Charente Bed and Breakfast

The Area

Located about 45 minutes drive south from Poitiers airport or 1 hr from Limoges and only 5 minutes from the main RN10 which give easy access to explore –

The surrounding countryside is ideal for bird watching, walking, fishing, horse riding, painting etc. You can also hire canoes, bicycles and quad bikes.

Angoulême – 30 mins – parapeted city with pedestrian streets and a multitude of pavement cafes. Nautilus water park with its man made beach, sailing, wind surfing etc.

La Vallée des Singes – 30 mins – more than 250 monkeys living in total liberty.

Cognac/Jarnac – 45 mins – Beautiful towns on the river Charente and homes to the cognac distilleries of Hennessy, Remy Martin etc.

Poitiers - 45 mins - offers lots to see in terms of art and architecture as well as the impressive church of Notre-Dame. The busy centre is full of narrow, winding pedestrian streets ideal for shopping and exploring.

Futuroscope – 1hr – unique virtual reality theme park offering fun for all the family

Limoges – 1hr – famous for its porcelain manufacture and cobbled streets

The Atlantic coast -1hr 30 mins – visit the fishing ports of La Rochelle, Rochefort, Royan with their superb, sandy beaches fabulous aquarium and trips to Fort Boyard

Saintes – 1 hr – Steeped in Roman history, one of the most beautiful cities in France

Enjoy the Charente

The Charente is a large Department with two divisions, Charente Maritime and Charente proper, surprisingly these are not as popular as the Dordogne.

Most of present day France was under the sea for millions of years. The Massive Central, an area around Paris and the Cherbourg peninsular, were the only lands above the waves. The earth is almost alive with fossils. Every year the farmers unearth dozens.

There are five major periods of interest. Prehistoric, Roman, Goth and Franks, Medieval and Modern. Although I have tried to separate the historical periods, I found it impossible, therefore, you will find that if a fine Roman site is near a Medieval or interesting town, I propose to describe both, plus anything else on the way. I will tell stories, some historically true, others delightful hearsay, hopefully to make your visits more enjoyable.

The Charente has a magical climate and wonderful places to visit. Within 50 miles of Verteuil, there are dozens of very interesting caves, churches, castles, chateaux and Roman towns, all with their own stories to tell.

The Romans, under Caesar, occupied France years before they successfully invaded England and over the centuries, millions of soldiers, pilgrims and others have marched or tramped across the Charente. The remains of their culture and building skills surround us. Later invaders, the Goths, the Franks, the Moors and the English fought their way into this Department and left their mark, but the Germans left altogether less delightful memories.

The present N 10 is one of the oldest roads, running from North to South-West. The old Roman Agrippan Way, runs from Limoges through Saintes to present day Bordeaux. On the old Agrippan Way and other major Roman roads, many staging posts and towns were built and the Romans, believers in Godliness, order, comfort, entertainment and cleanliness, built many sites, which have luckily survived until this day.

Just a few kilometres to the West of Angouleme are the caves of Queroy, they are in the Touvre valley. Two tributaries of the river Touvre, have the habit of disappearing for a few months at a time, this was seen as almost magical by our forebears. These caves are very well worth a visit, they extend for about a kilometre.

South of Anguoleme, in Perigord, there are the spectacular caves, Grotte de Villars. These caves were discovered in 1953 by French potholers and in 1958, prehistoric wall drawings were found on the walls of an inner cave. These drawings are at least 17,000 years old. The ceilings are alive with stalactites and huge stalagmites cover the floors. These caves extend for over 13 kilometres and are spectacular.
Other caves are even further away well into the Dordogne. Here are the world famous Lascaux caves. Unbelievable drawings and paintings line these caves which are over twenty five thousand years old. The humidity from visitors started to damage these treasures. The caves were closed to the public, but because of the international interest in this sensational discovery, the French government ordered that exact fibreglass copies be made. These copies, indistinguishable from the originals, are now open to the general public throughout the year.
The ancestors of the Charentais lived in these caves. These people called troglodytes, found cave dwelling ideal. Cool in the blazing heat of summer, comfortably warm in the very cold winters and a very safe place away from the large wild beasts that roamed the land.
As tools and weapons of defence improved and the population grew, shelters and then houses began to be built. As hunter-gatherers turned to farmers, settlements, villages and finally towns appeared. The Charente is also littered with Tumuli and Dolmen, prehistoric earth mounds and standing and laying stones. One can almost expect Asterix and his large friend Obilisk, to arrive and throw a few at us rather than the Romans.

