Top-Rated Tourist Attractions in Poitou-Charentes
The regions of Poitou, Charentes and Vendée lie in western France, between the Atlantic on the west, the Loire on the north, the Gironde on the south and the Limousin on the east. They have a total population of around 2.05 million living in an area of 22,190 sq. km/8565 sq. mi with a coastline of 550km/340mi.
Poitou, lying between the Loire, the Massif Central and the Atlantic, is a fertile plateau at an average altitude of around 150 m/500ft, across the middle of which runs a sill of ancient rocks, the Hauteurs de la Gâtine, rising to 285 m/935ft. The western part of the plateau, near the coast, is the Vendée, which consists of the Bocage Vendéen, a gently undulating area of pastureland crisscrossed by hedges, and an extensive plain, on the northern and southern borders of which are expanses of former marshland (marais), now traversed by countless drainage canals, with large oyster-beds along the coast. The largest area of marais is the Marais Poitevin, a network of watercourses on both sides of the Sèvre Niortaise. Poitou now takes in the départements of Vienne (chief town Poitiers), Deux-Sèvres (Niort), Vendée (La Roche-sur-Yon) and the southern part of Maine-et-Loire (Angers).
South of Poitou, in the coastal area round La Rochelle, much of it still marshy, is Aunis, which was the smallest of the old French provinces and is now the northwestern part of the département of Charente-Maritime (chief town La Rochelle).
South of this again, extending to the Gironde, the funnel-shaped estuary of the Garonne, is Saintonge, which has some areas of marshland but is mostly fertile agricultural land. It takes in most of the département of Charente-Maritime and the northeastern part of Gironde (chief town Bordeaux).
Between Aunis and Saintonge and the Massif Central, around Angoulême, is the Angoumois, a former county which takes in the present-day département of Charente (chief town Angoulême) and parts of four neighboring départements.From the fifth century onwards the area between the Loire and the Garonne, originally the Roman province of Aquitania (Aquitaine, Guyenne), broke up into a variety of more or less independent territories and lordships. After periods of Visigothic and Frankish rule there were established within the kingdom of France a series of counties, some of which were later raised to the status of duchies or became appanages of members of the royal family. In 732 Charles Martel defeated the Arabs at Tours and Poitiers. Later the region was harried by the Norsemen (Normans), and many keeps and defensive towers still bear witness to this troubled time. Then, with the foundation of numerous monasteries and other religious houses on the pilgrim road to Santiago de Compostela, prosperity began to return. The marriage of Eleanor of Aquitaine with Henry Plantagenet, later Henry II of England, was followed by centuries of conflict between England and France for possession of Poitou, during which, down to the 16th century, the various individual territories gradually returned to France. The region was ravaged by the 16th century wars of religion and by the war in the Vendée between 1793 and 1795.