Head to the Atlantic coast and its treasures with our selection of 16 essential things to do in Charente-Maritime!
Ideally located between Nantes and Bordeaux, Charente-Maritime looks like a perfect destination. For those who dream of island life, it is not one but four islands that you can discover. The long coasts of the department are conducive to idleness but also to water sports, while the seaside resorts are full of festivals to entertain you. Visiting the Charente-Maritime is a pure pleasure.
With a superbly preserved historical heritage, the Charentes has a crazy charm, and we like to stroll in the old city center. There are also some of the most beautiful museums in France. This is the case of the Arsenal de la Mer in Rochefort, from which we emerge with a mind full of adventure stories.
As for the inland landscapes, they have something to amaze with their biodiversity and offer pure moments of calm in the face of the hustle and bustle of the seaside. Does this presentation make you want to? So much the better because here is a selection of 16 essential things to do in Charente-Maritime.
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1. La Rochelle
It is an essential city to visit in Charente-Maritime. Each of us necessarily has in mind images of the famous 3 towers that monitor its port. The city attracts many tourists every year but also new inhabitants who are seduced by its sweetness of life. Its living environment, open to both the sea and the countryside, is its main asset.
Among the things to see absolutely, it is, of course, necessary to take the time to stroll through the old town with its old houses and arcaded streets. On the port, know that you can visit the 3 towers. The view from that of the Lantern is exceptional, and you may have chills in front of the multi-secular graffiti made by the prisoners. Also in the port, science lovers can visit the ship France 1, which was that of the national meteorology and is, today, a museum.
Another museum to do of the New World traces the history of the French who set out to conquer the American continent. Finally, it is impossible to talk about the dynamism of La Rochelle without mentioning the extraordinary atmosphere that reigns there during the famous Francofolies festival dedicated to French-speaking song.
2. The Island of Aix
It is a very small piece of land, 3 kilometers long, accessible only by boat and without a car. If it is heavily frequented during the peak of the summer season, it remains the quietest to visit in Charente-Maritime.
If you choose the timing well, you are not swept away by the crowd here; time stops while you travel it by bike or on foot. Its small houses lined with flowers have a crazy charm, while its beaches invite absolute relaxation. The fortified village of Vauban with its drawbridge astonishes, and the Napoleon Museum recalls that the fallen emperor passed by there.
You can also visit the workshop of one of the last artisans in France before going to recharge your batteries in the woods.
There are necessarily some who will think directly of two ladies with their yellow and pink dresses. It is here, in fact, that Jacques Demy’s musical film was shot in real settings. In other words, aficionados of the film will be able to immerse themselves with delight in it, especially with the itinerary concocted by the city and available on its application.
But let those who resist this cinematographic genre be reassured; Rochefort also has a fascinating Maritime history. First of all, it is a “new city” entirely created in the seventeenth century around a maritime arsenal nicknamed the “Versailles of the sea.” It is also the main attraction to visit, and you will not be disappointed. The most beautiful building is that of the Corderie Royale, which is 374 m long. This is explained by its primary function: the manufacture of ropes for the Navy.
Today it is the International Centre of the Sea. Also, visit the Museum of the Navy in the Hotel de Cheusses. And finally, do not miss the star of the city, the Hermione, aka the identical reconstruction of lafayette’s 3 masts to go to America to help the revolutionaries in the War of Independence. It should be noted, however, that the ship is not always there. Decidedly, Rochefort is an original city to visit in Charente-Maritime.
4. The Island of Ré
It is the flagship island that tourists are eager to visit in Charente-Maritime. That’s why we can only recommend that you do it out of season. Of course, if it is so popular, it is because it is beautiful. Its long beaches and charming houses extend over 30 kilometers long and are just 5 wide.
All under a record of sunshine and in waters bathed by the Gulf Stream. All you have to do is get on a bike, the king means of transport on the island with more than 100 km of tracks. Among the things to see, do not miss the church of Saint-Martin en Ré, to the top of which you can climb to admire the panorama. There is also the impressive Whales Lighthouse to the far west, and its 257 steps to climb.
To observe the birds, it is to the nature reserve that you have to go. Do not miss strolling through villages such as Loix and crisscrossing the markets with colorful stalls.
5. Oléron Island
It is the largest of the islands of the Charente archipelago. Less popular than its neighbor of Ré, Oléron is more natural and popular. Here it is always possible to walk between the small wooden houses of oyster farming sites such as Fort Royer and the Baudissière channel.
For amateurs, it is, of course, more than recommended to be tempted by tastings of the famous Oyster of Marennes. Oléron has kept a strong fishing activity, as you can see in the port of the Château or at the Côtinière. Between two walks along the dunes or in the forests of the island, you will discover the citadel of Brouage or Fort Louvois among the many historic fortifications of the island.
There is no shortage of viewpoints to make great photos. Try the panoramas from the bell tower of the Saint-Pierre de Sales church or from the Chassiron lighthouse.
6. The City of the Oyster
It’s time to make a gastronomic stopover and for that, go to Marennes. In typical huts, the site offers you to discover all the secrets of oyster farming. The site is located in one of the richest environments of the region, in the marshes of the Seudre, on the edge of the Cayenne channel.
So much so that you can, after a tasting worthy of the name in the restaurant, go for a walk and discover the fauna and flora. And as a bonus, for small and large children, activities such as the introduction to tile fishing are offered.
Type this name into your search engine, go to the images and it’s almost guaranteed that you’ll want to go for a walk. It is one more atypical place to visit in Charente-Maritime. It is a fortified city that came out of the ground in the seventeenth century under the direction of Richelieu.
