In the southwest of France, Charente comprises an inland expanse in the Massif Central foothills as well as part of the Atlantic coastal plain. The jumping-off point for discovering the littoral Charente-Maritime, famous for its oysters and cognac, is the great port of La Rochelle, with its beautifully preserved Old Town. Forty minutes away, the lovely Île de Ré is like a Gallic take on Nantucket. Moving east, the country villages, medieval castles and Romanesque churches offer an authentic introduction to traditional rural life.
It’s also worth the time to do tours and tastings at some of the cognac houses in and around the little city of Cognac itself. Hine in Jarnac is a particular favorite.