On the Atlantic coast, between the châteaux of the Loire Valley and the Bordeaux vineyards, lies Poitou-Charentes, one of the sunniest parts of the French western coast. Its mild climate – 2,250 hours of sunshine per year – makes it popular with visitors from early spring to late autumn.
Three hundred miles of coastline with fine sandy beaches backed by fragrant pine forests, lively resorts such as La Rochelle and Royan, and the islands of Oléron, Aix and Ré attract many holidaymakers, particularly the French themselves. The scenery inland is in marked contrast: vast horizons and wooded valleys, the vineyards of Cognac, the Poitou fens and Marais Poitevin, the soothing tranquillity of canals, the valley of Vienne and the foothills of Charente.
The region is renowned as the home of Cognac – such famous names as Martell, Hennessy and Rémy Martin line the river Charente around the towns of Cognac and Jarnac where the spirit is distilled. The capital of the region and capital of the Vienne département is the city of Poitier. Situated on high ground at the confluence of the Clain and Boivre rivers, the city commands the so-called gate of Poitou, a gap 44 miles (71 km) wide between the mountains south of the Loire River and the Massif Central that serves as the connecting link between northern and southern France.