A guide to six of the most beautiful villages in Poitou-Charentes
The region of Poitou-Charentes (Poitou-Charentes Property Guide) lies in the centre west of France, and encompasses four departments. It also includes some islands which are located just into the Atlantic Ocean, off the coast of the Charente-Maritime (Charente-Maritime Property Guide). Poitou-Charentes is a region which is very much loved by the British in particular, a fact which will be hardly surprising to anyone who has visited this lovely part of France. From the islands to the mainland coast, through the historic cities and market towns, and finally to the delightful rural villages and beautiful countryside, resplendent in shades of gold and green with sunflowers and vineyards, Poitou-Charentes is blessed in more ways than one.
It will also come as no surprise to aficionados of the region that there are no less than seven villages or small towns here which are classified as "Les Plus Beaux Villages de France". These villages are classified because not only are they beautiful, but also typical of their area, and dedicated to upholding standards and authenticity. Of course, there are also many unsung heroes in Poitou-Charentes, villages which may not be so well known but which delight the eye and are just waiting to be discovered.
We begin our search for the most beautiful villages in Poitou-Charentes on the Ile de Ré (Ile de Ré Property Guide), an island which lies just to the west of La Rochelle (La Rochelle Property Guide) in the Charente-Maritime. La Flotte en Ré is everything you could hope for in a beautiful village, with a delightful setting on this lovely island, great ocean views, a bustling quayside and a charming town centre. It has been a magnet for visitors for many years, yet has remained unspoiled and still manages to maintain an atmosphere of calm and tranquillity.
La Flotte is one of the villages that appears on the "Plus Beaux Villages de France" list, and deservedly so. The beautiful harbour is a good place to begin a tour of this lovely town as there is nothing like the sight of a blue sea, colourful boats and an elegant quayside to gladden the eye. La Flotte has all of this, and on a clear day you can even see across the water to the beaches of the Vendée (Vendée Property Guide)! Unlike the Vendée resorts though, with their miles on miles of golden sands, La Flotte has only a small beach, but this is a hidden blessing in that it prevents beach tourism from taking over and hiding the natural beauty of the village. You can walk along the jetty, and to add to the picture there is even a lighthouse. It is a scene that many have painted, and still more try have immortalised in photographs.
If you can tear yourself away from the sea, take a walk (slowly, so as not to miss anything!) up into the mediaeval heart of the village, taking in the traditional "sugar cube" houses with their faded green shutters on the way. La Flotte captures the very essence of an island seaside town. The mediaeval centre too is everything it should be, with narrow streets and quaint buildings. The Church of St Catherine is worth a look, with its bell tower built from stones taken from a local Abbey in the 18th century.
Tranquil and traditional though it may be, La Flotte has plenty of shops and cafés, with seafood featuring strongly on the menus for obvious reasons. There is also a fabulous mediaeval market, definitely one to catch!
The beach at La Flotte is only small, and due to its situation on the northern coast of the island, extra sand has to be shipped in every year to top it up at the start of the summer! La Flotte en Ré is more about atmosphere, traditional charm and the harbour than it is a seaside resort.
From the Ile de Ré we travel south-east, to the southern part of the Charente department (Charente Property Guide) to discover the gorgeous village of Aubeterre sur Dronne (Aubeterre Sur Dronne Property Guide). Once more, the village has earned the status of being classified as one of the most beautiful villages in the country, and within minutes of your arrival here you will endorse this wholeheartedly.
Aubeterre sur Dronne is undeniably beautiful, with traditional tiered houses tumbling down a hillside, colourful terracotta tiled roofs, narrow, winding, cobbled streets and a picturesque setting on a bend in the River Dronne. There is more than just a scenic beauty to Aubeterre, though, and perhaps its most outstanding feature is the underground Church of St Jean. Cut into the limestone cliff and linked to the town's chateau by a secret passageway, this church is famous for its twenty-metre high nave (the same height as the Notre Dame Cathedral in Paris!).
