The Southwest of France is known for sun, good food and wine, and breathtaking wedding venues, which is why so many couples choose it for their destination wedding. We’ve even compiled a list of the best luxury wedding venues right here with amazing locations in the Southwest. But whether you’ve chosen it for your wedding, and want to enjoy a mini moon in this beautiful part of France after, or are looking for a romantic honeymoon in Europe off the beaten track, these suggestions are great all on their own, or as part of a bigger trip exploring the area. One of the best things about travel in France is that it so easy to get around, and the best way to do this is to rent a car. Starting at the coast, heading for the unspoiled countryside, here are the hot spots to visit on honeymoon in the beautiful Southwest of France, with the Charente River, your other half and your sense of adventure as your guide.
Where Island Life is Très Chic
After the intensity of wedding planning, there’s something lovely about taking a few days to slow down, just the two of you. With this in mind, start your trip on the West coast where to indulge in some beach time. Île de Ré is a small island off of La Rochelle, dotted with absurdly pretty villages, salt marshes, and vineyards, and just a 20 minute drive from the airport, over the famous Sablanceaux bridge. This is where the Parisian elite holiday, lounging in the chic seaside bars and restaurants that line idyllic ports, or on the long golden beaches on the south side.
As this laid-back island is criss-crossed with cycling greenways, the best way to get around is on two wheels. At 18kms long and 5kms wide you can easily cycle from one end of the island to the other, which is worth it to take pictures and have a picnic at the Le Phare des Baleines lighthouse which sits at the outermost point. This also means you can easily stop at one of the many oyster farms that line the rugged northerly coastline for dégustation (wine and fresh oysters) and watch a gloriously colourful sunset from a beanbag.
Historical Saint-Martin-de-Ré is a Unesco World Heritage site thanks to the 17th-century ramparts that surround the town. Le Clos Saint Martin is a discreet villa-style boutique hotel on the periphery which is a stone’s throw from the buzz, yet secluded enough to feel like a luxurious oasis. Done in the classic rétais style its decorate with pastel shutters and terracotta tiles and calming white walls, with the occasional flash of bright wallpaper by Lacroix or Osborne & Little. It even boasts a sensational Spa by Clarins which overooks a private garden with an outdoor jacuzzi and plunge pool. It’ll be tough not to spend your whole stay within its pretty walls 18th-century walls, lounging by the pool, basking in your post-wedding glow.
Michelin-Star Dining in Cognac
Leaving the coast for the beautiful French coutryside, prepare to get swept away by rolling hills and quaint rural villages. We suggest you point the car in the direction of Cognac, home of the world-famous brandy. The historic sleepy town sits on the picturesque Charente River and the region is home to almost 200 distilleries – but the big four, Courvoisier, Hennessy (yes, there’s an Irish connection), Martell and Rémy Martin, offer fabulous tasting and tour experiences not to be missed. All that sampling will of course work up an appetite, and Cognac certainly has no shortage of delightful eatieries as you stroll through the cobbled streets hemmed in by houses that date back to the 15th century. Poulpette, is a relaxed spot that offers Michelin standard fare without the star. Its short menu changes weekly and features tasty, interesting dishes using the finest market ingredients. But for a truly unique dining event, you’ll be glad to hear it happens to be in the very same spot we also recommend you stay.
In recent years, Cognac has welcomed its first and only five-star hotel, Hotel Chais Monnet & Spa, a luxurious destination hotel and wedding venue, wtih world-class service. Housed in a protected heritage building dating back to 1838, it has gone from an ageing Cognac warehouse in the heart of the town, to a cool, contemporary hot spot with so many spaces to tantalise the senses. The culinary jewel in the crown is the Michelin-starred Les Foudres restaurant, which sits within enormous 100-year-old brandy barrels, creating a theatrical setting for an equally sensational dining experience. Chef Paolo Boscaro’s delectable menu (7 courses, €150/wine pairing €110) is infused with local delights beautifully crafted, such as brill with roasted clams, pigeon with beetroot and red berry, lemon soufflée with tarragan, but also moreish dishes like saffron-infused gnocchis in a nod to his Italian heritage.
