Located between the Boutonne and Charente rivers, this north western part of the Charente-Maritime offers lush, hilly landscapes. There are ancient churches, (listed as Unesco World Heritage sites), castles and great folklore. There are hidden villages to discover. The countryside is famous for its vines, Cognac production and caves. The Boutonne valley is listed Natura 2000. (Natura 2000 is a network of natural protected areas in the European Union).
©RomainQuéré - Fotolia.comSaintes and its 2000 years of history invites you to travel back in time. Its Gallo Roman amphitheatre, one of the oldest of the Roman Empire and one of the best conserved, its Abbaye aux Dames (The Abbey of the Ladies of Saintes), theArch of Germanicus saved by writer Prosper Mérimée, its museum… give so many opportunitiesto discover this town bathed in the Charente River.
The writer Pierre Loti came up with the phrase 'the Castle of Sleeping beauty' in an article to save the building which was in danger of demolition. Now completely refurbished, La Roche Courbon Castle, primarily a medieval fortress, then a Renaissance castle, is located a few kilometres from Saintes. It is perched on a promontory and surrounded by a beautiful oak forest. Once upon a time, there was a castle in La Roche Courbon. It had French style gardens, moats, dungeons, grand salons, Saintes cuisine, superb stone banistered staircases…Also on the estate are caves which were lived in during the Palaeolithic era. La Roche Courbon is a fairy tale castle.
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Saint-Jean-d'Angely is a stopover town on the pilgrims' route to Saint Jacques de Compostelle. It is a town full of history. Its abbey, built in the 9th century, houses the relics of Saint John the Baptist. Destroyed by Vikings and again during the religious wars, it was rebuilt during the 17th and the 18th centuries. The abbey towers are unfinished; they were once used as a prison. Adjoining the towers, the church of Saint John the Baptist was built during the 9th century, as was the town hall square. The old town, with its superbly refurbished houses, is a legacy of an exceptional heritage. Don't miss the old clock tower bridge in the medieval quarter.
The Guide de Charente Maritime’s tip :
Visit the abbey, access is easy, even during the summer, have lunch in the beautiful shady mainsquare. Not far from the square are restaurants which offer good quality/price menus. The town is quiet and relaxing, there are fewer tourists here than on the neighbouring coastline.
In the adjacent photo is a view of the square where you can also see the Saint Jean d'Angely Tourist Office.
On leaving the small village of Aulnay-de-Saintonge, you will find a nugget, a true jewel of Romanesque art: the church of Saint Peter of Aulnay, built in the 12th century on the route to Saint Jaques de Compostelle. It is listed as a UNESCO World Heritage site. It is surrounded by majestic cypress trees and an old cemetery. The facade has angels, virgins, zodiac signs, representations of Christ and his apostles sculpted on it.
On the boundary with the department of Deux-Sèvres, Dampierre-sur-Boutonne is visited for its Renaissance castle, destroyed by a fire in 2002 and remarkably restored since then. The main gallery has a sculpted ceiling of alchemical emblems. Follow the themed and original circuits signed in the castle, they will guide you during your visit.
The Poitou donkey can be seen a few kilometres from Dampierre-sur-Boutonne. These unusual donkeys live on a farm where you can learn about their history and way of life through the centuries. This breed of donkey has been around since the 15th century. It is a protected species. You can even have a donkey ride.
Sheltering under the remains of a former fortified castle, Taillebourg, a small village with a population of 600, is known for a battle which took place in 1242. The battle was fought between Louis IX of France supported by his brother Alphonse of Poitiers, and Henri III King of England supported by Hugh X of Lusignan. The French king won and thus ended the Poitevin revolt. The battle is illustrated in a famous painting by Eugène Delacroix. The castle park offers breath-taking views of the Charente and its valley.
Guide de Charente Maritime’s tip :
Climb up to the park which overlooks the rooftops of the village and the Charente valley. It is especially beautiful towards evening when the light is softer.
Only a few kilometres from Taillebourg, the castle that inspired Charles Perrault (French author [1628-1703], father of the fairy tales) is located. It is said that Charles Perrault took the castle of Crazannes as a model for his stories. It is the property of the Count of Caravaz, from the famous tale “Le Chat Botté” (Puss-in-Boots) and the legendary “Count of Carabas”.
Crazannes is listed as 'Pôle Nature' (nature reserve) and is as famous for its cut stone as it is for its old quarries which can be visited during the summer. Do not hesitate to explore but be very careful on the paths crossing the quarries. The view of these man made quarries, which are now filled with intertwined creepers, is rather astonishing. This amazing place is in the heart of the Charante Maritime, to the west of Saintes. The stone of Crazannes, whose colour is white/amber, was used in the construction of the now mythical Fort Boyard off the coast of the Ile d'Oleron, and the Arch of Germanicus in Saintes. There are lovely contemporary sculptures at the entrance to the site. In the village of Crazannes are some examples of the use that this material has been put to.
Saint-Savinien has the quiet charm of the small villages bordering the Charente. Its 12th century church, built on a promontory, overlooks the river. River trade played an important role in the development and prosperity of Saint-Savinien, at the time the gabarres (traditional river boats) transported wood, wine, cognac, and cut stones. Its riverbanks today provide enjoyable walks.
Guide de Charente Maritime’s tip :
Stroll along the riverbanks, they are superb throughout the year; take a boat ride on the Charente River, the houses along the riverbanks reflect their images in the water and lends a romantic atmosphere to the place.
For all the family: spend the day in the park adjacent to the boat rides jetty. There are many activities for children: a beautiful miniature port, where you can hire little boats; walk across the foot bridges, admire the bird life and beautifully landscaped park.
Saint Savinien is an ideal place for relaxing with the family; there are many more attractions only a few kilometres away.
Another favourite: the superb small abbey of Saint Saturnin, from the 13th, 14th and second half of the 16th centuries, heading towards Saintes, between Crazannes and Port d'Envaux. Saint Saturnin has been listed as a French Heritage historic monument since 1986. Don’t hesitate to make a stop in Saint Saturnin which also has an archaeological site of a Gallo Roman villa. The ruins were discovered during the construction of a new building, and has been a place of excavation since 2008. The site has been open to the public since 2011 and offers activities during the summer.