Below are some of our favourite places to visit, all no more than half day trips. These will be added to over time and there is additional information in the house in Verteuil.
Nanteuil-en-Vallée We love Nanteuil (pronounced "Nan - toy"). It is our favourite village after Verteuil, only 8 kms away. A little village with a lovely waterway, arborarium, abbey and church. Its abbey was inspired by King Charlemagne, who in the 9th century had dozens of abbeys, churches and rest houses built, all a day's walk apart, for weary pilgrims travelling the pilgrimage route to Santiago de Compostela in Spain. There are tours through the abbey in summer. One or two great restaurants in Nanteuil.
Chateau de Nieuil and La Grange aux Oies restaurant Each visit to the Charente region draws us to at least one special meal at the fabulous restaurant La Grange aux Oies (the Geese's Barn). It's become a ritual. Set in a renovated barn in the grounds of the Château de Nieuil, it is just 30 km from Verteuil, and a great French, five star, à la carte experience. In 2016 it was only €56 for a 5 course meal (including a cheese course) and wine. Fantastic value - we went twice last visit! Book ahead (on-line or phone). Yum!
Canoeing on the Charente The Charente river offers some terrific canoeing for adults and children alike. There are a number of canoe clubs along the river close by that hire out canoes. Each separate leg is about three or so hours: Réjallant to Verteuil, Verteuil to Aunac, and Aunac to Mansle. Give it a go and just do one. The club will pick you and the canoe up at the end of the leg. Reasonable rates. Pretty and safe, plus you feel better about that extra croissant. Fun!
La Rochefoucauld This town, just under 40km south of Verteuil, is best known for (and most visited because of) the Chateau de La Rochefoucauld, which stands above the Tardoire River. Originally dating from the 11th century, the castle stands on the edge of the town. It was modified many times in the following centuries to become the impressive renaissance monument we see today, which was mostly constructed between the 14th and 17th centuries and is certainly one of the most picturesque castles in Poitou-Charentes. The donjon is the oldest part of the castle that we see today (11th century, although a part of the donjon collapsed in 1960), while the newest part is the substantial wing added in the 18th century. An impressive site from the outside, you enter the castle between two imposing round towers. Inside, particular highlights include a grand stone spiral staircase, the inner courtyard with three tiers of arcades, and various other decorative features and carefully furnished rooms. We keep returning to this château. You can wander around parts of the interior that gives a glimpse of how life may have been for the occupants - well worth the entry fee. The La Rochefoucauld family also owned the château in Verteuil. The family also owned a third châ,,teau - a smaller château in Bayers, near Verteuil, used during winter - smaller rooms meant greater ease to heat! The centre of the old town is also worth a stroll and wander.
Angoulême Angoulême is the closest regional city to Verteuil, a quick half hour drive (40km) south down the N10. A favourite of ours, we usually drive straight into the old town, park, and then wander (or catch a regional train from Ruffec straight into Angoulême). Angoulême's old town is set on a hill surrounded by 2 kms of ramparts. Walk the walls, or ramparts, from where you will enjoy great views of the Charente river and the local district. This place is full of history, has a great museum, city hall, cathedral, restaurant quarter and good shopping. Angoulême is the French centre for bandes dessinées (comics) and hosts the International Comic festival each January. This event also explains why you will come across building walls painted in cartoons or trompe l'oeil style as you explore the town. Every September, Angoulême also hosts the Circuit des Remparts, where classic and vintage cars race around the walls of the old town and the surrounding streets. We always visit Angoulême a couple of times each visit to France.
Angoulême on its plateau.
Confolens Confolens is a lovely, market town located at the confluence of the Vienne and Goire rivers, about 40km to the east of Verteuil. Confolens was built around a fortress first mentioned in the eleventh century. It still has picturesque remnants of its medieval past, including city walls and several half-wooded houses dating from the fifteenth to the eighteenth centuries. It also features a bridge built in the fourteenth century. Great for a wander and a picnic on the banks of the beautiful river.
Church tour Every village and hamlet in France has a church. Many, many churches in this part of France were constructed during the 12th century. Each church has a character of its own. Hop in your car and drive to visit these amazing ancient buildings. A couple of suggested "church tours" around the local district are available at the house in Verteuil.
Poitiers The town of Poitiers is the administrative capital of the region. It is a town steeped in history and this has resulted in a city with a picturesque medieval centre containing numerous sites of interest. Poitiers is a university town (the second oldest in France after Paris and the town with one of the biggest student populations) which means it has a vibrant night life and lots of cultural activities. Its most famous and prosperous period of history was during the middle ages in the times of Eleanor of Aquitaine. In one of the most turbulent periods of French history, Eleanor had her marriage to Louis VII of France annulled and then married Henry Plantagenet who subsequently became King Henry II of England (1152). As a result large areas of western France including Poitiers passed under English control. Poitiers became an English town as it was part of the dowry she brought to her marriage. The division of France led to continuous struggles between the English and French, that ultimately led to the Hundred Years War (1337-1453) - the Battle of Poitiers was one of the great English victories of the war. There are many great churches in the town. During summer, be sure to be near the Notre-Dame church at dusk, when an impressive light display recreates the colours of the cathedral in the Middle Ages. Nearby is the Baptistry of Saint-Jean, dating in part from the 4th century and the oldest Christian monument in France. The streets in the historic centre of Poitiers are full of lovely medieval architecture with lots of half timbered houses. Lovely to walk around in, these streets are also full of great shops!
