The two towers at the entrance to La Rochelle harbour, dating from the 12th Century

Things to do further afield

The Charente Maritime is a vibrant region, with Roman ruins, many glorious churches, boating, water skiing, and of course many beaches. Here’s our guide to some of the best locations in the vicinity.

Locations on this page are given using the What3Words mapping system. Click here to find out more about it.

La Rochelle

La Rochelle is a vibrant, bustling port about 45 minutes’ drive from Courant. It’s built around two great medieval towers that form the entrance to the harbour, one of which contains a very interesting museum.

La Rochelle has a wealth of great restaurants and shops, and is best visited in the early evening when street performers do their stuff along the quayside, between the string of family-friendly restaurants and the market and craft stalls.

You can hire bicycles by the hour or the day, and it’s worth taking the ride along the coast to the nearby beach of La Plage des Minimes, where you can get a meal at one of the restaurants before taking a dip in the sea. In the other direction is the secluded beach of Chef du Baie, with plenty of parking beneath the trees and a useful cafe.

It’s worth checking out the fabulous aquarium, although it can get busy at peak times – best to visit early in the morning or in the late afternoon.

A great attraction for historians is Le Bunker, which housed the German high command during the second world war. It’s a fascinating exhibition which brings to life the wartime experience – but note that all the texts on the exhibits are in French only.

Two of our favourite visitor attractions are the Museum of Automata, featuring a wide range of working Victorian mechanical models, and the neighbouring Musée des Modèles Réduits which contains all the model railways you could wish for – as well as a staged sea battle and a ride-on model railway outside. You can get a single ticket to gain access to both museums.

La Rochelle also contains a Museum of Natural History and a fascinating Maritime Museum. There’s a thriving market in the centre of town where you can be tempted by a huge range of prepared foods, or just admire the glorious fruit and veg on sale in the stalls outside.

Parking can be a problem in La Rochelle. The best car park is at Jean d’Acre (not to be confused with Joan of Arc), but it does fill up; failing that, there’s a huge underground car park at Parking Verdun, in the centre of the town.

From La Rochelle you can take boat rides to visit Fort Boyard (although you can’t go inside it), or the splendid island of the Ile d’Aix about an hour’s cruise away. You can take boats out from the old port, near the west tower.

Places in La Rochelle

Cycle hire
owner.coverage.affair

Plage des Minimes
rafters.squish.began

Plage du Chef du Baie
handle.purses.cheeses

Aquarium
recline.sweeper.skin

Le Bunker
loaf.various.hammer

Museum of Automata
managed.sampled.aviation

Musée des Modèles Réduits
took.shortage.lend

Museum of Natural History
luring.detect.winner

Maritime Museum
slot.workshop.goes

Market
hers.referral.emperor

Car park Jean d’Acre
whoever.circles.typist

Car park Verdun
bronzes.umbrella.relax

Boat rides
pointer.shorter.spite

Saintes

The town of Saintes has Roman origins, and there are still several Roman remains to be seen – including the Triumphal arch on the banks of the river, and the splendid amphitheatre which plays host to theatrical events throughout the summer.

You can take boats out on the river, including pedalos and fun motor boats with canopies that you can drive yourself along the sedate Charente.

The church of Saint Eutrope has an atmospheric and spooky crypt, accessible through a door at the side – hard to find, but What3Words will get you right there.

And of course, there are plenty of restaurants and cafés to keep your blood sugar up as you explore this remarkable town.

Places in Saintes

Triumphal arch
precautions.vase.holiday

Amphitheatre
enacted.withdrew.cattle

Crypt of St Eutrope
dealings.owns.venue

Boat hire
initial.pillow.forget

Rochefort

Rochefort has been a key port for the French Navy since the 17th century, and was a garrison town until the mid 20th century.

We highly recommend the Corderie Royale, a fascinating museum on the history of rope making – a far more entertaining prospect than you might expect. You might also visit the Musée Nationale de la Marine for a slice of maritime history, and be sure to visit the reconstruction of the frigate Hermione.

Our favourite museum is Rochefort is the Musée des Commerces d’autrefois, a multi-storey display of Victorian shops and businesses, each crammed with goods and materials, making a remarkable walk into the past.

Places in Rochefort

Corderie Royale
eyeglass.infers.scraping

Musée Nationale de la Marine
thrilling.impoverished.skulls

Frigate Hermione
buskers.punchy.kipper

Musée des Commerces d’autrefois
stressed.grades.fizzy

Royan

The highlight of Royan is its magnificent cathedral, built entirely of concrete. Sounds like a contradiction? Maybe, but when you enter through the main doors and are confronted with its cavernous space you’re sure to feel awed by the experience.

