Exploring Charentes at an easy pace – on foot, by bicycle, boat or donkey…
It’s time…to take your time! To make the most of the attractions of the Charentes region, there’s nothing better than to dial the pace down and explore them at an easy pace by adopting so-called soft transport or soft mobility approaches. As you’ll be travelling more slowly, you’ll appreciate the variety of landscapes all the more and it will certainly be easier to meet the locals. Leaving your car at home is still the best way of exploring the road less travelled and to have the freedom to go where curiosity or chance take you.
Focus on 7 methods of transport that will definitely offer you a different way of experiencing the Charentes region!
The Charentes region on foot
Whether you need to go for a walk to help your meal go down after you’ve tried out the fine dining offered in Charentes or you want to get away for a few days, the Charentes region has multiple options open to both budding and more experienced walkers.
An obvious choice to begin with are the various Way of St. James routes. The main route, the Via Turonensis, crosses the Charentes region from north to south, offering the chance to discover 4 cultural treasures of the Charentes, all included in the UNESCO World Heritage site listing of the ‘Routes of Santiago de Compostela in France’: the church of Saint-Pierre d’Aulnay, the Abbaye Royale de Saint-Jean d’Angely, the basilica of Saint-Eutrope in Saintes and the Pilgrims Hospice in Pons, over the course of a 3-day walk. However, the quieter secondary route – also a 3-day walk – contains some nice surprises too, notably the wonderful village of Aubeterre-sur-Dronne with its underground church.
Another option is the GR4 long-distance path, which crosses the Charentes region from east to west, taking in Royan, Marennes, Saintes, Cognac and Angoulême.
If you want to explore other parts of the Charentes region there are over 11,000 km of marked paths to help you do it.
The Charentes region by bicycle
The region is an absolute paradise for getting around on 2 wheels, with fairly flat countryside and good facilities, making the Charentes region just ripe for exploring by bicycle.
Many establishments have signed up to the Accueil Vélo scheme (accommodation providers, tourist offices, bicycle hire companies, tourist attractions) and offer cycle-friendly services, information and advice tailored to bicycle tourists that will be appreciated by anyone with sore calves and punctures!
The Charentes region is lucky to be criss-crossed by 5 major long-distance cycle routes:
- the Vélodyssée (the French section of the EuroVelo 1, running from Norway to Portugal)
- the Scandibérique (the French section of the EuroVelo 3, which passes through Confolens and Angoulême)
- the Vélo Francette (from Ouistreham to La Rochelle)
- the Flow Vélo (from Thiviers to the île d’Aix)
- the Canal des deux mers à vélo (from Royan to Sète)
Whether you want to travel just a few miles or to set off for several days, there are other excellent itineraries such as the unmissable tour of the île de Ré or the less well-known, but equally enjoyable tour de Charente.
Don’t forget you can download the Loopi route planning app to help you prepare your journeys or give you ideas for trips.
Hitch-hiking around the Charentes region
Although hitch-hiking had somewhat fallen out of favour with the advent of carpooling, it seems to be back in vogue. This method of travelling can be very useful for getting off the beaten track to explore areas that are less well served by public transport. Above all, it’s an opportunity to have a friendly chat with the locals.
If you want to be adventurous, but still feel safe, you can stand beside Arrêt sur le Pouce signs.
At these marked locations, drivers who are members of the Rézo Pouce network (who have already been identity-checked by the app), regularly take hitch-hikers on short journeys. It works in two different ways – either hold your hand out with the thumb pointing upwards (the traditional method) or use the mobile app to tell drivers who are members of the network that you’re standing at a Rézo Pouce location (the next generation method). 90% of the time you’ll get your lift in under 10 minutes.
There are currently 200 Arrêt sur le pouce stops in Charente-Maritime and new ones are to be created soon, including on the île de Ré.
The Charentes region by boat
What better way to explore the Charentes region than by boat on the river after which two départements are named? The Charente is a slow-flowing river that’s ideal for water-borne tourism. It’s easy to navigate the river – even getting through the locks is fun!
It’s possible to hire comfortable river cruisers without needing a specific licence and travel between Angoulême and Rochefort on ‘the finest river in the Kingdom’ according to François 1st.
As you pass by pretty village after pretty village, you’ll have plenty of opportunities to stop and savour the good life in the Charentes region. Jarnac, Cognac, Saintes, Saint-Savinien-sur-Charente and Saint-Simon are some places that should definitely be on your river cruise itinerary.
Why not bring bicycles onboard with you so that whenever you stop, you can get around without a car and continue your exploration further inland?
The Charentes region by donkey
Like Robert Louis Stevenson in the Cévennes, you too can have a donkey as a travelling companion in the Charentes. If you’re lucky, you may even get to team up with a real Baudet du Poitou donkey!
Taking your cue from your large-eared friend, you’ll strike an easy pace as you see the natural world around you through new eyes, travelling the byways. A substantial bonus is the fact that your donkey can carry some of your kit if you’re heading off for a hike for a few days – or alternatively, tired children. The latter will surely love looking after the donkeys at the end of the day – grooming them, feeding them etc.
Several companies organize donkey-trekking in the Charentes, including Les ânes de la rêverie in the Vallée du Coran (a Natura 2000 site) or Anestuaire in Mortagne-sur-Gironde. You can opt for an outing lasting a few hours, or, if you’re feeling more adventurous, a trip spread over several days, overnighting in a tent or B and B.
At the Asinerie du Baudet du Poitou, you can also enjoy trekking through the countryside at the pace of this iconic local breed of donkey.
The Charentes region by horse-drawn caravan
Why not try out a horse-drawn caravan holiday? This involves travelling in a horse-drawn gypsy-style caravan – thus combining your accommodation and your means of transportation. Go at your own pace (or rather, the pace of your horse) and stop exactly when and where you want. You’ll be sure to be a hit with everyone you come across!
The ferme équestre du Val de Seugne equestrian centre organizes packages lasting a few days, enabling you to explore the marshlands of the Seugne and the Charente and Né River valleys.
The Charentes region by public transport
The last option is one we all too easily forget about. It’s perfectly possible to see the main tourist attractions in the Charentes region by public transport – by train, bus or even boat (for example, in La Rochelle). It’s a great way of enjoying the countryside in the company of fellow travellers, as well as cutting down on your carbon footprint.
To help you decipher the timetables and many different transport options, the Modalis search engine, specially designed by the Nouvelle-Aquitaine region, will enable you to work out which is the most suitable way of getting to your destination.
The Modalis card lets you store tickets for different transport methods and networks in the one place – now you no longer need to buy a new ticket or travel card each time you visit a new town!