After taking in the chateau and the incredible church, turn to more prosaic pleasures and take a seat at a table at one of the welcoming little cafés or restaurants in the delightful main square, the Place Trarieux. Here you can relax, enjoy the excellent local cuisine and perhaps enjoy a glass of the regional tipple, a blend of wine and Cognac known as Pineau. Fully replete, enjoy a wander around the shops, of which there are a good few for such a small village.
Aubeterre sur Dronne is a great place to enjoy various sporting and leisure activities (Sport in France). Its country setting allows you to participate in river sports, including fishing (Fishing in France), swimming and canoeing, as well as horse-riding, walking, cycling (Cycling and motorcycling in France) and many more.
Aubeterre sur Dronne is essentially a small, peaceful village, so anyone looking for bright lights and action may find it a little too quiet for their taste. Conversely, others may find it gets a bit too busy in the peak holiday periods, because as one of France's listed beautiful villages it can be something of an attraction for tourists.
Our quest to find the prettiest villages in Poitou-Charentes takes us now to a very different style of village, Coulon (Coulon Property Guide), in the Deux-Sèvres department (Deux-Sèvres Property Guide) in the north-west of the region. Every bit as lovely as Aubeterre and La Flotte en Ré, Coulon has a quite different sort of appeal, being set on the edge of the marshy Marais Poitevin. It has an intricate maze of inland waterways and pretty weeping willows which epitomise this unique area.
Coulon is the only village in the Deux-Sèvres which lays claim to being one of France's "Plus Beaux Villages", and it well deserves this listing. Features that mark Coulon out as special are headed by its glorious waterside setting and position as the "capital of the Green Venice", the name given to the Marais Poitevin. Once upon a time, Coulon held an important place as a river port, shipping commodities such as salt from the sea to the cities.
These days its waterways and quays are more likely to play host to pleasure boats and those craft offering sightseeing trips along the waterways to discover the fascinating flora and fauna of the riverbanks. Here you can watch at first hand the very specialised form of agriculture practised in these marshy parts. Local specialities include angelica and "mogettes", a type of succulent haricot bean that thrives in the rich, marshy earth.
Coulon itself is a lovely village, with its quays, its traditional houses with gaily painted shutters, its attractive square and old Church of St Trinity. Enjoy too, its many little shops and excellent restaurants where you may even be persuaded to try such delicacies as frog's legs and snails!
You may like to spend some time investigating the history of the village, which dates back all the way to the Neolithic and Bronze Ages. Coulon is also a designated "Station Verte", an accolade awarded to towns and villages that pay particular attention to caring for the natural environment.
Coulon is lovely in all seasons, but can be busy with tourists in summer and surprisingly cold in winter. (Weather in France.)
Perhaps La Rochefoucauld (La Rochefoucauld Property Guide), our next destination on a grand tour of six of the prettiest villages in Poitou-Charentes, could be said to be more of a small town than a tiny village, but the population of just over 3,000 justifies its placing in this article. La Rochefoucauld is another riverside town, but quite distinct from Coulon in many ways. To find it, we make our return to the Charente department in the south-east of the region, and discover this small market town on the banks of the River Tardoire.
La Rochefoucauld has the distinction of being home to one of the most impressive chateaux in the country, Château La Rochefoucauld! The town actually takes its name from the chateau, which is open to the public and offers a chance to see an outstanding collection of antique furniture and valuable art. La Rochefoucauld also has a Carmelite cloister, a pretty 13th century church, museums and truly magnificent public parks and gardens for you to explore. The old part of the town is very special too, with the elegant Maisons Bourgeois (originally home to the wealthy professional classes such as lawyers and doctors) still standing as a piece of living history. Finally, La Rochefoucauld boasts a superb market, a quintessential piece of French life that brings vivid colours, sounds and scents to its streets every Saturday morning.
Le Rochefoucauld has a very impressive array of shops and restaurants. If you (or the children!) have tired of history and culture, there is always the bowling alley in the town to provide a little more contemporary entertainment and light relief!
Not really... the town is close enough to major transport links to be easily accessed from the UK (Travel France), and is set in attractive countryside close to many other places of interest. Perhaps it can become a little touristy in high season, but never to a point that should prevent you from visiting.
