On her green holidays: Verite Reily Collins enjoys the Charente’s water … and wine
Floating along on the Charente, chilled wine to hand, we agreed with King Francois I; this is a beautiful river. Our canal holiday was turning out better than expected. Keeping three teenagers, two husbands and two wives (who refused to cook) happy on a boat, sounds impossible. But thanks to the magic of the Poitou-Charente region in west central France, life was bliss.
The Eurostar to Lille connected with a TGV that took us south to Angouleme, then a taxi to Jarnac on the River Charente, where we picked up our boat in the Crown Blue Line yard. The men were given a half-hour’s instruction on navigating, teenagers shown how to open locks, and I blessed our friends who insisted on a boat for 12. The extra space gave us room to spread, to store things, and for everyone to have their own space. Bed linen and towels are provided for the journey from Jarnac to Rochefort on a one-week return trip with 12 locks.
We had maps showing the major vineyards, and were looking forward to trying local wines: the red that is served better chilled (ideal for summer) and especially Pineau- Charente, that delicious mixture of cognac and wine. We had promised to cook breakfast, but evening meals were to be spent on dry land.
We even managed to moor by a hotel and tip the chambermaids to do the beds (sorry, bunks) and washing-up half way along (£20 well spent). Every night we went ashore, teens to the Pizza parlour while we dined at delicious local restaurants. Prices varied from around £10 to £20 a head, but one evening we paid £60 a head for the Michelin star at La Ribaudiere – and found it a fantastic experience.
The teens enjoyed operating the locks and even absorbed some history as we slipped by Saint Brice castle with its Renaissance facade and hired cycles to explore the region. On the train home, the teens asked to do this again – high praise! But next time we are going to take a course at the cognac tasting school!
How to do it
Crown Blue Line (Jarnac): www.crownblueline.com
Eurostar/TGV bookings: Telephone 01777 777 878 as you will need to transfer at Lille, but the Eurostar website tries to route you via Paris which means changing stations
Le Bistrot des Quais, 11 quai Flamands 16100 COGNAC. Tel: 05.45.82.60.32
La Courtine, Parc Francois 1er 16100 COGNAC. Tel: 05.45.82.34.78
Restaurant du Chateau, 15 place du chateau 16200 JARNAC.Tel: 05.45.81.07.17
La Ribaudiere, Place du Port 16200 BOURG, CHARENTE. Tel: 05.45.81.30.54. www.ribaudiere.com
Les Ombrages, Ecluse de Vibrac 16120 VIBRAC. Tel: 05.45.97.32.33
La Ruelle, 6 rue des Trois Notre Dame 16000, ANGOULEME. Tel: 05.45.95.15.19. www.laruelle16.fr
Canal boats for hire
Inter croisieres (Sireuil), www.intercroisieres.com
Locaboat (Cognac), www.locaboat.com
Nautic-EURL (Fleac), www.nautic.fr
School Veronique Lemoine, www.ecole-des-cognacs.com
• Originally published in GreenerLiving magazine in May 2007