Eating out in the Charente
Eating out is a part of the French way of life. Don’t have a holiday in France without a meal in a French restaurant! Although you may have heard of many unusual French foods (frogs legs, snails, tête de veau etc.) you will find that these are not so common on today’s menus.
The Charente has some fantastic restaurants to choose from. Try to find a restaurant that is targeted at French diners (French menus are a good clue!). Don’t expect to find a fantastic restaurant in the major tourist destinations – here we would recommend something safe and straightforward such as pizza, crêpes etc…
Which time? It’s often cheaper to eat at lunchtime and during the week. Sunday lunch is always busy and it pays to book ahead. In the evenings, don’t arrive too early – 7.30PM is often the earliest you can get served.
Which menu? Don’t go for à la carte options. Usually they have the same options as the menu prix fixe and they cost a lot more! Avoid Menu Touristique like the plague!
Which wine? Wine can be quite expensive if you go for named bottles. But carafes of house white or red wine have usually been exquisitely selected by the restauranteur and are excellent value. Refer to our wine section for more advice on wines in France.
Characteristic of Charente restaurants and food
Being very much a maritime region, seafood restaurants proliferate in the Charente area, not only along the coast itself but also on the many islands off to the west – of which Noirmoutier, Ile de Ré and Ile d’Oléron are the largest.
Each town will have many such restaurants along the sea-front/harbour and if you are simply after sampling some freshly caught ‘fruits de mer’, moules-frites, the regional speciality ‘mouclade’ (mussels in white wine), or oysters from Marennes-Oléron you can’t really go wrong. Over the years we have enjoyed such meals in the small port of La Cotinière on the western side of the Ile d’Oleron; overlooking the incredibly beautiful harbour in St Martin de Ré (on the Ile de Ré); likewise in La Rochelle and further south at St Georges de Didonne and finally in Talmont. Don’t worry – if you have non-fish lovers amongst your party most restaurants will offer a non-fish alternative. Avoid the restaurants that line the harbour of La Rochelle, unless you enjoy average food with a view. Instead enjoy the sights and sounds, and maybe an ice-cream on the by the waterside, then head slightly in towards the town centre for more authentic dishes.
On a more general food note, the marshes in the north of the region produce many specialities including marsh-reared lamb with its unique flavour, eels, ‘mojhettes’ which are a type of white haricot beans, frog’s legs and snails, all of which are worth sampling. Further south the butter of Echiré and Surgères is worth seeking out, and remembering that the area has a particularly high sunshine rate the melons are especially juicy.
Here’s more information to make the most of your visit to the Charente Maritime: