Explore the “Most Beautiful Villages of France” in Charente-Maritime

Talmont-sur-Gironde
Share Explore the “Most Beautiful Villages of France” in Charente-Maritime
Explore the “Most Bea ...

Grandiose panoramas , walks off the beaten track, heritage and old stones . Between countless nuggets, Charente-Maritime concentrates 5 villages labeled Plus Beaux Villages de France . This prestigious and very select distinction of the “Most Beautiful Villages of France” now includes 159 municipalities, a great trail to explore for a weekend or a few days escape. Cradled by the salty air of the Atlantic Ocean , immerse yourself in these incomparable landscapes with shades of blue, salt marshes, monumental military fortifications still inhabited in the past, flowery alleys lined with white houses and hollyhocks , from markets to delicacies… Here are five wonders of Charentais heritage .


Ars en Ré, an authentic end of the world

Located in the northern part of the Ile de Ré, this peaceful village is a real gem surrounded by an abundant setting of unspoiled nature. At the gates of the Lilleau des Niges National Nature Reserve made up of mud flats and salt marshes exploited by salt workers , Ars-en-Ré is distinguished by its iconic pointed bell tower , painted in black and white, which stands out from the horizon and serves as a landmark for sailors navigating in the sluices. In terms of architecture, this charming village has everything a postcard decor. In its remarkably harmonious little alleys, the famous Retaise houses with white façades, green shutters and slightly sloping roofs covered with terracotta tiles are irresistible. Workshops and galleries of passionate craftsmen and talented artists express their know-how through unique works according to their imagination. Cafés, restaurants and creperies cheerfully enliven the harbor quays, bordered by terraces, where it is good to stroll. From the quays of the channel of the port of Ars (Prize des Salines and Quai de la Chabossière), the view is plunging over the bay of Fier d'Ars .

To do: Get on a bike to explore the village and the nature reserve inaccessible by car.

Not to be missed : Sunset over the salt marshes while tasting some oysters!

Ars-en-Ré

Ars-en-Ré Ars-en-Ré
Ars-en-Ré
Ars-en Ré and its multicolored landscapes

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La Flotte en Ré, a jewel of island architecture

Hard to be more picturesque! Only a few kilometers from the exit of the Île de Ré bridge , just after the village of Rivedoux, La Flotte en Ré is one of the oldest villages on Île-de-Ré . You will be as captivated by the summer entertainment as by the sweetness of life that reigns here out of season. This village concentrates all the facets of the Retais charm: a small port protected by a curving jetty 200m long, a seafront promenade lined with restaurants, a lively village center with many very trendy shops , sumptuous flower- lined alleys with traditional houses aligned which give a great harmony to the whole. From the quay, the view is breathtaking over the port, where pretty pleasure boats rub shoulders with beautiful sailboats. You will enjoy having a coffee in the sun in the morning, tasting an artisanal ice cream from the famous “La Martinière” glacier or sharing an aperitif with friends in the evening on a terrace facing the seagull ball!

What to do : Visit the remains of the Abbaye des Châteliers outside the village. Built by Cistercian monks in the 12th century, it is one of the most beautiful ruins in France.

Not to be missed : Treat your taste buds to local specialties in the medieval architecture market square open all year round!


Brouage The Fleet in Ré

The Fleet in Ré
The port of La Flotte en Ré


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Brouage, a stone star in the heart of the Saintonge marshes

A true fortified village nestled in the heart of the marshes, the citadel of Brouage is, as incredible as it is, a seaport today stranded in the open ground. In fact, in the 14th century, the port of Brouage was an important hub of the white gold trade . Prosperous thanks to salt, the village was one of the main ports on the Atlantic coast and in Europe. It's hard to imagine today that nearly 200 boats could dock there by the ocean! In 1627, Cardinal Richelieu transformed the village into a fortified military fortress which became a bitterly coveted Catholic stronghold to face Protestant La Rochelle. The citadel then sheltered nearly 6,000 men, artillery and ammunition, forges, a hospital. The military architect Vauban fortified the ramparts in the 17th century while the port began to silt and the maritime horizon receded. Competed by Rochefort, the decline of the city which was once "the most beautiful haven in France", the "great seaport of King Louis XIV" is inevitable. Today the charming shops of artists and craftsmen have replaced the salt stalls and the heritage remains of Brouage make it a captivating place to stroll. Stroll through the alleys, admire the charming Charentais houses, push the door of a store of regional specialties to savor. Among the historical curiosities, we find the Royal Gate and its hangars , the forges, the powder magazine and the ice house .

To do: Walk through the 2km long ramparts for a panoramic view of the marshes and the architecture of the city.

Do not miss : The food hall built in 1631 is fully preserved. Wine, wheat, beer, meat were stored there to supply the troops and military or merchant ships that left for northern Europe and the American islands. Today it is an exhibition center on the history of Brouage and military architecture .


Read our article on Brouage!

Brouage

Brouage Brouage
Brouage and its ageless streets


Talmont sur Gironde, fortified bastide on the estuary

Time does not seem to have a hold on this town with its cinematic charm. Perched on a rocky promontory forming a peninsula on the edge of the Gironde estuary , Talmont is a real invitation to daydream. It is a pleasure to let yourself wander through its small pedestrian alleys with old whitewashed houses, lined with craft shops and artist galleries. Savor its timeless atmosphere, its small restaurants and welcoming café terraces. Everything here encourages a change of pace and soak up the quintessential Charente atmosphere.

To do : Take the path of the remains of the White Tower towards the Sainte-Radegonde church which dominates the village, a jewel of Romanesque art and undeniably one of the most beautiful in Charente-Maritime. Enjoy superb panoramic views of the ocean, the estuary and the cliffs of Meschers-sur-Gironde just opposite.

Not to be missed: the squares on the side of the cliff near the small port of Talmont and on the other side of the bay on the village of Caillaux . These wooden fishermen's huts, mounted on stilts linked to the cliff by a pontoon, are emblematic of the Charente heritage.


Talmond-sur-Gironde Talmond-sur-Gironde

Talmond-sur-Gironde
Take a walk in Talmont-sur-Gironde and discover the art of living on the edge of the estuary!

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Mornac-sur-Seudre, artists' village in the heart of the marshes

A few kilometers from Royan, in the Seudre estuary, the small town of Mornac-sur-Seudre has jealously kept its unique identity, between land and sea . Surrounded by an immensity of water, salt marshes and oyster beds, the village has enjoyed prosperity thanks to the salt and fish trade as evidenced by some medieval remains of its rich past. The sumptuous framed halls supported by stone pillars dating from the Middle Ages are the ideal starting point for strolling through the pedestrian streets of the center , or for a short walk on the channel promenade lined with picturesque multicolored oyster huts . In the early 1950s, Mornac experienced a new impetus thanks to artistic craftsmanship . Pottery, weaving, painting, stained glass, sculpted wood ... today around forty artists have taken up residence there, inspired by the serenity of the place.

What to do: Taste a dozen oysters fresh from the "claire" on one of the terraces of the oyster huts, feast on shellfish like the famous Charentaise mussel eclade.

Not to be missed : Embark on a sea trip and discover the Seudre to admire the wild landscapes of the estuary .


Mornac sur Seudre Mornac sur Seudre
Mornac sur Seudre

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Photos and Article prepared by Lesley Williamson.


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