Charentais melons, oysters, and the famous Pineau des Charentes aperitif are specialities of the region. The oysters from Marennes-Oléron are famous around the world. Grown at sea, they are “finished” in a network of ponds known as "claires" – many of these were originally salt pans, abandoned when the local salt production declined. The oysters take on their characteristic green hue from the local blue algae, or “navicule". The oyster beds around La Cayenne, in particular, are well worth a visit, with their brightly coloured boats and oystermen’s sheds, outside which you can often see wheelbarrows and old bicycles encrusted with oysters – and in the little port are cafés and stalls selling seafood.

On all roads surrounding Cognac you will see signs for producers of Pineau des Charentes – white or rosé – which is made with grape must and eau de vie from the Cognac making process. Legend has it that a sixteenth century winemaker accidentally poured wine into what he thought was an empty barrel and left it to mature. However the barrel actually contained eau de vie, and so the drink was born!

There are markets every day in Saintes (and on Tuesday in St. Savinien), where you can buy wonderful local cheeses, breads and patisserie, fish and shellfish, fabulous meat and charcuterie, olives and oils, fresh local fruit, vegetables, herbs and flowers. For stocking up, there are major supermarkets in Saintes, and in St. Savinien.

saucissonolivesprawnsapple tartstrawberry tarts

Eating out

The region is peppered with restaurants and cafes, from the simplest to the Michelin-starred and contemporary, such as La Table du Marion, in Place Blair, Saintes, where the innovative chef Marion Monnier is in charge of the kitchen.

In Taillebourg there are two restaurants by the river: L’Auberge des Glycines (below left), offering good local cooking, with tables outside in a pretty, wisteria-filled walled garden; and Les Quais de Taillebourg (below centre), a bar and restaurant right on the water’s edge.

glycinequai de taillebourginsideLa Table du Maroc Saintes

La Table du Maroc (above right) on the outskirts of Saintes, serves Moroccan food amid evocative tiles and artefacts in the restaurant, or you can eat under the trees on the banks of the Charente – especially atmospheric in the evening.

If you like seafood, this is the speciality in La Rochelle, notably at André, the famous bar and restaurant that has been in the same family since 1947. You can sit at a table outside, right by the port, or inside in the warren of rooms, some looking like captain’s cabins, where the staff bustle about bringing platters laden with shellfish and speciality fish dishes. Booking is pretty much essential.

la rochelleandrebar andre


Eating and drinking