Chassenon is a fabulous Roman baths on the ancient Agrippan Way, which is being restored to its former glory. Near Aigra are the remains of a 5,000 seater open air amphitheatre and towards Royan is the very interesting Roman town of Saintes.

The remains of a Roman villa were revealed when the new sewage works here in Verteuil was under construction.
During the fourth century the Roman Empire started to collapse, all the occupying legions were recalled to defend Rome. Great Britain, France and Spain, who had lived in peace, prosperity and comfort for over four hundred years, found themselves totally open to other less civilised invaders. The Jutes, Vikings and Saxons crossed the North Sea to attack Britain and France, the Moors crossed the Mediterranean into Spain and Southern France and the Franks and other German tribes crossed the Rhine in the North-East.
For years France was in chaos. The Franks were finally the dominant tribe giving us Charlemagne the Pious. Before him Charles Martel, raised an army and defeated the Moors in the battle of Poitiers, soon the whole of France was cleared of the Arab invaders.
Under the Romans, Europe apart from Germany, had become Christian, King Charlemagne, many centuries later, was very Christian and as pilgrims in their hundreds were crossing France to visit Compastela de Saintiago in Northern Spain, he had dozens of Abbeys, churches and rest-houses built. These sites were one day’s-walk apart.

The Abbey of Liguge, is a four star must. Six kilometres South of Poitiers, with a continuous history from pre-Roman times, the Abbey has a holy shrine built in about 360AD, buildings from 400AD to 600AD and the Abbey itself in the late 700AD.

The Benedictine Abbey of Charroux, near Civray, was huge, capable of holding 25,000 people. The very high hexagon shaped lamp tower still stands as do the interesting cloisters. A fire in the tower guided the pilgrims in the dark of winter to this haven of rest. Pope Urban II, he, who started the gruesome crusades to free the Holy City of Jerusalem, consecrated the then new church here in 1096

The Abbey at Nanteuil-en-Vallee, which is being restored, is another Abbey inspired by King Charlemagne. The village of Nanteuil has a fine church, several half-timbered houses of note and Isabelle Dumas Ream, our wonderful Lady Doctor. Liguge is sensational, the other two ‘very well worth a visit’.

Very few people know that King Charlermagne apart from being King, was a fierce fighter, leading his soldiers from the front, naturally he got wounded but his wounds never became septic. His knights and soldiers died of gangrene but not Charlemagne. The reason seems that Charlie loved Roquefort cheese. His monks made this superb cheese and he guarded its use. Roquefort was matured in dark cool caverns until a white mould covered the whole cheese, then and only then was the cheese eaten. Roquefort was considered so valuable that Charlemagne gave one or perhaps two to visiting Kings or dignitaries, keeping the rest for himself and his immediate court, this white mould was in fact Penicillin, nearly twelve hundred years later we now have rediscovered it.

The lonely stopover church of Ligeres, is eleventh century and very unusual, because the floor at the foot of one supporting column has been dug away, to reveal nearly three feet down, the pedestal, the stone base of the column. The present floor has over the centuries been raised by the mud, of perhaps a million pilgrims’ dirty feet, mixed with the straw on which they rested.
The pilgrims were not allowed to carry arms, so mercenaries were hired to protect them on their long and dangerous way. Some mercenaries and sadly some Abbot’s and other religious worthies robbed these pilgrims or sold fake relics to the easily duped believers. If all of the splinters of wood said to be from the holy cross and the fragments of iron from the nails were gathered, the pile would be larger than the pyramids.
Poitiers, North of Verteuil, although a large modern town in the Vienne, has a perfectly preserved Roman Baptistery, built in about 300AD and the oldest church in the whole of France and many other beautiful churches. Huge battles took place in and around the town. The Moors were defeated here in 532 by Charles Martel and his army. Charles Martel gained his name because of his bravery in this battle, his troops, knick-named him, ‘The Hammer’ Martel was the Frankish word. Years later, Richard the Lion Heart captured the city on his great march South. The castle at Gencay, a few kilometres away, was besieged and also taken by Richard, he then captured Angouleme, Cognac and Saintes, his army pillaging and I suspect an occasional naughtiness as well..
It is said that when King Richard the Lion heart, some years later, was captured and ransomed by the Germans, his brother Prince John, later King John refused to pay. Robin Hood doubled his robbing of the rich to raise the 2,000 in gold to free the King. It is doubtful if Robin Hood ever existed of course but when, in my youth, I worked on over two hundred episodes of the very popular TV series with Richard Green playing this dashing Robin, we said that he had paid the ransom and that obviously makes it really true.

