Located in western France, Charente is one of four departments in the region of Poitou-Charentes. With a land area of 6000km2, Charente's half a million citizens have plenty of beautiful countryside to share with visitors. Famous for Limousine cattle and Cognac, Charente is a region of green pasture along with the meandering Charente River from which the department takes its name.
Charente was created during the French Revolution, from the old province of Angoumois. The capital, Angoulême, remained unchanged. In earlier times this was a frontier region between France and Occitania, and today some elderly residents of Charente still understand the ancient Occitan language. In 2005 important archaeological work in the Bois de Vilhonneur found cave art that has subsequently been dated at 27,000 years old.
Charente is characterised by cool, wet winters and warm, dry summers. The hottest part of the year is July/August, when the average temperature is 20 Celsius (68 Fahrenheit), though a maximum of 27 Celsius (81 Fahrenheit) is not uncommon. Cognac enjoys the best weather in the whole region, with 2025 hours of sunshine a year, and under 800mm of rainfall. Charente is a great destination for spring and autumn, being pleasantly mild. Meteo France provides detailed climatic information for the area.
Charente is land-locked, so beach holidays are not an option here! However, tourists still flock to the region to visit the towns of Angoulême and Cognac. Gardens are another draw, many dating from the Middle Ages. The botanical gardens at Mansle belonged to Louis XIV. Picture postcard villages are everywhere, and Aubeterre is considered to be one of the most beautiful in the whole of France.
Charente has numerous freshwater lakes, where activities suitable for young children are on offer. Kids will also love the Parc Aventure near Massignac, with bouncy castles, bungee jumping, high wires and rope courses.
Museums, galleries and culture
Angoulême is home to an unusual museum – the Centre National de la Bande Dessinée et de l'Image. Dedicated to the history and development of the comic book, it has some fascinating exhibitions. Cognac has a museum charting the history of the famous brandy and the social history of the town itself, and there are plenty of interactive exhibits. Charente is packed with historic sites and churches, including one carved from rock in the town of Aubeterre. Many churches date from the 11th century, and would have provided shelter and sustenance for pilgrims en-route to Santiago de Compostela in Spain.
For many, Charente is synonymous with Cognac, and you shouldn't miss out on a tour of a Cognac Estate. Larger tour operators often combine a tour of the Cognac region with a visit to the winelands of neighbouring Aquitaine. Most Cognac Houses will be only too happy to offer a tour and a free Cognac and Pineau tasting, though you should contact them before you arrive.
Angoulême has plenty of shops, and the pedestrianised city centre makes shopping here a pleasure. Weekly markets are held throughout the region, where you can pick up fresh produce. The Rouillac fair takes place on the 27th of every month and should not be missed! Fruit, vegetable and cheese vendors jostle for space with stall holders selling baskets of chickens, rabbits and even the ceramic pots to cook them in.
Charente is a walker's paradise, with waymarked routes allowing easy exploration of rivers, mountains, vineyards and castles. Easy rambles ending in a picnic are ideal for families, but there are also more strenuous options for the serious walker. A series of route guides and maps are available from the Centre Info Rando (can be contacted via email at firstname.lastname@example.org), or you could follow one of four vineyard trails, known as the Étapes du Cognac.
Golfers will not be disappointed in this part of France, with four courses to choose from in the Charente. These include Golf de l'Hirondelle in Angoulême and Golf international de la Prèze in the town of Ecuras. The courses are of international standard, professional coaching is available and the views of rolling countryside are hard to beat.
Cycling is (almost) effortless in the Charente, with lots of traffic free lanes and plenty of accommodation options for tourers. Canoeing and rafting are popular on the river Charente, and there are plenty of equally rewarding but lesser known waterways to be paddled. Canoes and kayaks can be hired in many locations. Remember to pack your rods too because fishing is also popular on the rivers, and the clear waters are rich breeding grounds – trout, bream and gudgeon are just some of the fish you can catch.
Food and drink
Limousin beef, veal from Chalais and delicious capon from Barbezieux are just a few of the regional specialities. Vegetarians needn't despair – try local bean stews made from mojettes, Les Manslos cream cheese and chestnuts. The area is also famous for truffles – buy some as a culinary reminder of your holiday. As well as Cognac and Pineau, the wines from Saint-Sornin are worth sampling.
Ease of access
You can fly into three local airports, namely Poitiers, Bordeaux and Limoges. These are served by Air France and British Airways, and budget airlines Ryanair, bmi baby and easyJet.
The train ride from Paris to Angoulême takes just over 2 hours, and there are 18 daily services.
Charente is easily accessed via the A10 motorway, but the distance from London is 850 km – a long drive for UK visitors.
Value for money
With budget airlines to get you there, holiday rentals available from 300 euros per week, and plenty of well-priced restaurants on offer, Charente is great value for money. There are over thirty campsites, offering further opportunities for a low-budget holiday.
If you relish fresh air and unspoilt countryside, love historic buildings or enjoy a glass of Cognac, the Charente is the ideal region for you. With fewer tourists than other French destinations and plenty of family fun to be had, it's equally suited to budget-conscious families and couples wanting to get away from it all.