From its source in the Limousin region to the Atlantic Ocean, the meandering course of the River Charente shapes the landscapes of Charente and Charente-Maritime. Pretty villages, age-old châteaux, Romanesque churches and traditional vineyards add further to the beauty of the river and its greenish-hued waters. Discover Saintes and the Saintonge region from a riverine perspective, before moving onto Cognac and its eponymous spirit, produced in the venerable estates alongside the river.
Saintes and the Saintonge region
An excellent starting point for exploring the area along the banks of the river, Saintes, the old capital of the Roman province of Aquitaine, has several well-preserved Roman remains. Outstanding examples include the Arch of Germanicus, the Saint-Saloine thermal baths and the Gallo-Roman amphitheatre and aqueduct.
Why not check out the Abbaye aux dames, a former convent which is now a music venue and school; the Gothic cathedral of Saint-Pierre and the Romanesque church of Saint-Eutrope, which boasts a crypt that features on the UNESCO world heritage list?
Meanwhile, the Arnoult River has been canalized as it passes through hills and marshes.
If you’re after a refreshing dip, head for Chaniers or Port d’Envaux, where ‘beaches’ have been created beside the river. Traditional villages like Crazannes, with its fantastically-sculpted limestone quarries; Saint-Savinien and its church and château perched atop a cliff, not to mention its ‘carrelets’ (traditional fishing huts on stilts); and Taillebourg, which boasts impressive castle ruins, are all worth a look.
Whether on foot, by bicycle, by canoe, paddle-board or boat, there are lots of ways to enjoy a trip along the River Charente as you discover the Saintonge region. You could try out a ‘gabare’ for size. These are replicas of traditional 19th century flat-bottomed wooden boats – an ideal opportunity to learn about the history of these vessels, which were formerly much used to transport spirits, stone and cannons.
As you go upstream, you’ll leave Charente-Maritime to pass into the département of the Charente. It’s the ideal opportunity to stop off and admire Cognac’s beautiful quays. The city is a ‘Ville d’art et d’histoire’ (a title awarded to towns with a particularly rich heritage and arts scene). Both French King François 1st and the famous brandy of the same name were born in Cognac.
|A visit to the Espace découverte en pays du cognac interpretation centre will reveal all the secrets of the local region, not to mention the history of the River Charente, a key trade route that has linked the Atlantic coast with inland regions since the Middle Ages.