A little way up the coast road towards Saint Georges de Didonne is a bay, accessible by a steep stairway. When the tide is out a fascinating network of caves is revealed, which you can climb through to get to another hidden bay the other side. Make sure you check your tide charts so you can get back again!

Up the coast in the other direction is a secluded beach off the Avenue de Pontaillac. We recommend the restaurant Le Calumet, which serves a great range of delicious meals at reasonable prices – overlooking the beach and the old men playing pétanque next door.

Places in Royan

Cathedral
bather.snuffles.trace

Caves
rears.alas.iodine

Le Calumet
proper.spun.thorax

Surgères

The nearest town to Courant, Surgères boasts the fine Eglise Notre Dame where they stage a regular programme of concerts in the evenings.

night market is held occasionally through the summer, when you can dine al fresco at one of the many communal tables set up throughout the town and browse the many market stalls and entertainments on offer.

There’s also a regular market held on Tuesdays, Thursdays and Saturdays.

Places in Surgères

Eglise Notre Dame
veal.thrower.spaced

Market
budgie.hero.sinkhole

Ile d’Aix

The Ile d’Aix is a small island formerly used as a garrison by the French army. It boasts two main streets, where you can get a fine paella for 11 euros or find finer dining elsewhere on the island. Best bet is to hire bicycles, which you can do right by the small port, and spend an afternoon cycling around examining the fortifications.

On the Ile d’Aix you’ll find the house where Napoleon spent his last night on French soil before his exile, and a remarkable African museum of stuffed animals and other relics brought back by Baron Gourgaud. Fort Liédot, used as a prison during the French Revolution, is certainly worth a visit.

You can get to the Ile d’Aix any boat from La Rochelle, on an hour-long cruise taking in a tour of Fort Boyard; our preferred route is from the ferry at Fouras, which takes half that time.

On the way, check out Emmaus, which is possibly the world’s largest junk shop – an indoor and outdoor collection of all the furniture, crockery, bricabrac and sundry cast-offs (including a large selection of outdated technology) you could possibly want.

Places in Ile d’Aix

Napoleon museum
brook.scoped.guarded

African museum
toothbrush.cubs.maiden

Cycle hire
persistence.disagreeing.biggest

Fort Liédot
matters.exfoliating.advising

Ferry at Fouras
tramples.seasons.secure

Emmaus
undesirable.corporate.salt

Port d’Envaux

The small village of Port d’Envaux has a boat jetty on the banks of the river Charente where you can hire pedalos, kayaks and small motor boats, and cruise up and down the tranquil river. The café sells fresh salads, ice creams and drinks, and there are tables and chairs so you can picnic under the trees

The river is also great for swimming in, and there’s a roped-off area for children next to a large sandpit and play area.

Just up the road is Les Lapidiales, a sculpture park in which the sculptures are carved into the chalk quarry excavated below ground level. It’s a fascinating place to visit, with new sculptures added every year – and you’ll probably see sculptors at work when you go there.

Places in Port d’Envaux

Car park
canted.juggles.professions

Boat hire
polisher.respected.genuine

Sandpit
trachea.piecing.plugged

Les Lapidiales
card.woodworker.pound

Aulnay

The small town of Aulnay is notable chiefly for its Sunday market, making it a great place to stock up on fresh seafood, saucisson, and fruit and veg on the day after your arrival at Courant. The market is open until lunchtime, and there are cafés where you can take a well-earned break from shopping.

Places in Aulnay

Market
shell.drilling.flicker

Even further afield

If you like driving, check out Poitiers, a town full of French history, today best known for Futuroscope – a theme park based on multimedia with several 3D and even 4D cinemas.

Puy du Fou is another theme park, featuring many historical displays, from gladiators to vikings, jousting to falconry. There’s a spectacular firework display in the evenings, so plan for a long day and sleepy kids on the drive home.

The town of Cognac is, of course, best known for its brandy, and you can take a tour of the many distilleries where it’s made.

Bordeaux is a major city to the south, with museums aplenty. It includes some extraordinary, vast concrete bunkers where German submarines were constructed during the Second World War. Built to withstand aerial bombing, they’re now almost impossible to remove and stand as an ugly testament to efficient construction.

Places further away

Futuroscope
episodes.peelings.stockroom

Puy du Fou
clanging.punctuates.chimp

Hennessy distillery, Cognac
rents.tactical.crawling

Bordeaux bunkers
adjust.orchestra.falters