The Marais Poitevin is an area of inland waterways (both natural and man made), marsh land and dry low land lying to the west of Niort covering over 970km2 and three departments in the Poitou Charente region of western France (from where it takes it’s name – the marsh land of the Poitou.)
The area is rich in flora and fauna and in 2010 was awarded the label Grand site de France. This label is managed by the ministry of ecology. The ‘grand site’ label guarantees that the area is conserved and managed using sustainable principles, combing conservation with the ‘spirit’ of the area and a quality visitor experience by working with the inhabitants and partners of the area.
We last visited the region of the ‘venise Vert’ (green venice as its nickname has become) some 15 years ago and the change is noticeable. It is a beautiful area and has undoubtedly become extremely popular. Where there was once one small restaurant and one café is now a bustling centre for tourism where you can hire bikes, choose your restaurant, shop for souvenirs, take a tourist road train and of course hire a boat to explore the waterways. Where we once haggled over the price of our boat with a young French man and his dog, there is now an office de tourism, glossy leaflets showing the prices of boat hire and a helpful, well trained group of men, highlighting the best route to take, the picnic area and fitting the children out with life jackets as well as helping you into your boat.
We arrived at midday and hired our boat for the 8 of us (grandparents, uncle and aunt, ourselves and the two boys for ‘unlimited time’ (!) for just 32€ so great value. We had brought our own picnic so spent a very pleasant hour or so in the picnic area eating our olives, cold meats and delicious cheeses on fresh crusty bread under the dappled shade of the poplar and ash trees lining the waterways, rustling in the breeze. The Charolais and Limousin cows watched us from the opposite bank as they lazily munched on their own picnic lunch of lush grass.
The wildlife is stunning. Our boys spotted heron, kingfisher, swans and ducks as well as a coypou and thousands of brilliant blue dragonflies. We spent several hours gliding along the water. It wasn’t the hottest of days, with some large clouds and even a few spots of rain, but the sun won the day and we kept dry and were thankful of the large overhanging trees and their shade when the sun shone. It would be an excellent day trip on a very hot day as the water and trees would keep you cool.
The route the boat owner had given us was superb, a good mixture of the larger ‘canals’ and lots of smaller ones where we passed by some beautiful houses (with their own boats moored) under lots of walkways, some stunning flower displays, several cafés and restaurants (where you can pull your boat in and stop) and we even managed to take a wrong turn and narrowly missed going down a 30 foot drop (or was it 30cm !) still it was clearly the wrong way, but we survived thanks to our two superb rowers.
You don’t need to be as physical as we were. Most people hire a guide who will effortlessly row them through the history, flora and fauna of the area as well as lighting the marsh gas the bring up with their oars from the silty canal bottom; from 7€ pp from 4 people or 5€50 for 6/8 people for 45 minutes. We however have always loved the excitement of crashing into overhanging bushes, taking wrong turns along dead ends, dicing with death near 30cm drops and generally rowing around in circles as we argue over who should be rowing harder ! All part of the fun.
We started in Coulon, an easy 45 minute drive from our family holiday cottages in the Charente Maritime France, but there are a number of other villages around the area which also offer boat hire to explore the waterways. This day trip is a highly recommended day out when staying in our self catering gites. I would particularly recommend it to families with children over the age of 6 as it may be a bit too stressful with very young children trying to jump out and catch the fish ! Boats can be hired for just 1hr or over 4hrs which also includes access to the picnic area. The boat owners will give you a route to suit the length of time you have paid for.
The Embarcadere Prada boat hire that we used in Coulon is open 7 days a week from Easter to October half term from 10h to 18h (9.30h to 19h in July and August and 10h to 17h in October) Further information can be found at their web site
content by Wendy Blakeman