Sunshine State: Charente-Maritime

Sunshine State: Charente-Maritime

With long sunny summers and seafood galore, Charente-Maritime is a dream destination offering golden sandy beaches, historical cities and glorious countryside, finds Janine Marsh

Charente-Maritime is on the west coast of France in the Nouvelle-Aquitaine region (previously Poitou- Charentes). This little pocket is right on the cusp of where north meets south, and is well served by airports trains and motorways. It boasts some of the best beaches in France, but retains a distinctly rural feel inland.

It’s also one of the sunniest places in France, second only to the Mediterranean coastal areas. With mild winters (La Rochelle gets an average of just 23 frosty nights a year), early springs-flowers burst into life in March here- and warm summers, the weather is one of the biggest lures for both holidaymakers and expats, But there’s much more to Charente- Maritime, One minute you’re in the midst of fields of sunflowers which morph into vineyards, rolling green hills and lush woodland, then, in the blink of an eye, you’re taking a coastal road alongside golden sandy beaches.

It’s a region of contrasts. There’s popular and sophisticated Île de Ré, favourite of Parisians and authentic La Rochelle with its seafood restaurants and cobbled streets, perfect for lovers of the seaside. Inland the glorious countryside is peppered with tiny hamlets and picturesque villages with a sleepy vibe, but never too far from the sea.

Tourism is the main industry here and if you’re after a peaceful life then Île de Ré and La Rochelle, the capital of the department, might be too busy for you in the summer.

Île de Ré is one of the most expensive areas for buying property in France. An island of picture perfect white-washed houses, long sandy beaches and chi- chi restaurants, new-builds are all but banned pushing the price up massively. La Rochelle, always popular with buyers, has seen an influx of apartment-style new- builds and property price hikes in recent years. Local agents say that if you want a place in the sun beside the sea look further round the coast to the south. Dave Crook of Leggett Immobilier suggests Fouras-les-Bains overlooking Fort Boyard, a 30-minute cycle ride from La Rochelle but with cheaper properties. Ile d’Oléron, “an up-and-coming coastal location is also worth a look,” Dave says. “It doesn’t have the rampant commercialism of Île de Ré. It’s a bit like Hove is to Brighton. But it is very pretty and property is cheap.”

Nearby Châtelaillon Plage also has a good range of great value properties and Rochefort further south, is particularly good for retirement properties. Being upstaged by its glamorous neighbour, La Rochelle, means that it has not been over- developed but there are lots of shops, year round activities and plenty of beautiful houses on sale.

Dave recommends looking inland for the best property prices. There is a wide range of property styles on offer from traditional Charentais houses to manoirs and châteaux. Rural Charente-Maritime is a land where quiet roads lead you past meadows, through forests and picturesque villages where the local boulangeries tempt you to stop to buy a baguette and cafés with tables spilling out onto the pavement lure you to take a break and enjoy a refreshing drink in the sunshine.


Tara and Lake Girling looked inland when they decided to move to Charente-Maritime. They originally considered a move to Dordogne after taking a four- – week French road trip while in their early twenties in 2001 and decided the lifestyle was definitely for them. It took a lot of searching to make their dream come true. Luke, a fireman, and Tara, who ran a wedding décor business, found their limited budget and list of must-haves, including a swimming pool, just didn’t match up.

Tara’s mum gave them some extra money as an early inheritance, but Tara had all but given up, exhausted by the search. Luke carried on looking and discovered that Charente-Maritime, bordering Dordogne, was more affordable. He persuaded Tara to look at what he thought might be the ideal property. Tara says: “After 16 years of planning, we found the one. We paid the deposit before we even left the property!”

They bought a traditional house with a four-bedroom gite, another potential gite and huge barn, in a hamlet of five houses on the outskirts of St Savinien. After moving there in 2017, the couple say the lifestyle they’ve achieved would have been impossible in the UK. “The pace of life is slower and our attitude to life has changed, we no longer feel the need to fill every moment, we’re more relaxed,” Tara says. “We can just be ourselves, there’s no keeping up with the Joneses, no one cares what you’ve got and no one here has the attitude that there’s glory in working long hours, I thought it would take forever for us to settle in to this way of life – It took two weeks and we are so relaxed. This is it, forever. Everything we thought it would be and more.

“We used to go to the Caribbean for our holidays, we can’t afford a holiday now because we’re still renovating one of the buildings, but life here is good. “We sit out in the garden in the sun or watching shooting stars in an unpolluted night sky enjoying a glass of local wine, and we have to pinch ourselves sometimes. We love it here. It’s the best thing we’ve ever done and just being here is better than any holiday could ever be.”


Inner Charente-Maritime doesn’t have many big towns but for those seeking the city life, Saintes will fit the bill. This Ville d’Art et d’Histoire boasts some of the finest Roman ruins in France, is on the pilgrim Route de Santiago de Compostela and has one of the best markets in the region.

Famous in France for its annual classical music festival held at the historic 11th-century Abbaye aux Dames, Saintes offers properties at very good value with plenty of city facilities while being surrounded by glorious countryside and less than an hour from the coast.

St-Jean-d’Angély, named after Jean the Baptist because it was claimed his skull was once kept in the abbey, is a classic French town with everything to hand including a weekly market. There are mostly old town houses, three storeys. high, but on the outskirts there are more traditional Charentais-style houses.

With some 470 communes in Charente- Maritime including islands, seaside towns, cities, villages and hamlets, searching for your dream home in one of the sunniest departments in France could help make those dreams come true.


1. The weather. The second sunniest area in France, behind Provence-Alpes-Côte d’Azur, but not subject to oppressively hot summers thanks to coastal breezes from the Atlantic Sea.

2. Wide range of property at attractive prices. House costs here just can’t be compared to the UK.

3. Laid-back lifestyle: Shops shut for lunch and restaurants have a habit of shutting for August as family and quality of life take precedence above business.

4. Best of both worlds-even in the depth of the glorious rural countryside, you’re rarely more than an hour from the sea.

5. Easy to get to: Three airports within easy reach, serviced by budget airlines that fly to the UK, plus access to fast TGV trains to Paris and excellent motorways.

Looking to stay at a luxurious gite in Charente-Maritime?

Set in the beautiful Charente Maritime countryside Le Manoir du Mûrier is a former 16th century hunting lodge once owned by the Marquis des Adjots. Kick back, relax and unwind in this peaceful oasis, nestled in 15 acres with its own lake, in the heart of the wine region.

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Lead photo credit : Shutterstock

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