Seen from the sky, it seems that it has just been built with its bastion intact and its rectilinear plan straight out of a geometry course. The atmosphere is all the more unusual in the low season when there is not a cat in the streets. Moreover, if you want to make your imagination gallop, you can follow a dramatized guided tour. It is the perfect option to discover its buildings frozen in time.
8. Fort Boyard
Who doesn’t remember the music in the credits of this game show with the camera spinning at full speed on the waves towards this fort lost in the middle of the ocean? The bad news is that you can’t visit this Charente-Maritime monument.
The only way is to have the number of the production company of the game show. The good news is that you can always fill up on sensations by going to see him by boat. You will learn that he is nicknamed “the fort of the useless” because he has never served. When it was built in the nineteenth century, it was to house a garrison.
Eventually, getting him out of the sandbar was too long, and military advances got ahead of him. It has become a ghost fortress, but it never ceases to fascinate.
It is the main seaside resort to visit in Charente-Maritime, and it will particularly appeal to architecture fans. The city was almost completely destroyed by the bombings of World War II. A few Belle Epoque villas have survived, but most of the city has been rebuilt in the style of the 1950s.
And that’s where it gets interesting, even if it’s not to everyone’s taste. The roof of the covered market evokes, for some, a parachute. The houses with cubic shapes clearly give Jacques Tati’s film airs to the landscapes. And the Church of Notre Dame, all in concrete, may surprise more than one.
At worst, the most refractory to style can still enjoy the large beaches and their many water activities that make Royan not empty.
10. The zoo of La Palmyre
Impossible to miss the huge posters of the zoo when you walk around the area. And for a good reason, it is one of the most renowned parks in Europe, even if we must not forget that originally animals were captured in the wild.
It is now home to 1,600 animals of all species. It is particularly renowned for its many monkeys with, among others, the smallest species in the world that fits in one hand. Of course, at present, the zoo is part of several programs that act for the protection of endangered species.
Many births take place there every year. And many shows are organized to the delight of families.
11. The caves of Regulus
The site is named after a commander who, in the nineteenth century, had to defend the mouth of the Gironde against English ships. The operation was a failure, and the sailors took refuge in these cavities. The caves have a vertiginous view of the estuary, which was of great use to monitor the boats.
For centuries, they have served as troglodyte dwellings and refuges for local populations. Today, visitors flock in, attracted by the legends of privateers but also by the geological curiosity of its cavities.
12. The Château de la Roche-Courbon
Moviegoers are likely to recognize this castle which is one of the most admired monuments in Charente-Maritime. In terms of activities, there is something to do, so allow time to visit it. For starters, it’s a fully furnished castle, and the French gardens are well worth a stroll.
If you feel like it, you can even book an escape game in an authentic room of the castle. There is also a whole route dedicated to prehistory due to the presence of caves on the site. In summary, at the exit, you will be unbeatable in a good part of the historical periods.
It is not necessarily the city that we think of first to visit in Charente-Maritime. And yet, it would be a shame to miss out on its heritage treasures. If we had to mention only two, it would be the Roman amphitheater and the church of St. Eutrope.
The first impresses with its immensity, which, according to estimates, could accommodate 15,000 spectators. One would almost expect to see the gladiators disembark. It is also a typical example of the Roman architecture of “Hairy Gaul”. Change of era for the church, which is a masterpiece of Romanesque art characteristic of the region. Its crypt is particularly famous, in other words, do not forget to visit it.
14. The Seagull Train
Train travel has been on the rise for a few years. But if you can’t afford the Orient Express, why not start with a more modest trip? We offer you a walk one to the rhythm of the rails along the estuary of the Seudre.
And as a bonus, this rail trip will take place with the oldest working steam locomotive in France. The railway follows the old route of oyster transport and crosses a beautiful diversity of landscapes.
The Seudre, this small river, is home to charming nuggets, including this village classified as one of the most beautiful villages in France. The title is well deserved as the village is photogenic. On one side, there are the houses of fishermen and oyster farmers made of colorful wood; on the other, the old stone houses watched over by the church and the medieval halls.
Most of the visits are the many workshops of craftsmen who punctuate the alleys and invite to shopping.
16. The Poitevin marsh
We tend to forget it but the Poitevin marsh straddles several departments. You can therefore visit it in Charente-Maritime. Here, water is queen, obviously with multiple channels that give rise to exceptional biodiversity. It is also the second wetland in France.
The marsh can be discovered on foot and by bike along the trails. But the best way to admire it is to do it by boat. The pier is that of the locks of Bazoin. You can even paddle for the more sporty!
How to get to Charente-Maritime?
La Rochelle airport is served by a few lines from Lyon and Ajaccio but that’s all for the French territory. The rest of the connections mainly concern cities in the United Kingdom.
But if you are ever close to one of these airports, it is advisable to take a look at a flight comparator like Skyscanner to book according to your desires.
La Rochelle is served by the A10 and A83 motorways but if you prefer to enjoy the landscapes, you can take the N10 and N11 national roads. As a reminder, the bridge of the island of Ré is paying.
Thanks to the TGV that arrives in La Rochelle, you can visit the Charente-Maritime in less than 3 hours from Montparnasse. The towns of Saintes, Rochefort and Royan are served by Corail trains from Austerlitz.
Where to stay in Charente-Maritime?
The offer of tourist accommodation is very complete, but you will have to pay attention to the prices if you want to visit the Charente-Maritime in the high season. For example, in the summer, the island of Ré is stormed and prices soar. Obviously, large cities such as Royan, La Rochelle, Rochefort or Saintes have a more diversified offer.
If you want good value for money, you can turn to Airbnb or campsites a little more inland. As with many destinations, it’s best to book in advance and use a hotel comparator to see availability.