Top 10 things to do in Charente

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On vacation in south-west France? Stop off in Charente to visit the department’s must-sees. Follow the Guide!

As well as digestifs, the Charente region abounds in natural and historical treasures. Angoulême, the department’s prefecture, offers a selection of unusual museums. The Gallo-Roman theater takes you back through the centuries. The Tour de Charente also offers hiking trails to visit both sides of the Charente.

If you’d like to discover this department and its treasures, follow our guide to the must-do’s in Charente.

1. Château Royal de Cognac

Chateau Royal Cognac

Photo credit: Wikipedia – Cobber17

During the French Revolution, this edifice narrowly escaped destruction thanks to Baron Otard. He was captivated by the site. Not only does the Château Royal de Cognac boast a unique heritage, it also offers exceptional ageing conditions for the brandies. Thanks to the fortress’s thick walls, the alcohol retains its clear, colorless hue. This enables the cellars to produce delicious cognac.

A visit to the Château Royal de Cognac is both a step back in time and an introduction to the making of the digestif. Built in a different architectural style, each room impresses the visitor. The most striking are the barrel room and the vault dating from the 12th century.

The kings had a flair for grandeur and liked to entertain their guests in exceptional conditions. Baron Otard decided to keep up this tradition and organized several seminars and galas on the château grounds.

Today, the Château belongs to the Bacardi-Martini group and offers a wide variety of flavors during your visit. The tour always begins with an exploration of the château and ends with a cognac tasting. Depending on your budget and desires, the Château offers several varieties of cognac.

2. Angoulême’s museums

Musée Angoulême

Photo credit: Shutterstock – FreeProd33

Visiting the Charente also means discovering the prefecture’s unusual museums.

Angoulême Museum

Located in the historic center of the Charente capital, the Musée d’Angoulême boasts an impressive collection. Established in 1921, it is the city’s oldest museum.

The exhibits are separated by four levels:

  • The first floor is devoted to the world of archaeology and paleontology. Here you can discover the history of the Charente region over the last 500,000 years. Numerous excavations have been carried out over the centuries to bring you this unique collection. Among the emblematic works on this floor, don’t miss the aurochs skeletons, elephant remains dating back to prehistoric times, or the skulls of Cro-Magnon man.
  • The second floor houses works of art from Africa and Oceania. In all, over 3,000 pieces have been bequeathed to the Musée d’Angoulême. You’ll discover a Simogui mask, a Lobi statuette, a Kanak warrior bust, and many more.
  • The second and third floors feature period paintings, sculptures and weapons. Some of the paintings in the Louvre’s collection are on display here.

Paper Museum

When you visit the Charente region, you won’t want to miss the Musée du Papier. Built on the banks of the Charente River, the museum occupies the former Lacroix paper mills. Cigarette paper was manufactured here and exported to the Middle East and Egypt.

Paper-making has a long tradition in Angoulême, dating back to the 16th century. In 1516, the first paper mill in Charente was built in Negremus. Gradually, the mills used to produce wheat were remodeled to make paper.

New mills were also built to develop this increasingly prosperous activity. Thanks to its limestone soil and pure water, Angoulême became the headquarters of the paper mills.

The paper museum presents the history of papermaking and its manufacturing secrets.

Comic Strip Museum

In a resolutely more modern style, the musée de la bande dessinée welcomes you all year round. A must-see if you’re visiting the Charente region.

The museum’s collections are spread over an area of almost 1,300 square meters. You’ll find original plates, numerous drawings and, of course, related objects. It’s one of the largest comic strip collections in Europe.

Subject to strict conservation rules for works on paper, the museum must constantly renew its collection. Since original plates cannot be displayed for more than three months at a time, they are kept in reserve for three years after their exhibition. So you can come regularly and discover a new museum every time you visit.

Several events are also organized to vary the pleasures: temporary exhibitions, conferences, meditation workshops, etc.

3. Saint Peter’s Cathedral

Cathédrale Saint-Pierre Angoulême

Photo credit: Shutterstock – jorisvo

Listed as a historic monument, Saint-Pierre Cathedral is a masterpiece of Romanesque architecture. The façade is the cathedral’s centerpiece. Its sculpture is particularly elaborate, with statues and bas-reliefs. The whole structure dates back to the 12th century.

In addition, some representations were added in the 19th century during restoration work. These include Saint-Martin and Saint-Georges. The façade features three themes: the Ascension of Christ, the Last Judgment and Pentecost.

Above, the capital depicts various scenes of work in the fields, known as the « Seasons ». The four scenes refer to spring, summer, autumn and winter.

Inside the Cathedral, a unique atmosphere awaits you. The blue and gold tones diffuse a multitude of shades of light.

Continue your visit and discover the treasures of Saint-Pierre Cathedral. This is revealed in three rooms: the Lapidary, the Commitment and the Wonderful. You’ll discover an important collection of religious objects.

4. Cognac tasting

Visiter Charente : Verre de Cognac

Photo credit: Shutterstock – Vania Zhukevych

A visit to the Charente without a cognac tasting is simply unthinkable. The department offers a multitude of tasting workshops.

To fully immerse yourself in the atmosphere of this typically French spirit, you’ll be housed in a charming residence.

The introduction to cognac is given by an experienced trainer who explains all the tasting techniques. The aim is to work on both your gustatory and olfactory senses with theory and practice.

The atmosphere is warm and friendly, so you can enjoy discovering or rediscovering Charente cognac.

For a cognac tasting in the department, there’s a multitude of choices. From large cognac houses to small producers, there’s something for everyone in the region.

