A truly bucolic cycle ride
Set off on the Flow Vélo cycle route for an idyllic cycling holiday amidst gloriously peaceful surroundings, a stone’s throw from the river Charente.
This 290 km-cycle route boasts rustic charm and urban style in equal measure. For two-thirds of its length, it passes through Charentes, going from east to west to eventually link up with the Ile d’Aix, the so-called pearl of the Atlantic.
A truly bucolic cycle ride
After two stages, beginning in Thiviers, the foie gras capital, and Nontron, famous as a centre for knife manufacturing, the Flow Vélo route passes into the lush green countryside of the Charente – very similar to the scenery of the Parc Naturel Régional du Périgord Limousin, which you will have just left behind.
At Souffrignac, the Flow Vélo® route takes the Coulée d’Oc walking and cycling path through wooded countryside. This route follows the old Angoulême-Nontron railway line and is a very safe section for walkers and cyclists alike.
After a stop at Marthon, the Flow Vélo continues to one of the top sites on the route: Angoulême, a ‘ville d’Art et d’Histoire’ (a title given to towns with a particularly rich history and arts scene) not to mention a major centre for film, TV and comic books. The route passes by the Chais Magelis which houses a museum dedicated to the art of comics. Just a few metres away, the proud figure of iconic comic book character Corto Maltese is immortalized as a statue. The historic old centre, in the upper reaches of the town on a spur overlooking the Charente River, is also close by. The jewel in the city’s crown, it’s an absolute must-see.
Along the Charente River
After Angoulême, the Flow Vélo route follows the Charente River closely, switching from one side to the other. From this point and all the way to the sea, the Charente is navigable to relatively large vessels.
Along the route are numerous picturesque villages, Romanesque churches and châteaux, as well as other top cultural sights and attractions.
Once in Châteauneuf-sur-Charente, you’re in the Cognac wine-growing area. The next stops are iconic destinations inextricably connected with a spirit that’s world-famous. Jarnac and Cognac are home to major Cognac producers including Hennessy, Rémy Martin and Courvoisier. Here, the countryside is stunning and the living is easy!
After Cognac, you’ll follow the Charente for a while before leaving the river behind to reach the village of Merpins, where the remains of an abbey and a castle which once guarded the route to Cognac may be found.
Little by little, the cycle path takes you deeper into Charente-Maritime. You’re sure to feel the pull of the ocean already. Before taking in a lungful of that good sea air, you’ll stop off in Saintes, which was founded by the Romans and boasts much Romanesque architecture. Look out for the Arch of Germanicus on the banks of the Charente and don’t miss the Gallo-Roman amphitheatre.
The Abbaye-aux-Dames, one of the most delightful places in Charentes, has a particularly original secret, a musical merry-go-round featuring a Basilisk.
You should always feel free to leave the bike behind now and again on the Flow Vélo cycle route – there are so many things to do and places to see. For example, there’s the Lapidiales in Port d’Envaux, an open-air sculpture park that’s showcased an ever-changing procession of works by sculptors from all around the world over the last two decades.
The next destination is picture-perfect Saint-Savinien-sur-Charente, which is both a Petite Cité de Caractère (boasting a rich architectural heritage) and a ‘village d’artistes’ with its own arts centre. Take your time and admire the flower-bedecked quays of the river port against a backdrop of fine townhouses; stroll through the narrow streets of the old quarter and make the most of the outdoor activities centre on the île de la grenouillette, complete with its own miniature port.
Next stop, Rochefort. This ‘ville d’Art et d’Histoire’ invites you to join it on an adventure on the high seas with the help of its two star attractions: the Corderie Royale (the Royal ropeworks) and the frigate Hermione. This ship is a replica of the famous ship that took General La Fayette to the United States – when it’s in port it’s a must-see. The Royal ropeworks is housed in an impressive building that was the longest manufacturing facility in Europe in the 17th century, where you can learn all about how rigging used to be made. Once past the old arsenal, it’s a short ride to see the town’s ferry bridge, the only working all-metal transporter bridge still in existence in France. Next comes a journey through marshland, set against the magical backdrop of the Charente River estuary.
The last stop is Fouras, a small seaside resort with superb views of the ocean, the channels between the islands and the mainland and the Ile Madame, the Ile d’Aix and the Ile d’Oléron. At the Pointe de la Fumée, you can board the ferry with your bikes, enjoy fine views of Ford Boyard and then disembark onto the Ile d’Aix. On this crescent-shaped island, 3 km long and 700 metres across at its widest point, the bicycle is king and you can enjoy uninterrupted views in every direction. Congratulations, you’ve made it!