Explore France's cognac trail on Charente boating holidays

Friday, 13 April 2012 8:00 AM

If you want to indulge in the wonderful gastronomy France is renowned for, you can't really go wrong by choosing a short Charente boating holiday. The river is known as one of the nation's most beautiful and runs for 381 km through the south-west of the country, passing famous cognac distilleries and first-class restaurants along its course.

Rolling meadows, ancient sites and stunning chateaux characterise the landscape of the waterway, making it the perfect destination for a relaxing short getaway. However, there's also plenty to keep you busy if you want to do more than simply admire the lovely vistas of the region.

Begin your river cruise at the settlement of Jarnac, which is worth exploring before you set sail. Once you've found the right boat to hire in France and established yourself onboard, venture back on to land to look around this important cognac town. This is the location of the Courvoisier Museum, which you can visit to find out more about how the cognac is created. Tours of the museum last for two-and-a-half, four or seven hours, depending on which you choose, and each includes a sensory experience allowing you to sample some of the brand's famous tipples along with a selection of desserts or lunch.

Afterwards, wander round the town and pay a visit to the 12th century Cathedral of St Pierre to admire the building's beautiful facade, or call in at the Musee de la Bande Dessinee to find out more about the area's paper-making heritage.

From Jarnac, head to the historic riverside town of Cognac, where you can take in the sight of pretty half-timbered and medieval stone buildings, as well as the remains of the Chateau des Valois and Saint-Leger church. Numerous cognac houses are based here - including the Hennessey, Martell and Remy Martin distilleries - and it's possible to tour many of the facilities. Alternatively, take a train or a barge trip to discover the history of this special brandy and view a display of cognac reserves dating back to 1830 before tasting some of the vintage products.

Cognac is also famous for being the birthplace of former king of France Francois I, who was born in Chateau de Cognac. If you're looking for things to do in Europe of a historical nature, call in at the castle and you'll be able to take a look round many of its finest rooms, as well as visit the museum located inside the building.

Back onboard, make your way to Saintes, an attractive settlement known for its ancient landmarks. Climb ashore and spend some time stretching your legs in the town to take in the Roman arch, frescoes and amphitheatre to be found here. Stroll down the narrow lanes and admire medieval houses before calling in at the colourful market, which takes place twice a week next to the cathedral. There's a beautiful 18-hole golf course in the area if you fancy honing your swing, or, if you're travelling with little ones, treat them to a day at the seaside by taking the direct train to the resort of Royan.

The next port of call worth stopping at is Rochefort, and you'll certainly want to moor up and explore. The commune is home to a 17th century naval dockyard and has a long heritage in shipbuilding. Pay a visit to the Corderie-Royale maritime centre and call in at one of the many restaurants to sample the seafood dishes the area is known for.

If you have any time left with your canal hire boat, make St Savinien the last stop on your river cruise. Children will love the excellent play park, which includes a swimming pool and crazy golf course. The picturesque town has a good number of shops if you want to pick up some souvenirs, while a trip to the church perched on top of a hill affords wonderful views over the river.

Visit in August and you might be able to catch La Foire aux Vins et a la Bonne Chere - the Good Food and Wine Show - which sees exhibitors come together from all over France's wine-producing regions to hold tasting sessions for visitors. Locally-made dishes are also served up in this gastronomic celebration designed to showcase the best of the country's fare.

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