Few people have perfected simple, graceful living better than the French, whose relaxed culture centers around fresh, locally produced cuisine and timeless art and architecture. When visiting, travel off the beaten path into the Poitou-Charentes region along France’s western Atlantic coast, an area famous for its cognac and fine goat cheeses.
Papermakers and bookbinders breathe new life into Montmorillon, the “City of Books.” Artisans demonstrate illuminated manuscripts, calligraphy, and ink-making.
Sweet dreams: Sleep in a charming country inn, Relais du Lyon d’Or, in the nearby village of Angles-sur-l'Anglin.
Pole a flat-bottomed boat through the tree-canopied canals in the Marais Poitevin, nicknamed France’s “Green Venice” for its abundance of duckweed.
Home base: Lodge in Coulon, but venture thirty kilometers east to the 6,000-year-old stone-age burial mounds in Bougon.
The town of Parthenay attracts fans of half-timbered structures. The town’s walled medieval quarter contains 150 tenth-and eleventh-century timbered shops. Sleep like royalty: Book a room nearby at the stately seventeenth-century Chteau de Saint-Loup.
Le Richelieu Thalassotherapy Center, on the sunny Atlantic Isle of Ré, offers natural sea-water spa treatments including salt scrubs, salt-water baths, and algae wraps.
Gourmand’s delight: Oceanside dining at the Richelieu restaurant (one Michelin star).
Cognac’s famous brandy cellars have been darkened over the years by a microscopic fungi that thrives on alcohol fumes. The Charentes river lazes along in this picturesque town.
Taster’s choice: The Hennessy distillery makes cognac from mostly organic grapes.
France Tourism; Michelin Green Guide to the Atlantic Coast; Poitou-Charentes-Vacance.