Tour de Cognac & the Atlantic Coast
- Duration: 7 Days (approx.)
- Location: Angouleme
- Product code: PVWVFL
• Historic Rochefort
• Guided visit and tasting at the Courvoisier distillery
• Cycling tour along the gently meandering Charente
• Boat trip around the Ile d'Aix and Fort Boyard
• The beautiful old port of La Rochelle
• The fun of cycling in a group and making new friends!
Easy (2/10) with average distances of between 40-50kms/day and no major hills
The Tour de Cognac & Atlantic Coast is 7 days/6 nights, starting on a Sunday and finishing on Saturday.
After collection from Angoulême Rail station, we’ll head back to our hotel in the Charentais countryside to set up bikes; once everybody is correctly fitted, we take a short cycling tour of the surrounding countryside to familiarise ourselves with gears and controls, and to make any fine adjustments. Back at the hotel, have a dip in the pool, take a sauna or relax on the terrace with a cold drink before the first of many memorable meals.
We leave the hotel heading north across quiet farmland to pick up the gently meandering River Charente. We follow the banks of the river for the morning, with riverside villages offering cafés for a coffee break. Our first stop today is the Abbaye de Bassac, a beautifully preserved Abbey, dating from the 12th to 15th centuries. The grounds and cloisters make for a serene stroll, with a medicinal garden revealing the secrets of medieval healing. Continuing along the river after lunch we arrive at the picturesque riverside village of Jarnac. The birthplace of Francois Mitterand, it is home to a museum in his honour, and a museum to wine making. However, the main attraction of the town are the handsome 18th century riverside buildings, including that of the headquarters of the Courvoisier brandy company, which we will visit for a fascinating tour and tasting. After this it is luckily just a few kilometres to our Chateau hotel in Cognac itself. Take a dip in the pool or grab your bike and pedal into the old centre of the town to see the majestic mansions built with the proceeds of the brandy industry, with such famous names as Hennessy, Martel, and Rémy-Martin over their ornate gates. At the hotel a gourmet meal awaits! Ride distance: 43kms.
Leaving the Charente for a spell, we travel north across gently undulating countryside of vines and sunflowers. After stopping for coffee, we continue our cycling tour to the day's first visit. Its just a few kilometres of rolling countryside before lunch – which, weather allowing (as it nearly always does!) will be a picnic in the grounds of the Abbaye de Fontdouce – a stroll around the landscaped park of the abbey will sharpen the appetite while the guides prepare one of French Cycling Holidays’ famous picnics. The afternoon ride takes into Saintes, our resting place for the night. On the way we visit the site for which Saintes is most famous, the Roman Amphitheatre. Built in the 1st Century BC, the arena is one of the oldest in the old Roman province of Gaul, and one of the best preserved. Ride distance: 46kms. Another fine meal awaits us at our hotel 5 minutes from the Arena.
From Saintes we head northwest, with our first visit of the day being the magnificent Chateau of La Roche Courbon, built in 1475. With its ornamental gardens and lake it is a secret treasure of this corner of France. Rooms have been restored to the state they were at various points in the chateau’s history, so you will see the sumptuous furnishings of the 17th and 18th century, and the late medieval kitchens. A flat ride in the afternoon, including some peaceful canal towpaths, brings us to the historic town of Rochefort which will be our home for the next two evenings. Rochefort has a long and prod history as a naval base, which is reflected in the many places of interest in the town; amongst these are the Corderie Royale, the rope-making factory and arsenal of Louis XIV, the Sun King, at 374m long the longest building of its age in the world; and the frigate Hermione, an exact replica of the vessel in which General Lafayette brought help to the Americans fighting the British in the War of Independence, which has recently made the Atlantic crossing and return. The old quarters and gardens by the Charente have been magnificently restored and there should be plenty of time before dinner to take in the sights. Ride distance: 47kms.
As we are staying in Rochefort tonight, no bothersome packing! On the way out of Rochefort, we will take advantage of another of the town’s historical assets, and it’s most fun – Le Pont Transbordeur, a ‘transporter’ bridge, where a pontoon carrying passengers crosses the river suspended between two enormous gantries on either side. Built in the 19th Century, it is now one of only eight working transporter bridges in the world (three in the UK, two in Germany, Buenos Aires and Bilbao being home to the others). On the other side of the Charente, we continue our cycling tour through the flat countryside of marshes towards the Gironde estuary. En route we arrive at the amazing village of Hiers-Brouage. In the early middle ages, the village was an island in the shallow waters of the Bay of Biscay, but over the centuries the spread of the salt marshes resulted in the village becoming a port on the bay. In the 16th century, it was fortified to keep at bay the bands of mercenary soldiers released from fighting in the Wars of Religion. These days it is full of craft shops and boutiques, and is a wonderful place to visit, with star shaped curtain walls being intact. We head back to Rochefort in time to leave the afternoon free for visiting the many museums and sites, or taking an aperitif in the elegant town square. In the evening we have a night off from the fine dining and sample the more relaxed atmosphere of a harbourside bistro. Ride distance: 48kms.
Our route heads out towards the Atlantic Ocean at the Pointe de Fumée, with spectacular views to the Isle d’Aix. After a coffee break, we hug the coast, stopping for lunch in one of the seaside resorts that dot this section of the Atlantic shore. In the afternoon we reach our hotel in the historic port of La Rochelle. With its lovely old port guarded by two 15th Century towers at the harbour entrance, the cobbled and arcaded streets of the old quarter, and myriad cafés and bars La Rochelle is one of France’s favourite destinations. We take to the water in order to get the best views of the old city, with a boat ride from the old harbour famous for the twin medieval towers that guard its entrance. Back on dry land, there is plenty of time to explore the narrow streets of the old town and the famous 16th Century clock tower. The Friday evening market in Place Verdun will be a delight to lovers of bric-a-brac. The final dinner of the trip is one of the best, at an atmospheric harbour restaurant. Ride distance: 44kms.
After breakfast (and maybe a quick trip to the weekly food market to stock up for the journey!), we transfer to the local TGV train station for onward journeys. Alternatively, although our tour is over you may want to stay on an extra day to take full advantage of this wonderful town!