Camping in Charente Maritime
104 in France, Poitou-Charentes, Charente-Maritime
Charente Maritime takes its name from the river which enters the Atlantic at Rochefort. The Charente is remarkable for its outstanding coastline: long, sandy pine-fringed beaches stretching from stylish La Rochelle all the way south to the Gironde estuary, home to some of the world’s greatest wines.
Château de Roche Courbon
Lying just 17km north of Saintes, this romantic 15th-century château is superbly positioned and reflected in a vast mirroir d’eau with formal gardens of statues, sculptured yew trees and perspective walks.
This is the central town of the vineyards of Cognac. The town is clearly wealthy, with many grand buildings. The old quarter is pleasant to wander around and there is, not surprisingly, a cognac museum which explains all. See for yourself and visit some of the great ‘houses’: Martell, Hennessey, Baron Otard. There’s also a marked tour through the villages of the Cognac area – the Château de la Roche-Courbon provided English language tours.
Fortified in the 17th century because of its value as a strategic approach to La Rochelle, the island is now a peaceful car-less resort with an almost Mediterranean feel. The vineyards produce a pleasant dry white wine and the main industries are shrimping and working in mother-of-pearl. You can see the craftsmen in the workshop opposite the church. The island can be reached by boat from La Pointe de la Fumée north-west of Fouras and the journey takes 20 minutes.
This is a popular holiday destination and France’s second-largest island after Corsica. Chief attractions include oysters and the wealth of superb sandy beaches.
Ile de Ré
Sometimes known as the Ile Blanche due to its miles of white sandy beach, this island has a very relaxed holiday feel about it. The villages are quaint with their narrow lanes, white-washed houses and hollyhocks sprouting from every doorway possible. Traditions are deep-rooted and some women still wear the quichenotte, a white headdress that protects them from the sun.
St Martin is the attractive capital of the island, its pretty little port evoking a St Tropez-like feel on hot sunny days. La Flotte is one of the few places that could be called a town and it’s picturesque little harbour is lined with cafés and bars. To reach the island there is a toll bridge from La Rochelle (cyclists cross for free).
Lying just over 6km south of Brouage, Marennes is famous for its gree oysters. This is a huge industry along this stretch of coast and the large oyster ‘parks’ become a familiar sight.
Founded as a fishing village in the 10th century, La Rochelle rapidly became a major port for salt and wine. The citizens cleverly exploited the quarrels between the English and the French to increase their own wealth and in the 16th century were quick to embrace the Protestant faith.
The old port, with its twin towers of St Nicholas and La Chaine, is enchanting and there is plenty of mediaeval architecture in evidence. Other fine old buildings include the Bourse, the Palais de Justice and the fairytale Hôtel de Ville with its ornate battlements and spires.
A quiet pine-shaded resort with a pleasant sea-front and good views across to the Ile d’Oléron. Boat trips can be taken from La Tremblade around the off-shore islands and along the river Seudre to Saintes.
Sheltered by forests, on the estuary of the Gironde yet open to the sea, with 12km of magnificent beaches of fine, clean sand and provided with every comfort and amenity, Royan has transformed itself into a highly popular ultra-modern seaside resort since its destruction by appalling bombing in 1945.
The coast road north-west from Royan goes through the middle of the dense Coubre forest, a coastal strip of pine forest bordered by the wild seas of the Côte Sauvage. The Phare de la Coubre, 60m high, is one of the most powerful lighthouses on this coast and an important navigational aid for ships approaching the Gironde. The view from the top of the lighthouse is sensational.
At first sight unremarkable, Saintes is actually one of the most interesting in south-west France. It was already a great city under the Romans, and reminders of their occupation are still to be seen. There’s a Roman arch and the great amphitheatre lies to the west of the old town and seated a huge audience of 20,000.
In the Middle Ages the town’s key position on the pilgrim route to Compostela in Spain brought it the wealth to build the magnificent Romanesque churches which are much in evidence in the region.
A colourful, bustling little resort town. A gentle stroll along the coastal path, the Sentier de la Corniche, rewards with fine views out to sea and along the Grande Côte.