Royan. © Ph. Souchard

Our pick of the best places to visit in theTwo Charentes – from a spectacular underground church to a wetland wilderness

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Things to See and Do in Les Deux Charentes

ROYAN

A jolly seaside resort with fine beaches, including the spectacular La Grande-Conche beach with its blue-and-white-striped bathing huts. Belle Époque and 1950s architecture give Royan a unique charm. Indulge in great seafood, thalassotherapy, boutique shopping and art galleries. www.royan-tourisme.co.uk

La Rochelle. © Xavier Léoty

LA ROCHELLE

Maritime history and harbourside pleasures mingle at this wonderful old port. Discover the city on a legendary yellow bike, head up one of the famous towers for views to the islands, or visit the aquarium. Quayside restaurants and nautical boutiques are always tempting. www.larochelle-tourisme.com

Aubeterre-sur-Dronne

AUBETERRE-SUR-DRONNE

There’s more history in this picturesque village on the border with the Dordogne than seems possible. There’s a spectacular underground monolithic church, a charming square lined with boutiques and restaurants, and plenty of outdoor activities too – including a river beach. www.aubeterresurdronne.com

Angoulême. © JLPC

ANGOULÊME

Inside the ramparts awaits a characterful city that is unspoiled by tourism but worth a trip. The awe-inspiring cathedral contrasts with lovely little squares. You should see the Trésor de la cathédrale d’Angoulême, at the museum, though you will need to book a guided tour in advance. www.angouleme-tourisme.co.uk

Île de Ré. © David Crookes

ÎLE DE RÉ

A must-visit island offering everything from family-friendly beaches and easy and safe cycle paths to sophisticated hotels and restaurants frequented by wealthy Parisians. Full of interesting maritime history, it’s a special place that people come back to again and again. www.iledere.com

Ile d’Oléron. © Babouchkaya

ÎLE D’OLÉRON

The quieter (and cheaper) cousin of Île de Ré, the island is developing its environmental credentials and aims to become energy self-sufficient. Hire a bike or explore on foot. Here you can find wild beaches and enjoy eco-camping, while fresh oysters and mussels are on the menu. www.oleron-island.com

Aiguillon Bay

AIGUILLON BAY

A bird-watchers’ paradise, this wild nature reserve, a magical bay of salt marshes and mud flats is a bridge between the land and the sea where migratory birds from Siberia, Canada and Europe stop to rest and feed. A third of all the mussels produced in France come from the farms here. www.reserve-baie-aiguillon.fr

Marais Poitevin. © Patrick Charpiat

LE MARAIS POITEVIN

Explore these unique wetland marshes by boat to see why artists and naturalists love these enchanting waters. Pretty canalside cottages emerge through glades of poplar and willow trees. Coulon, Arçais, Damvix and Maillezais are popular villages nearby. www.niortmaraispoitevin.co.uk

L’abbaye royale de Saint-Jean-d’Angély

L’ABBAYE ROYALE DE SAINT-JEAN-D’ANGÉLY

Founded in the 9th century, later rebuilt, and now listed as a UNESCO Heritage Site, the ruins of this once great abbey church are a must-see for anyone interested in 18th-century Classical architecture. Simple rooms are available. www.abbaye-royale-angely.com

Fort Boyard. Photo: Region Nouvelle Aquitaine

FORT BOYARD

This huge Napoleonic fort rises above the waves to guard the mouth of the Charente river. Boat trips leave from La Rochelle and the islands to visit this impressive monument, the location of a recent popular TV game show. www.oleron-island.com/discover/heritage-and-history/heritage/fort-boyard

Cognac. © Stéphane Charbeau

COGNAC

A great little town on the banks of the Charente river. Visit in the winter to tour and sample the famous cognac brandy houses such as Hennessy or Rémy Martin, or visit in July when the famous blues festival opens its gates. www.cognacetapes.com, www.cognac.com/cognac-blues-passions-festival

Saintes

SAINTES

Inland, the unique Romanesque architecture of Charente and Charente-Maritime reaches a pinnacle at Saintes, where the highlights include the Arch of Germanicus, the thermal baths, the underground aqueduct and one of the best-preserved amphitheatres in France. www.saintes-tourisme.fr

From France Today magazine

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