The moodily exquisite jazz bar, Le 1838, with its own cognac library, is the cosiest and coolest of date night spots in town, while the rooftop bar, Le Ginguet, with its industrial style roof frame and festoon lighting, offers incredible panoramic views over Cognac while you enjoy the sunset and some pre-dinner cocktails. Le Spa is also a feature not to be missed. It has already gained a prestigious Condé Nast Johansens award, and the Taste of the Cellar treatment – an indulgent charente salt and grapeseed oil foot scrub, followed by a massage and facial, is just what you need to revive a weary body.
Culture Stop and Photo Op
For your next stop, take a drive to Angoulême, an artistic hilltop town famous amongst comic book and Formula One fans. Every September it’s home to the Circuit des Remparts rally which sees classic cars hurtling along its ancient, winding roads which you might recognise if you watched Wes Anderson’s The French Dispatch which was filmed here. In spring, then there is International Comics Festival which attracts almost 200,000 visitors. In an ode to this there are 25 huge murals adorning the walls of the town, which beg to be photographed and you can discover them all by foot using this handy app. It’s the perfect excuse to wander the maze of Medieval cobblestoned streets, lined with bars and cafes, before stopping at the grand 19th-century Marché des Halles, a covered food market showcasing streetfood-style seafood platters, duck magret, artisan pâté and sausages.
A Chic Country Hideaway
How does somewhere so exclusive even the locals don’t know it’s there sound for romance? That is just what you’ll get with Domaine des Etangs. Driving to the teeny rural village of Massignac, near Limoges, (2 hrs from Bordeaux Airport or 2.5 hrs from La Rochelle Airport) really does feel like you’re leaving it all behind. This hidden oasis is a lovingly-restored 13th-century chateau set on 2500 acres of preserved parklands. With fairytale turrets, and sweeping lawns, the castle’s decor is sympathetic to its rustic roots, while also filled with curios and art to spark the imagination. This is carried throughout the entire property which its owner has turned into a veritable al fresco art gallery with impressive, large works of art dotted all over. Take one of the complimentary bicycles to go exploring.
Stay in the chateau, or for a more secluded option, stay in one of luxurious cottages in the woodlands which are on the scale of Grand Designs – you even have the use of electric cars to get around should you want to nip up to the heated outdoor pool, floating tennis court or panoramic gym. A renovated former stables beside the chateau houses the elegant Dyades Restaurant with a daily set menu for guests that highlights herbs, flowers, fruit and vegetables from the kitchen garden. The chateau’s attic has been transformed into a chic games level, decorated with plush furniture against exposed brickwork and wooden beams, with pool and card tables, and a lounge area for movies. The eponymous ‘etangs’ refer to the picture-perfect lakes that surround it, and a trip on the row boats from the boathouse is a dreamy way to spend an afternoon.
Wine and Dine Yourself
Finish your trip on a big city high, with a hefty dose of undulating vine country. The city of Bordeaux boasts magnificent architecture like the Grand Theatre and museums, while the day trips to the exquisite surrounding countryside can take in wine tours, and food tastings and nearby chateaux, or the Medievel village of Saint-Emilion which a UNESCO World Heritage site set amongst the famous vineyards on the Camino way. There are so many places to visit where you can sip and swirl, that it can be overwhelming to choose, but Sauternes and Fronsac are the must-visit appellations for their low-key charm. Château Lafaurie-Peyraguey, a palatial property owned by the CEO of luxury crystal brand Lalique,. In addition to the winery, the estate boasts a luxury hotel in the restored château and the one-star Michelin Restaurant Lalique, overlooking the vineyards.
We suggest a central location to fully enjoy the buzzy atmosphere, and Le Boutque Hotel is a small but perfect (and sound-proofed!) five-star boutique hotel in the heart of the city, tastefully deocrated with pieces by top designers including Philippe Starck and Kartell. With just 22 bedrooms, the beautifully restored 18th-century building (Les Mis author Victor Hugo was a fan of hanging out here!), overlooks a shady interior courtyard garden with a wine bar, if you want a quiet place to relax after a long day, alternatively ask for a room with an outdoor tub to take in the views.
For more great honeymoon travel ideas, see here or download our Ultimate Honeymoon Packing Checklist!