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River Charente

River Charente

The star of the waterways through Poitou-Charentes has to be the Charente river with its 380km of navigable waterways...


The Charente itself first surfaces in Haute-Vienne (Limousin) and slips quietly into the Poitou-Charentes region near the Lacs de Haute Charente, a beautiful lakeland setting where you can sail, fish, cycle, walk, birdwatch or simply enjoy a peaceful picnic, either in the shade or on a sandy beach. Nearby Massignac even has a family adventure park. From here on, the river remains in the region all the way to the Atlantic coast – follow it (dipping in and out during several visits, if you wish) and you’ll find many surprises along the way.

Charroux, for example, preserves a handsome 16th century market hall and the vast 11th century octagonal tower of its once-important abbey, now a romantic ruin.

Further on lies the town of Civray, whose Romanesque church overlooks a market square, followed by the classic, Turner-esque landscapes found around Voulême.

If the idea of a fairytale chateau appeals, you’ll find one high above the banks of the river just downstream at Verteuil-sur-Charente – and should you feel like some city buzz and a spot of boutique-browsing, then following the river will eventually bring you to the city of Angoulême.

The historic capital of the Charente département sits on a high plateau, and has the river, meandering lazily nearby, providing the power for the mills which established the city as an important paper producer.

Further downstream you can take to the water with a cruise in a replica sailing barge at the old river port of Saint-Simon, or continue on to the proud cognac town of Jarnac, home to several world-famous producers and the home town of former French President, François Mitterrand, (who established an important cultural centre here in 1995).

transporter-bridge-rochefort-franceNext come Cognac, Saintes (a gracious town blessed with a huge Roman arena and other important historical remains), the ruined Château de Taillebourg and the small port of Tonnay Charente. The skyline just upstream from the still-busy port is dominated by one of Europe’s oldest suspension bridges, opened in 1842 and recently restored to offer pedestrians and cyclists panoramic views of the river and surrounding countryside. On the horizon you’ll spot the next reward for your journey – the town of Rochefort. This so far largely undiscovered delight was for centuries a proud naval port, and is well worth spending some time getting to know, not least for see a full-size replica of La Fayette’s magnificent 18th century frigate Hermione under construction.

But the Charente still has a final, unexpected surprise: France’s very last transporter bridge, a listed historic monument and now restored to full working order. Ride it across the river, while you ponder all the remarkable things you’ve seen along the way.

Rivers to the North of the Region >>

Further south: Through Deux-Sèvres and Charente Maritime >>

Getting on the river >>