Fields of grapes, rows of vines, nodding sunflowers, forests of towering oak trees and turreted chateaux perched high above winding rivers - when you're in the Charente, you'll see some of the loveliest countryside in France.
Until recently, the Charente was relatively unknown, over-shadowed by its neighbour the Charente-Maritime with its kilometres of Atlantic beaches which, with Vienne and Deux-Sevres, makes up the region of Poitou-Charentes. But in the last few years, the Charente has become recognised as the place to be if you're after a slice of traditional French rural life. As well as its varied landscape and sunny climate, here in the Charente age-old traditions are still strong and the Charentais pace of life is decidedly gentle.
One of the Charente's most historic towns is the département capital, Angouleme, which sits on top of a hill with views of the valley below. Within its ancient remparts (high city walls) are winding cobbled streets and graceful old buildings that are now home to chic boutique bars, cafes and restaurants that spill out onto the street in the summer months. Now renowned as the unofficial capital of bande dessinée (comic strips), an important form of art in France, the annual international festival held at the end of January brings fans together from across the globe. Don't miss the Circuit des Remparts at the end of September either, when classic cars race around the city walls in an exhilirating series of events.
Further west is Cognac, surrounded by vineyards that provide the grapes for the world-famous spirit as well as local speciality pineau, a delicious aperitif. In the town itself can be found the grand mansions of the cognac producers and merchants, some of which are still owned by the big name producers of maisons and which offer tours of the cellars or chais.
To the south of Charente lies Aubeterre-sur-Dronne, one of the most beautiful villages in France, with its astonishing subterranean church. To the east, the Lacs du Haute-Charente provide a refreshing break on hot sunny summer days. The Charente river meandering across the departement towards the sea is considered one of the most beautiful waterways in France and is ideal for boat trips and watersports as is the Vienne river nearby. The Charente is also full of leafy chemins (tracks) that are perfect for cycling or horseback riding. Or you can do nothing more taxing than take a gentle stroll after a lunch made from the varied and tasty local delicacies....