IT’s hard to believe that the beautiful and tranquil Charente river in south west France was once one of the country’s industrial lifelines, bustling with barges heading to and from the Atlantic coast.
After centuries of using the river, the trading totally disappeared in the 1900s leaving behind a gift for the tourist of today wanting to get away from it all.
The river meanders for around 360 kilometres through some of the most enchanting countryside in France, finishing its picturesque journey on the Atlantic coast at Fouras.
It has been restored for leisure use nly after the loss of commercial shipping and the Charente is navigable downstream from Angoulême to Rochefort, a distance of around 171 kilometres.
It slowly winds its way through vineyard country and past ancient water mills, picturesque villages and Romanesque churches.
You can take a cruise on it, or hire a boat and play captain yourself, or follow its cycle paths or simply tour the area by car and take in the serenity and beauty it offers.
Sitting on the banks of the river and steeped in history, Cognac begs a stopover. It is the centre of production of the spirit which takes its name from the town and bristles with warehouses and distilleries.
It owes its modern day affluence to the river which has allowed its development as a trading port from ancient times. Under the Romans it became a centre of vine growing and site of one of the first wine producing vineyards.
The famous cognac houses of Hennessy, Martell, Remy Martin and others offer various types of tours of their production facilities, vineyards or a boat trip to visit the cellars. span style=”font-size: 13px; line-height: 19px;”The Hennessy cognac distillery was founded by Irishman Richard Hennessy in 1765. The aristocrat had been serving in the French forces fighting the British. After his military service, He founded an eaux-de-vie trading business in Cognac. Under his son James, the company expanded rapidly. Nowadays the firm, still based in Cognac, sells about 50 million bottles a year worldwide, or more than 40 percent of the world’s Cognac, making it the world’s largest Cognac producer. It is well worth joining the guided tours of its stylish premises on the Charente./spana href=”http://globewanderer.co.uk/wp-content/uploads/2012/06/COGNAC14-816-x-612.jpg”img class=”size-medium wp-image-164″ title=”COGNAC14 (816 x 612)” src=”http://globewanderer.co.uk/wp-content/uploads/2012/06/COGNAC14-816-x-612-300×225.jpg” alt=”” width=”300″ height=”225″ //a Inside the Hennessy warehouse on the banks of the Charente
Following the Charente you can also explore the history of the heritage towns of Angoulême, Saintes and Rochefort.
Saintes was once the base for a Gallic tribe. After the Roman conquest, the town became known as Mediolanum Santonum, and the Romans made it their capital for southwestern France.
Rochefort was originally a castle built along the banks of the Charente for protection against Norman invaders. In the 11th century, a township grew up around the castle’s fortifications. The town grew and the foundations of the old fortifications become promenades.
From 1337 to 1453, during the Hundred Years’ War, control of Rochefort was rotated, by bitter fighting between the English and the French. It was alternately held, during the 16th century Wars of Religion, by the Protestants and the Catholics. Between 1696 and 1806, there were five unsuccessful attempts to destroy it.
Angoulême was also fought over during the Hundred Years’ War. It became the capital of paper in the Middle Ages when it was home to dozens of mills and is now regarded as the capital of the comic strip thanks to the comic strip museum which opened there in 2009.