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What makes the Charente-Maritime such a special place? For a start, how about beaches of fine sand that stretch for kilometres, atmospheric islands with their pretty white-washed houses and towns and villages steeped in the watershed moments of French history.

The coastline of the Charentes-Maritime, which along with Charente, Vienne and Deux-Sèvres makes up the Poitou-Charentes region, is 450km long and sprinkled with coastal resorts all taking advantage of the weather (the Charente-Maritime has the most annual hours of sunlight outside the Côte d'Azur), the striking scenery and the beautiful light, especially the stunning sunsets over the sea.

For beach lovers, there are more than 100 beaches to enjoy - from places where the surf pounds to those where the water is calmer and perfect for paddling. 16 beaches won the coveted blue flag status in 2013.

Then there are the departement's famous islands such as l'Ile de Ré, whose villages of low-slung buildings are protected by law; their unchanging appearance plus the popularity of the bicycle helping to create a mood of real peace and getting-away-from-it-all. Go there for a day or for longer. L'Ile d'Olèron is the largest French island after Corsica and is an unforgettable combination of beach, oyster farms and vineyards.

La Rochelle, a lively port town and departmental capital, is not to be missed. Walk beneath the huge Gothic gateway and spend a few hours wandering through the winding streets filled with cool boutiques and chic patisseries. make sure you sip a cocktail at one of the many bars that line the waterfront , taking in the view of boats of all sizes bobbing gently in the swell. From here, cruise out into the harbour and gaze at the medieval fortifications as approaching seamen would have seen them centuries ago.

Further down the coast, Royan is an usual mix of Belle Epoque architecture and a sharper modernist style - it was heavily bombed in WWII. Today, it is a town with real seaside charm thanks to a fabulous market and the beaches that are the heart of the twon. It's also nearby to one of the country's best zoos at La Palmyre.

If you love seeing birds in the wild then get out your binoculars to see more than 140 species that spend time in the Charente-Maritime. Water-sports enthusiasts will also be spoilt for choice with surfing, para-sailing and lots more.

But there's even more to the Charente-Maritime than the coast. Take time to travel inland, past the windmills and typical Charentaise houses to see towns that date from Roman times - at Saintes you can still see the remains of a Roman amphitheatre.

And then, of course, there is the food. The freshest oysters from Marennes-Oléron plus lobster, prawns and fish galore. Tuck into them with frites made from the Ile de Ré potato and a glass of wine from nearby Charente. Parfait! 

 


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