Angouleme, the capitol of the Charente, has a magnificent cathedral, huge ramparts and many interesting ancient churches and buildings. The Town Hall is most impressive, a 15th century castle type chateau complete with a free museum of Roman and Charente antiquaries. The marvellous Cathedral stands proudly on the town’s ramparts. If you are lucky enough to be on holiday in August, Angouleme has a three-day motorcar spectacular. In 2003 over one million pounds worth of Bugati racing cars were on display, these cars dated from the early twenties to late thirties. On the second day, these treasures, actually raced around the ramparts, other races, with motorcycles, old American limousines and sports cars of every make, provide a spectacular day’s entertainment.
There is a museum of comics, with every issue of Tin Tin and the Asterix stories, plus thousands more and almost opposite a very old fully working paper-mill. Luxurious riverboats run on the Charente. The round trip includes a visit to a wonderful chocolate factory, with tasty samples of course, tea and cream buns on the lawn of a chateau and a tour around a castle, great value for money.
Apart from the charm and beauty of the old town, a new ultra-modern High School of striking design is situated just one kilometre from the Cathedral. This school is on the Lisbourne road and well worth a visit. The Architect was playing tricks on the public with his illusionary design of the balconies, look closely and you will see that they are really not complete. It is possible to look inside and see that the grand hall has a line of growing trees planted down its length, this hall is under a great arched roof.

Chassenon, is the site of an old Roman bathhouse on the Agrippan Way. Built in 300AD and now being lovingly restored. Two temples and a theatre are close to the bathhouse. The Roman town of Cassinomagnus, has all but disappeared, but by good fortune the baths managed to survive. The under-floor heating, the hot, cool and cold baths still stand. The guided tour is excellent and extensive and the detailed fact sheet is available in English

The little pleasant town of Rochechouart, is just a few kilometres away. A very fine thirteenth century Chateau with remarkable murals and a museum of prehistoric habitations. A nice little town in which to lunch before you visit, a short drive away -

Oradour sur Glane. This village is the site of a dreadful massacre by the Germans on the 10th June 1944. Ouradour is today, exactly as it was on that fateful day, nearly sixty years ago.
The French resistance in this area had blown up a railway bridge, destroying a goods train. The local Gestapo gave orders to raid Oradour and kill the inhabitants as a reprisal. The German officer took his troops to Oradour sur Glane by mistake. Every man woman and child in the village was rounded-up.
The mayor pleaded that the women and children should be spared. He was shot, then groups of men were herded into twenties and ordered to be gunned down. Plaques attached to the walls, mark where these atrocities took place. Other soldiers were assembling the women and children. An old sick woman was carried down to the street in her bed. All of these poor frightened people were herded into the church, then, on the orders of the Gestapo officer, petrol was thrown over them all, and the doors locked and hand grenades thrown through the windows. The explosions started a fierce fire killing all but one of the women and children, the blaze gutted the roof timbers and bell tower floor.
The melted bronze bells, with their embedded caste iron clappers strew the floor of the belfry in silent witness. The altar is riddled with bullet holes. As the village burned the soldiers stood around in silence.
When the soldiers were assembling to march back to their camp, a tram from Limoges rattled into Oradour sur Glane, bringing back shoppers from this large nearby town.
The Gestapo Officer ordered his men to empty the tram and shoot these new arrivals.
The Sergeant, who was sickened by what he and his troops had been ordered to do, shouted. “We’ve done enough murdering for the day Sir.” Strangely the officer just turned and marched off.
The Sergeant ordered the tram driver to take his tram back to Limoges with his passengers, the terrified driver immediately obeyed, racing back to tell the story of this horror.
Within a few hours, the firemen, police and officials of Limoges arrived in Oradour sur Glane, to witness the still smouldering village, and the unbelievable brutality of the Gestapo. Only one person is said to have survived.
The local cemetery with its museum, are a must visit. A remembrance wall with the names of all 700 who perished, complete with photographs and their ages, of two months to ninety-two, is a sober reminder for us never to forget.
As you walk around the village, you can almost feel the terror and evil of this bloody day.

