rock cliffs, and Rochefort, known for its maritime history. Beyond the resorts, there are countless tiny towns to explore on foot. One of the most interesting is Cognac, known for the excellent French brandy (cognac) made here.
This is the sunniest region on France's western coast, with more than 2,000 hours of sunshine a year. Summers are pleasantly mild, with highs rarely rising above 80?F. This is the most popular time of year to visit, but be prepared to share your trip with the many other travellers who fill the towns and beaches here. For more peace and quiet, come in Autumn or Spring, when the cooler temperatures and only occasional rain make for great sightseeing conditions. Winters are cold and rather wet, though this can be an atmospheric time to tour the small towns of the interior.
Poitou-Charentes has two main airports, one in La Rochelle, and another in Poitiers. Ryanair operates regular flights from London Stansted to both airports, and flight time is just over an hour.
If you're already in France, you may choose to get here by train or by ferry. The region is well-connected to France and Bordeaux by train; the trips to Poitiers from Paris or Bordeaux take just 1 1/2 hours each. Ferries run to La Rochelle from French ports like Royan, Caen, Le Havre and others.
Once in the region, you'll be best off with your own car, especially if you plan to tour the countryside or visit towns beyond the major centres of La Rochelle and Poitiers.
Around La Rochelle or the other seaside resorts, you'll have no trouble discovering the main activities here -- sunbathing and swimming in the rolling Atlantic waves. On the islands near La Rochelle you'll also have the chance to do some great hiking and bird watching, especially on the least-visited island, Aix.
Inland, the opportunities for outdoors enthusiasts are endless. Cycling is very popular in the region, and there are more than 2,000km of signposted bike trails criss-crossing the area. Bike rental and cycling tours are widely available. Many of these trails are popular with walkers and hikers as well. The natural parks and reserves in Poitou-Charentes also make good hiking spots. Some of the prettiest are the Mouli?re Forest, a coolly beautiful place for walking, and the R?serve du Lilleau des Niges, a bird sanctuary where thousands of birds live in winter.
Golfers can head to one of the more than twenty courses in the region. There are greens for all tastes and abilities, but nearly all take advantage of the region's natural beauty.
Other popular activities here include fishing and canoeing. It's possible to do both on the rivers and lakes here, or in parts of the Atlantic.