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.
The area benefits from mild winters and relatively
warm summers. However, as with most coastal areas, temperature
fluctuations get greater as one moves inland. Along the coastal strip,
frosts are rare and mild in winter
- on average only 23 nights per year in La Rochelle - but further
inland, particularly getting into the interior of the Charente
department, freezing nights are much more common, with an average of 44
frosty nights per year in the north of the Charente department.
Snowfalls can occur even on the coast, though snow that settles is a
rare event in the Charente Maritime.
Thanks to the mild climate, many tropical plants grow luxuriantly in gardens and parks on the west coast.
Thanks to the proximity of the Atlantic ocean, spring
usually comes early to the Charentes, and trees and the first flowers
tend to burst into life in March, well before most other areas of
France. But much depends on the direction of the prevailing winds, and
if the late winter period is characterised by a long periods of
northerly or northeasterly winds, then the climate of the Charentes,
like that of central southern France, can remain continental. This was
part of the story in 2010, when north-easterly winds brought very cold
air and snowy conditions down to most of southern France
until mid March. The weather in winter 2010 was also
characterised by another phenomenon, Hurricane Xynthia, which. lashed
into the Charentes on March 1st, wreaking havoc along the coastline,
and flooding some coastal developments in upto 2.5 metres of water.
Winter storms are relatively common in this part of France, bearing in
mind that the sea off the Charente coast is actually the Bay of Biscay.
Winds of over 60 kph are recorded on average 40 times per year on the
Pavement cafés do good business for much of the year in this sunny region
It is in the Summer
that the climate in the Charentes is most
attractive. Thanks to regular but usually gentle onshore breezes,
beaches along the Atlantic coast do not suffer from the oppressive heat
that can send holidaymakers in search of shade in the middle of the day
along the Mediterranean coastline; and the breezes, tides and waves
make for a more interesting seaside experience than the Med. Yet it is
in summer that the coastal strip is a particularly sunny area. The land
behind the coast being very flat and largely un-wooded, clouds do not
start to build up until further inland.
However, ten to twenty kilometres
inland, summer storms are a common feature, and can brew up relatively
quickly. The area is also known as the part of France most prone to
tornados; and though they are rare, small tornados also occur from time
to time - on an average once a year in recent years. That
being said, summers in this area are generally dry, sometimes very dry,
the occasional storms providing just short sharp periods of heavy rain.
Average daily temperatures in the Charente department are in
the twenties from June to September, with average daily
maxima peaking at under 30° anywhere in the area. This does not
of course, that daily temperatures cannot go above 30° in this part of
France; they do so regularly, notably inland. For example in Cognac in
2001, annual maximum and minimum temperatures
recorded were -10°C and +36.4°C - which is pretty much average for
inland parts of the area.
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