We travel north-eastwards now, to the Vienne department (Vienne Property Guide) of Poitou-Charentes, where we find another of the "Plus Beaux Villages de France", the village of Angles sur Anglin. Rising up out of the exquisitely green landscape, this mediaeval village is chocolate box pretty, and sits proudly on top of a rocky hill, facing onto the ruins of a chateau.
Angles sur Anglin has several features that make it a worthy member of this exclusive club of beautiful villages, not least of which is its lovely riverside setting, with elegant buildings and beautiful views as you gaze upwards to the ruined castle on the hilltop opposite. The old parts of the town are typically mediaeval and bursting with charm and interest, having the quaint little streets and alleyways so evocative of this period, and an abundance of greenery and colour too, with pretty gardens and flower baskets everywhere in summer. Angles sur Anglin also offers a Romanesque church and an old bell tower. The chateau, although in ruins, is still worth a visit, and you can make out the donjon, or dungeon tower, the chapels and a chapel tower.
The charm of Anglin sur Angles is its simplicity and authenticity. Every stone, weathered and smoothed by the passing centuries, evokes a bygone age and the greatest pleasure in town is just to walk, look and appreciate. Without doubt, Angles sur Anglin is a village for dreamers, and one where you feel those dreams could just come true.
Angles sur Anglin has shops and cafés as well as restaurants, boasting one which merits a mention in the prestigious Michelin guide. The village hosts a number of interesting events including a market, a book fair, open air cinemas and a fantastic firework display!
Angles sur Anglin lies in the north of the region, and it can't be denied that the better weather is generally found in the south, near the Dordogne (Dordogne Property Guide), or in the west, on the Charente-Maritime coast. That said, the summers are usually reliably warm and sunny, so the news isn't all bad!
Finally, we return to the Charente-Maritime (although this time we will stay on the mainland rather than heading out to the islands) to find the last of our six of the best from Poitou-Charentes. Talmont is a gorgeous village which sits on a rocky promontory reaching out in to the Gironde Estuary.
If you are looking for a postcard to send home to make everyone jealous of your holiday in France, you need look no further than to buy one of Talmont. Reminiscent of a Greek island village, with low, white cottages, brilliant blue shutters, decorative rose-filled gardens and tiny pedestrianised streets, Talmont welcomes you into its exclusive world and makes you want to stay for ever. The feeling of exclusivity comes from its position on the rocky outcrop that reaches into the estuary, as this is solely occupied by the village and clearly has no "through" traffic!
The fortifications, built to protect Talmont from attack, effectively enclose the village reinforcing the exclusivity theme. Talmont is another of "Les Plus Beaux Villages de France", and is certainly worth putting on any itinerary. The most dominant structural feature of Talmont, apart from its location, is its 11th century church, the Church of St Radegonde, but possibly Talmont's most delightful features are its glorious hollyhocks. Not only are these found in the gardens and window boxes of the pretty cottages, but they grow wild, in "gay profusion" (as Wordsworth might have said) all over the village.
Talmont has long exerted a strong appeal for artists and crafts people, and the village has many attractive arts and pottery shops where you can purchase original items. There are also cafés, restaurants and small shops in the village.
Just the usual, in that Talmont can be rather busy in the peak season as the tourists flock in to appreciate one of the region's finest villages. It should also be mentioned that if you are seeking a beach based holiday, Talmont may not be ideal. The village does have some beaches around the feet of the fortifications, but these are very small and don't really offer the sort of facilities usually associated with seaside holidays.
There then are six of the prettiest villages from the Poitou-Charentes region. This rural part of France has, of course, many hidden treasures too, with tiny hamlets seemingly unchanged for centuries lying peacefully among the sunflowers and vineyards. Once you have taken in the well known towns and villages, a drive or walk in the countryside will no doubt reward you with their discovery, and allow you to compile your own list of lovely places to visit... or perhaps even to settle down in.
Additional articles which may be of interest:
The prettiest villages in the Languedoc
The prettiest villages in the Limousin
Normandy property - Top 10
Brittany Property - Top 10
Languedoc Property - Top 10
Holidays in France
Joanna Simm moved to the Languedoc area of south-west France in October 2004 having found her property through French Property Links.
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