The town of Saintes, in Charente Maritime, is the old Roman town of Mediolanum Santonem. This town deserves at least two days of your time. As you enter the town, turn first left just as you cross the bridge into the Quai de Republique. Here you can park easily and walk to the Roman museum and then to the triumphal Arch of Germanicus. This wonderful Arch was moved stone-by-stone, across the river with the greatest care, when the old bridge was rebuilt. Many stone columns, headstones and carved items are housed in the old abattoir close-by, which has the grandest roof timbers I’ve ever seen. Very near is the Roman museum where artefacts of every sort are nicely displayed. The Abbaye des Dames is a little distance from here.
In the town the remains of a large amphitheatre, holding 20,000 spectators and the remains of a Roman bathhouse are open to view. The town has many churches well worth a visit.
The Abbaye des Dames, a large religious complex is facinating. Founded in 1047, it was the premier convent in the whole region, the Abbess was the only woman Bishop, ever appointed.
Two churches sit side by side, the smaller of the two is called ‘The church of the bastards,’ because the soldiers of Richard The Lion Heart, desecrated this holy place in ways best left to the imagination. Grand eleventh and twelfth century buildings dominate the site. There is a fine museum.
A few km away are the towns of Cognac and Jarnac, names ever linked with brandy. Here the world famous distillers open their making and bottling plants with fascinating guided tours. The aromas are intoxicating, this aroma is the evaporation of the spirit, called Angels’ Breath and many litres of brandy disappears each year. This vapour has produced airborne bacteria, which has blackened most of the houses in these lovely towns.
Each town deserves at least half a day’s visit. Beautiful houses, squares and narrow streets and riverside walks abound and bars and cafes are everywhere.
The countryside in this beautiful area is covered by millions of grapevines, standing in countless rows. Apart from the well-known brands of brandy, the surrounding villages have small distilleries, and although the names are unknown in England, visiting them and tasting their products is a delight. Pineau is a famous Charentais invention, fine wine is mixed with old brandy to make an aperitif of superb taste and caution is needed because Pineau is at least 16,5 proof.

The beaches and delightful fishing ports of Charente Maritime are famous. Swimming, boating and fishing are here aplenty. La Rochelle, apart from being a very beautiful old city, has more fish restaurants than you can shake a stick at. During the stupid One Hundred Years war, great battles were waged between the Catholics and the Protestants, English troops and our navy gave assistance but to no avail. Huge towers guarded the harbour, stout chains were stretched between them to shut off the entrance. I won’t tell you what to look at, because everything in La Rochelle is beautiful.

A few km inland you will find the fabulous Marais Poitevin, a green paradise, similar to the Florida everglades. Boat trips are an absolute must, luckily unlike Florida, there are no alligators.
The crusaders in their thousands crossed on their way to Jerusalem, pilgrims did and to some extent still do, go the two thousand miles to Compostela in Spain. The delightful French, greet all who come with their charm and friendliness, enjoy your stay and tell your friends to come next year.

The chateau in Verteuil is just one of three owned by the Rochefoucauld family, two are open to view. La Rochefoucauld is enormous, in the small town of that name. Twelve million francs were recently spent to repair and restore this grand building. The entrance fee is modest and well spent. The second chateau is in Bayer, a few kilos from Verteuil. This is a tiny chateau, built for winter use, the others were impossible to heat in the winter months, even with dozens of servants. A charming Doctor owns the Bayer chateau and personally conducts the tour, he is very proud of the eleventh century lavatories that project from the first floor walls. Small fee, great value.
Verteuil itself has a lot to offer. The church of St.Medard proudly stands on a high cliff over-looking the Charente River. Inside you can see the wonderful ‘Mise en Tombe’. This polychrome, terracotta set of statues, of the burial of Christ, was fashioned by Germain Pilon in the sixteenth century. The figures are life size and superb. The delicate detail of skin and fabric is almost beyond belief, a true masterpiece. The key to the church, which is always locked, can be borrowed from the caretaker who lives opposite the porch.
Just across the first bridge you will see on the right, a twelfth century, high roofed church with a beautiful Rose window, nearly all that remained of a very ancient convent, now beautifully converted to accommodation of very high quality. The two star hotel, La Paloma is just one kilo away down the Rue du Fountaine. It may be just two star but has a truly five star restaurant, very well recommended. Visible from the second bridge is a very old water mill, which was a leather tannery. Hundreds of mills, mostly water operated, ground millions of tons of wheat when the Charente, was the main source of flour for those wonderful crispy loaves we love. In the Rue Du Baril, there stands the eleventh century house of the Seneschal, he was the grand works-manager during the construction of our beautiful chateau.
I’ll stop now, except to say, buy and study a good, large-scale map and enjoy exploring the Charente. We have more chateaux than the Loire, more castles than Wales and beauty in every village and town.

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