An endless maze of green pools and streams, wild irises, ruined churches, hidden marshes and golden orioles, the Marais Poitevin is a beautiful part of the world. Known as “La Venise Verte” (Green Venice), it was created when seventeenth-century Dutch engineers drained a wet marsh by constructing a network of rigoles – tiny canals banked with poplars. You can explore by boat, bike or by foot. The marshes lie across three départements, so getting information on the whole area, which is the size of the Isle of Wight, is difficult. Tourist offices stock an invaluable free map and guide called Marais Poitevin: Carte Découverte. When walking or cycling stick to the marked paths, as shortcuts invariably end in wet socks.
You can access the eastern part of the marsh from pretty Coulon (the “capital” of the Marais) 11km from Niort. Ten kilometres west is the quaint village of Arçais, which is dominated by a nineteenth-century chôteau, and is another place to hire canoes and punts, or find accommodation.