There are four départements in the Poitou-Charentes region – the Vienne, Charente, Charente-Maritime and Deux-Sèvres – and the Deux-Sèvres is probably the least-well known of all of them. This is a shame as this sparsely-populated area is a real delight, full of lovely countryside, historic towns and great food and wine, with plenty to do and see. It’s also really well placed for the fine sandy beaches of the nearby Atlantic coast.
The main tourist attraction of the department is the Marais Poitevin. This lowland area of marshes, waterways and rows of poplar trees has been described as the Venise Verte or Green Venice and it’s not hard to see why.
It’s a great place to explore at your leisure by boat or canoe and a must-visit if you are coming to stay in the region. Indeed, take a holiday in Deux-Sèvres and you’ll realise it’s justly known for its natural beauty and the authorities have helpfully laid on 2,400km of signposted paths along which to enjoy it! All or part of these country paths and lanes can be travelled on foot, by bike, on horseback, or even in some cases by pony and trap.
For those who prefer their tourist attractions with the aid of a bird’s eye view, during the summer months there’s also the chance to fly a glider or go up in a hot air balloon – or a montgolfière, as it is known in French. And for the more energetic there’s also the opportunity to clamber through the treetops in an adventure park in the middle of the department’s Chantemerle Forest.
Continuing the theme of outdoor holidays in Deux-Sèvres also boasts a huge number of fishing spots, plus three popular golf courses. And for the boy (and girl) racers there’s also the attraction of go-karting.
WHAT TO SEE AND DO IN THE DEUX-SEVRES
In common with many French départements, Deux-Sèvres is named after a river – in fact after two rivers, the Sèvre Nantaise and the Sèvre Niortaise.
Indeed the entire département is famed for its beautiful rivers and wooded valleys, for example in the Sèvre Nantaise Valley (www.sevre-nantaise.com), the area around the village of Mothe Saint Héray and the Thouet Valley (www.valleeduthouet.fr).
There are also a number of natural and man-made lakes for those who like swimming or simply messing about on the water. When it comes to towns, the best known is Niort. This is a charming town that has become the headquarters of a number of major national or regional financial institutions.
This influx of employment and business has allowed the town to combine its historic centre and attractions with some excellent restaurants, bars and shops for visitors to enjoy.
Niort is also a very ‘green’ town. You can walk along the riverbank to the edge of the nearby Marais Poitevin along a man-made embankment surrounded by trees and greenery. And naturally it’s the ideal starting point from which to explore Green Venice itself.
There are also plenty of hotels and other places to stay around Niort for those wanting to visit the Marais Poitevin. Further north, away from the flat terrain around Niort, is the fascinating old town of Parthenay. This old fortified town sits on a rocky crag flanked on two sides by the River Thouet. Each year the town hosts an international festival called the Festival Ludique International de Parthenay during which the old streets are packed with games, and which has become a popular tourist attraction.
WINE IN THE DEUX-SEVRES
Finally, but certainly not to be neglected, is the food and drink to discover when you holiday in Deux-Sèvres. This department is feted for its butter and cheese and also, perhaps more surprisingly, produces some very good wines. In fact, wine production in Deux-Sèvres should not really surprise when one considers that it stretches up towards the Loire valley and the northern boundary of the department is only just south of Saumur – famed for its sparkling wines. The area around Thouars is especially good for wine – try a vin du Thouarsais while you’re there. So when you’re on holiday in the Deux-Sèvres, be sure to seek out one of the small local winemakers and producers.
Words: Michael STREETER
Accommodation in the Deux-Sèvres
Restaurants in the Deux-Sèvres
Things to Do in the Deux-Sèvres
Things to See in the Deux-Sèvres
Wine producers and winemakers in the Deux-Sèvres
Golf courses in the Deux-Sèvres
Official tourism site for Deux-Sèvres