From La Rochelle to the Bordeaux wine district, the southwest of France is often a quick stopover for visitors driving from Paris to Spain. However, this area is noted for its Atlantic beaches, medieval and Renaissance ruins, Romanesque and Gothic churches, vineyards, and charming inns serving splendid regional cuisine.

On our journey to this intriguing region, we detour inland for some cognac in Cognac and for trips to nearby art cities such as Poitiers and Angoulême. If you can manage it, it's great to allow a week here -- enough time to sample the wine, savor the cuisine, and see some of the sights.