5. A hike on the Charente tour

Visiter Charente : Tour Charente

Photo credit: Facebook -Tour Charente VTT

What to do in Charente to discover nature? A hike on the Tour de Charente is an excellent opportunity to discover the whole department. In total, there are 450 kilometers of marked trails. These paths take you through 350 communes, almost all of the department’s towns (of which there are 397).

A number of information and service points indicate the viewpoints to be discovered and their level of difficulty. And of course, there are picnic areas all along the way, so you can recharge your batteries along the way.

There are several routes that are accessible for both walking and cycling. The most important are as follows:

  • La Galope chopine: a 22-kilometer hike between Barbezieux and Chantillac.
  • La Coulée d’Oc: in the east of the département, this path links Mornac and Souffrignac.
  • Val de Nouère: this route runs along the old « petit Rouillat » railroad, linking Rouillac to Hiersac via the Charente river.

6. The vineyards of Jarnac

Vignoble Jarnac

Photo credit: Shutterstock – Richard Semik

Situated between Angoulême and Cognac, Jarnac boasts an undeniable historical and winegrowing heritage.

Historically, cognac has been the driving force behind the town’s development. Jarnac is located on the river route where goods used to transit on their way to the ocean. From the 18th century onwards, the town’s strategic position changed all that.

From this date onwards, the first brandy merchants radically transformed the town with their white stone mansions, trading posts and warehouses.

All around Jarnac, several vineyards produce Charentais and Pineau de Charente. During your visit to the Charente, don’t hesitate to stop off in this charming town to discover its vineyards.

7. Queroy caves

Visiter Charente : Grotte Queroy

Photo credit: Wikipedia – LaMaWieze

The grottes de Quéroy are natural caves dating back millions of years. They were carved out of the limestone by the river Touvre, which flows beneath them. Explore 1,200 meters of galleries with some 30 chambers. You’ll see limestone concretions, draperies, stalactites and stalagmites.

Although very old, the caves were discovered by chance in 1892 by a hiker and her dog. As soon as the caves were discovered, they were immediately exploited by Norbert Casteret.

The caves were also used during the Second World War as a shelter for the resistance. In the 1960s, they were completely redeveloped for tourist use.

When visiting the Charente and its caves, remember to bring warm clothes, as it can get very cold underground. The temperature is generally between 8 and 12 degrees.

8. The Gallo-Roman theater of Les Bouchauds

Théâtre Gallo-romain Bouchauds

Photo credit: Flickr – patrick janicek

What can you do in the Charente to discover its history? Why not visit the Gallo-Roman theater of Les Bouchauds in Saint-Cybardeaux? This site takes you back to the Augustan period.

You’ll discover authentic Gallo-Roman ruins and an interpretation area. The theater is housed in a former farmhouse built in 1846. Inside, drawings, models and videos help you understand the secrets of the archaeological site.

The theater and ruins bear witness to the transformation of Gaul during Romanization. Unfortunately, the rise of Christianity from the 4th century onwards left these pagan buildings abandoned.

Gradually, nature reclaimed the Bouchauds site. It wasn’t until the 19th century that the remains of the theater were unearthed by Jean Gontier. And in 1970, excavations led to the discovery of the forgotten sanctuary.

9. Saint-Jacques church, Aubeterre-sur-Dronne

Eglise Saint-Jacques d'Aubeterre-sur-Dronne

Photo credit: Shutterstock – Elena Dijour

If you’re visiting the Charente region, you won’t want to miss the Saint-Jacques church in Aubeterre-sur-Dronne.

Erected in 1171, the church was destroyed by Protestant extremists in 1562. It wasn’t until the early 18th century that the building was rebuilt. Even today, restoration work is carried out on a regular basis to restore the church to its former glory. Its portal was listed as a historic monument in 1862.

The church is a skilful blend of Roman art with Roman, Mozarabic, Carolingian, Celtic and Byzantine influences.

If you’re on a pilgrimage to Santiago de Compostela, the church is one of the stops for pilgrims.

10. Culinary specialties

Visiter Charente : les Chabichou

Photo credit: Shutterstock – STUDIO GRAND WEB

Once you’ve tasted the region’s wines and cognacs, take the time to eat. Here, the Charente offers you its culinary specialities, each more delicious than the last. Start with the main course, a delicious Barbezieux capon, with its fine, soft flesh.

Then move on to the cheese, where you’re spoilt for choice: taupinière, taupinette, carrément charentais, chabichou, or mothais sur feuille. Finally, for dessert, try the noix charentaise with its heart of praline buttercream.

How to get to Charente

The heart and prefecture of the Charente region, Angoulême is a must-see. To get there, you have a choice :

  • By train: the TGV line serves Bordeaux, Paris, Lille and Strasbourg.
  • Why not carpool? Angoulême is 4.5 hours from Paris, 1.5 hours from Bordeaux and 7 hours from Marseille.
  • By plane: La Rochelle – Île de Ré airport is the closest to the Charente region. Airlines to La Rochelle include Paris, Lyon, Ajaccio, Nice, Marseille, London (Stansted, Gatwick), Geneva, Brussels-Charleroi…

Where to sleep in Charente?

Angoulême is the perfect base for visiting the Charente region. Its various districts offer a wide range of accommodation for all types of travelers. If you want to get away from it all, you can opt for Charente villages such as Cognac, Aubeterre-sur-Dronne, La Rochefoucauld, Confolens or Ruffec. These destinations allow you to immerse yourself a little more deeply in the Charente and discover this département in greater depth. You can find private accommodation on Airbnb, or gites and hotels on this hotel comparator.

Map of hotels and accommodation – Nouvelle Aquitaine