Charente-Maritime

 

A LAND OF WATER AND HERITAGE

 

Charente maritime is an endearing territory with a rare combination in France of unspoilt nature and rich heritage. Here, mainland follows the tides’ rhythm being so intimately linked to the Ocean thanks to these intermediary territories that are salt marshes, oyster fields and fens.

 

Four islands lie off the coast: Ile de Ré, Ile d'Oléron, Ile d'Aix and Ile Madame. Each one has its specificity but all of them boast a preserved countryside, long sandy beaches and a mild climate.The coastline is a long strip of sandy beaches with long-established holiday hotpots some of them dating back to the Belle Epoque. The hinterland is mainly rural with a landscape of soft meadows at least where it is not occupied by the huge Marais Poitevin marshy area, the second largest wetland in France.

 

Charente maritime is also a territory where History has laid its hand which can be seen in the many fortified towns and harbours dating back to the XIVth to XVIIth centuries, religious monuments and a rich maritime heritage. Another important building period started after World War I leaving in its trail a nice Belle Epoque architecture in many seaside resorts.

Find other developments in this departement using the search engine above


Charm of the Atlantic coastline

 Four islands lie off the coastline of Charente maritime. L’Ile de Ré, a wide island with a varied landscape of salted marshes, long sandy beaches, pine forests, fens, cultivated fields and vineyards criss-crossed by cycle paths and punctuated by small traditional harbours and lovely villages with white low houses with olive green shutters along tiny paved alleys planted with hollyhocks. The tiny Ile d’Aix is only accessible by boat hence it is a quiet paradise for cycling or walking round this crescent of land where an exceptional heritage mingles with an untamed nature. Ile d’Oléron, the 2nd widest French island after Corsica offers long sandy beaches, a large number of oak and pine forests, marshes where famous Marennes-Oléron oysters are reared, fens that are home to a rich wild life and some testimonies of military and maritime heritage. The tiny Ile Madame is accessible at low tide, practically untouched and known for its many typical “carrelets”, wooden huts on stilts for fishing at high tide.
The fashion for sea baths made possible by railways transformed the coastline. Many seaside resorts were built at the end of the XIXth century or beginning of the XXth and therefore boast a rich architectural heritage of magnificent Belle Epoque villas or cottages that are alternatively sumptuous or imaginative. This is the case in Fouras, located on a peninsula that stretches over 4km of fine sand, or in Chatellaillon-Plage also boasting a long sandy beach, and a pure Eiffel style casino. Further south in the Gironde river estuary Saint-Palais is also built in this incomparable Belle Epoque architecture and shares with the neighbouring resorts of Royan and Saint-Georges de Didonne the very original features of high chalk cliffs that are ideal for walking along panoramic paths overlooking the carved coastline. Royan is a big holiday resort with parts in Belle Epoque style, the rest having been destroyed during World War II and rebuild in the 50’s. North of Royan 30 km of golden sands leads to Ronce les Bains and La Tremblade. In La Tremblade starts the famous oysters farming area of Marennes-Oléron scattered with typical wooden huts painted in bright colours and set along canals. Another important wetland in the area are the Marshes of Brouage, Moëze and Yves, sheltered salted marshes, protected for the sake of a large number of birds species. A rich ecosystem is to be found too in the Poitevin Marsh that extends over 100,000 ha and whose natural, ethnological and landscape heritage is now protected by an Interregional Park. This marsh is an interesting mingled work of human activity and nature to extend cultivable lands and offers a green and quiet landscape of canals networks and fields. At the edge of Charente maritime and Vendée the commune of Charron is reknown for its mussels culture. As a matter of fact it enjoys an exceptional location at the mouth of the Sèvres River where fresh and salted waters melt wich create, along with an outstanding amount of sunshine, ideal conditions to rear mussels.

A rich cultural heritage of fortified places, harbours, market towns and pretty villages

 

Although being mainly rural, Charente maritime also offers a rich cultural side. Its historical wealth comes from its strategic position on the Atlantic coast. La Rochelle is the first name that comes to mind and was also the first town to be established on the coast. Founded in the Xth century the fishermen’s harbour had soon become an important port by the XIIIth thanks to salt and wine trade. Up until the XVth La Rochelle was the most important harbour of the Atlantic coast. Trade activities continued during the XVIIth and XVIIIth century with New France for furs, West Indies and the less glorious and called with prudery ‘triangular trade’. As a consequence of its long History La Rochelle has a very rich heritage, a sober dignity and a beautiful architectural unity provided by the white stone of Charente. More inland Rochefort was chosen by Colbert, minister of King Louis XIVth to host the largest maritime arsenal, a ship building manufacture, and the Royal Rope Factory, an impressive and unique building set along the shore of the Charente river. As a consequence the whole region has a high concentration of fortifications along the coast and the Charente estuary which were designed at protecting the arsenal. To name but a few fortified place, there is Fouras, Saint-Martin de Ré, Fort de la pointe and Fort Lupin along the Charente River, Fort de la Rade and Fort Liédot on the Isle of Aix, Fort du Chapus, Fort Boyard… Beside this rich maritime and military heritage comes a wealth of nice villages or towns. Saintes is a town of Art and History (so is Rochefort) and many of the ‘prettiest villages in France’ (Plus Beaux Villages de France) are to be found in Charente Maritime (Ars en Ré, La Flotte, Talmont sur Gironde, Mornac sur Seudre, Saint Martin de Ré, Brouage, Saint Sornin, Boyardville, Saint Georges d’Oléron, Fouras…)