Local village fêtes and vide gréniers From June to August each year, every village and hamlet has an annual fête or vide grénier (literally "empty out the attic"), where people come from miles and miles to meet, eat and sell or buy. Village populations swell. You will be amazed at what you can find. Bric a brac, antiques, trash - it will all be there. A highly recommended experience!
Oradour-sur-Glane Under 80kms to the east of Verteuil is Oradour-sur-Glane. This village is the site of a dreadful massacre by the Nazis on 10 June 1944. The Nazis rounded up every man, woman and child in the village, then shot all the men. They forced the women and children into the church and then set it on fire and threw grenades through the windows. 642 people were murdered and the village set alight. The village has been kept exactly as it was found later that day so that what happened there would never be forgotten. It is now a powerful open-air museum. A terrible must-see. We are so lucky to be born in Australia!
Ruffec Ruffec is the closest town to Verteuil, only 6 km away. There is a train station here were you can get the regional train to Angoulême or to Poitiers, or even the TGV straight to Paris or Bordeaux. Ruffec is where we do our big grocery shops, do our banking and get petrol. It has a gym, big hardware and electrical appliance stores and a small home centre. Ruffec has maintained a small historical centre around Armes Square and the church. The square itself is overlooked by a grand Town Hall. A highlight in Ruffec is the Church of Saint-André. Built in the roman style, the church dates from the 12th century and once belonged to the abbey at nearby Nanteuil-en-Vallee. Although substantial alterations and additions were made in the 15th century, the carved decorative facade, featuring some inset statuary, is the oldest and most interesting part of the church. Also in Ruffec you can see the traditional washhouse (lavoir), the ruins of a the small Chapel Saint-Blaise and the remains of a castle.
Charroux The Benedictine Abbey of Charroux, about 30 kms from Verteuil, was founded in 785. Following the death of Richard the Lionheart, King of England, in April 1199, the king's brain was buried at Charroux Abbey. Interestingly, the abbey is said to have possessed the Holy Prepuce, the foreskin of Jesus, which was given to the monks by Charlemagne, King of the Franks from 768 to 814. In the early 12th century, it was taken in procession to Rome where it was presented before Pope Innocent III, who was asked to rule on its authenticity. The Pope declined the opportunity. The abbey was burned in 1422, during the Hundred Years War, and was plundered three times during the Wars of Religion, in 1562, 1569 and 1587. 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, who started the gruesome crusades to free the Holy City of Jerusalem, consecrated the then new church here in 1096.
St Amant de Boixe This village, on the pilgrimage path of St Jacques de Compostelle, has a magnificent abbey church dating from the 12th century. Inside the building, the Romanesgue nave, the Gothic choir, and the 14th century painted wall murals are very interesting. Next to the church you can visit the abbey buildings - the cloister, refectory, cellar and kitchen. Opposite the church is a lovely restaurant. St Amant de Boixe is 26 km south of Verteuil.
Montignac-sur-Charente Just 2 km south of St Amant de Boixe is the beautiful village of Montignac-sur-Charente. Great for a stroll along the quai-side of the Charente river and a climb up to the ruins of the donjon. A nice little restaurant and some shops to browse.
Following the Chemin de St Jacques de Compostelle (camino de Santiago de Compostela) through the Charente For over a thousand years pilgrims from all over Europe have been walking out their front door and trekking to Santiago de Compostela in far north west Spain, in order to earn a "go straight to heaven" pass. Over the centuries, four routes were broadly established through France that "funnelled" the pilgrims into Spain across the Pyrenees mountains to their destination. Verteuil is on one of the four routes through France. This is special to us as we walked the 800km leg of the pilgrimage in 2014 from St Jean Pied de Port in France to Santiago de Compostela in Spain. The local route passes through Charroux, Nanteuil-en-Vallée, Verteuil-sur-Charente and St Amant de Boixe in the journey south to the border France shares with Spain. Follow the local route by car..... or walk some of it!!!
Cognac The world's best-known brandy comes from the area around Cognac, a one hour drive south west of Verteuil. A twenty-mile area called the 'golden circle" of cognac production encompasses Cognac and the second distilling town of Jarnac. Cognac is a medieval town and is attractive with its narrow medieval cobbled streets and elegant Renaissance facades, attractive houses from the 15th to 18th centuries, and a multitude of brandy maturing warehouses along the Charente riverside. Wander around the old town, "Vieux Cognac". A few of the older houses are half-timbered, while most are in the local white stone. The tourist office has prepared a guided tour of the old town to be followed that includes most of the highlights and passes information panels (in both English and French) and clear maps for where to go next. The trail starts to the north of the Charente river, opposite the Porte Saint-Jaques - the medieval gateway with two large round towers that originally controlled access to the old town. World famous firms such as Camus, Hennessy, Niartell, Otard, Prince Hubert de Polignac, Rémy-Martin, Courvoisier, and Renault-Bisquit are located here; each distillery has its own secret and unique process for mixing the various blends of its eaux-de-vie. Join a guided tour to learn about the double-distilling process that goes on in copper stills before the ageing in oak barrels where the liquor will improve, taking on its final bouquet and famous golden glow.