Poitou Charentes Region
The Poitou Charentes Region of France lies on the western side of France, fronting the Atlantic Ocean. In this predominantly rural region you will find remains of the Romans and Gauls who once inhabited this part of France. Having the mildest climate in France makes this region an ideal place to vacation, live or retire and the region extends to the foothills of the Massif-Central.
In and Around Cognac
To the south in the Poitou Charentes you will find vineyards that are used in the production of Cognac and the local apéritif Pineau des Charentes, a blend of lightly fermented grape must and Cognac eau-de-vie. Take time for a tour of the Cognac houses as well as the cognac and pineau cellars in Cognac.
In and Around Poitiers
To the north lies Poitiers, the capital of the Poitou Charentes Region where you will find one of the oldest universities in France. Eleanor of Aquitane left the Poitou Charentes Region a legacy of Romanesque churches. Be sure to visit Cathedral Saint Pierre in Poitiers which is one of the oldest in France. It has stained glass from the 13th century which depicts the Crucifiction and Ascenion.
Futuroscope theme park is just 10 kilometers north of Poitiers. You could spend 2 days here seeing everything but at a minimum allow 5 hours to see the high points. It is one of the 20 most visited attractions in France.
In and Around La Rochelle
If geneology is your interest, then you will be interested to learn that the archives for research of your French ancestors is located in the coastal city of La Rochelle. This particularly interested me as the founders of Montreal and early French settles of Canada set sail from here to Canada in the 17th century. My mother’s family was part of this group so the archives are of particular importance to me.
La Rochelle is a beautiful seaport town in the Poitou Charentes Region with museums, an aquarium that is one of the 20 most visited attractions in France, half-timbered houses and many reminders of its sea-faring past. In July you can enjoy both a dance festival and a film festival. If you are there in October, there is a Jazz Festival.
In addition to La Rochelle, Rochefort and Royan are popular with the yachting set and seaside tourism in general. You will also find wonderful beaches on the islands of Oléron and Ile de Ré which are accessible via bridges from the mainland. Ild de Ré also has nice quiet roads for cycling.
If you have children, then the 17th century walled garrison town of Brouage which was once a major Atlantic port is a good place to visit. It is the birth place of Samuel de Champlain who was the founder of Quebec. This walled town has remained virtually unchanged.
In and Around Saintes
My favorite place is Saintes.Saintes has an amazing Roman amphitheatre, a Triumphal Arch (L’Arc de Germanicus) and Abbaye aux Dames to mention a few. The Abbaye aux Dames is the largest example of Saintogne Romanesque architecture. Romanesque architecture is characterized by round arches and vaults and by the substitution of piers for columns along with profuse ornamentation and arcades.
Saintes is easily navigable on foot so park the car and enjoy the sites on foot. There are several car parks near the church of Notre Dames des Miracles as well as down along the river front.
You are not likely to find Saint-Jean d’Angély in guide books but it is definitely worth a visit. It has an abbey that was built to house a relic of Saint John the Baptist. I stayed at a wonderful B&B just out of the town and spotted the Abbey towers when I stopped to take pictures of the sunflower fields. I had been exploring cemeteries and church records in the neighboring hamlets as I gathered genealogical information. My choice of B&B turned out to be only a 5 minute drive from the commune of Saint Laurent de la Barrière where my 8x great grandfather was born and died. What a thrill!
Staying in a B&B or gite in the country gives you a wonderful opportunity to enjoy rural France and the Poitou-Charente Region has some beautiful landscapes. These pictures were taken late June when the sunflowers were blooming in full-force.(Find more sunflowers in the Poitou-Charetes and Burgundy Regions here.)
Just a little church on a little road with a beautiful little red door where I discovered my 8x great-grandfather was baptized, married and buried.