The “Flow” name comes from this being another of France’s river routes – in this case, the river Charente, once described by King François I as “the most beautiful river in the kingdom”.
This route is a much more varied proposition than the towpath and valley routes you’ll encounter elsewhere. Its early stages, from Thiviers to Angoulême, are a mix of undulating country roads and rail trails. We can’t fault the quiet roads in any way, but if you want to avoid unnecessary climbing, you might want to stick to the (still quiet) D75 following the river valley.
Heading downstream, there are few hills to worry about after Angoulême. For the most part, it’s blissfully quiet agricultural roads until Cognac, unhurried cycling on smooth tarmac. In between glimpses of the river, you’ll glide past vineyards and through sparsely set-out villages with barely a car to trouble your progress.
After Cognac, the route takes an itty-bitty course alternating local roads with gravel tracks. It’s pleasant in a meandering fashion if you have the bike for it, but if you want to make reasonable progress, or you have a road bike, you will probably want to emend the route to your own preferences. (By and large, there’s no shortage of rideable lanes in the Charente valley.) We absolutely would not want to dissuade anyone from cycling this lovely countryside, but choose your route carefully.
After Rochefort, the signs guide you along the estuary to Fouras. Here, you can conclude your ride by the Atlantic, or take a brief ferry ride across to the lovely Île d’Aix.
This is one of those routes distinguished by its rural air rather than by sightseeing points, but Saintes could easily occupy a day or two. It’s a winningly busy town combining all the historic cred you’d hope for (cathedral, amphitheatre, you know the drill) with local art and modern boutiques. Angoulême, too, combines ancient and modern: its ancient fortified centre belies a very 21st century prosperity from video games and comic books.
We’re big fans of the Freewheeling France website and they have a well-written, honest travelogue of la Flow Vélo.