The Charentes Region of France
The Poitou-Charentes region of western France is not a historic region of France, but was formed in 1956 from the major part of the old Poitou area, plus three smaller areas in the south. The climate of the Charentes is one of the mildest in France, and the coastal area of this region is the sunniest part of France outside the Mediterranean coastal areas.
In brief, the region covers the central part of France's Atlantic coastal plain, together with a gently undulating hilly area further inland, the first foothills of the Massif Central. In the southern part of the region, extensive vineyards provide the grapes that are used in the production of Cognac and the famous local apéritif wine Pineau des Charentes.
In the north of the region, the departments of Deux Sèvres (79) and Vienne (86) make up the historic Poitou region, centered on the ancient city of Poitiers; the low-lying departments of Charente (16) and Charente- Maritime (17) make up the southern part of the region. The whole region is largely rural, and even the regional capital Poitiers has less than 100,000 inhabitants. Niort, capital of the Deux Sèvres department, is specialised in financial services, notably insurance, and mail-order, which is surprising for a town of just 60,000 inhabitants; however the town was hit hard in 2008 by the collapse of the CAMIF, one of France's big mail order cooperatives, and by the financial crisis in general.
The Vendée - Charentes area of France is reputed as one of the sunniest parts of France; and within this area, it is the Charentes Maritime department that benefits from the highest number of annual hours of sunshine. The capital city of the Charente Maritime, La Rochelle, enjoys about 2250 hours of sunshine a year (see sunshine map right), a level that is only exceeded in France by the Mediterranean coastal strip. To put things in perspective, the sunniest places in France, such as Aix en Provence, have around 2800 hours of sunshine per year, and Paris has about 1650 hours - exact figures varying according to the data source used.