Discover The Treasures of Saintonge France

The 'Route des Trésors de Saintonge' is a trail stopping off at 22 of the most prestigious monuments in Charente Maritime, and is a great way to travel back in time.
Covering no less than 40,000 years of history, the monuments date from prehistoric times to the present day, and all the architectural styles are on display, whether military (citadels, arsenals, medieval fortifications), civilian (buildings commissioned by Louis XV, a Renaissance château), or religious (monastery, Romanesque art connected to pilgrimage routes).
Following this (long) trail is obviously about more than merely stopping off at various old piles of stones. Thanks to the reconstructed interiors, the different skills required to construct each monument, and the constraints of military considerations, visitors can build their own understanding of the society and ways of life of the people that used to live in this part of France.

Châteaux

Château de la Rochecourbon
Château de la Rochecourbon was built on its rocky outcrop back in the 15th century.
The buildings we see today are the result of transformations that were carried out during the course of the 17th century, when it belonged to Marquis Jean-Louis de Courbon.
It became an ornamental residence in the 17th century and was embellished with a formal garden offering very fine views. It was awarded the 'Jardins remarquables' (remarkable gardens) label by the French state in 2004.
The château is furnished and decorated in a distinctively Saintonge style and has a bathroom covered with painted wood panels dating back to 1662. It is still lived in to this day, and along with the garden was registered as a 'Historical Monument' in 2004.
Château de la Rochecourbon
17250 Saint-Porchaire, France
Tel.: +33 (0) 5 46 95 60 10
Open daily from 10:00am to 12:00pm and from 2:00pm to 7:00pm (5:00pm in winter)
Guided tour of the château: daily except Thursdays, from 15th September to 15th May
Free visit of the gardens, park, and caves: daily from 10:00am to 12:00pm and from 2:00pm to 6:30pm (5:30pm in winter)

Château de Panloy
The Château de Panloy was rebuilt in 1770 and is a magnificent example of Louis XV architecture.
It has always belonged to the same family (the current owners still live there now) and has a collection of objects and furniture from the last three centuries on display.
Visitors can admire the hunting gallery with 80 trophies; a salon whose walls are covered with tapestries spun in the mills of Beauvais; original furniture like the table decorated with Saint Louis glassware; and the Louis XV panelling in the dining room.
Château de Panloy
17350 Port d'envaux, France
Tel.: +33 (0) 5 46 91 73 23
Opening hours:
Daily except Monday, from 1st May to 30th September, from 10:00am to 12:00pm and from 2:00pm to 6:00pm
Daily from 1st July to 31st August, from 10:00am to 7:00pm
Open Sundays and national holidays from Easter to 1st November from 2:00pm to 6:00pm (call beforehand for confirmation)
Horse-drawn carriage rides in July and August, every afternoon except Monday

Château de Dampierre
This château displays typical Renaissance architecture and was built at the request of François de Clermont on his return from the Italian Wars. Construction was completed in 1550.
Life at the château was initially focused on the arts, and Jeanne de Vivonne and her daughter, the Duchess of Retz, held an important literary court there. However, it was demolished during the Wars of Religion and savagely destroyed during the Revolution.
It was then neglected until 1851, when it was bought once more, this time by the Rabaut-Tescier-Hédelin family, which still owns the property today.
For the past five generations, this family has devoted itself to renovating the château, going as far as reconstructing and bringing to life the island setting of the Italian Renaissance-style gardens.
Unfortunately, on 30th August 2002, a raging fire broke out in the château, but thanks to the intervention of the emergency services, 80% of the furniture was saved.
This did nothing to diminish the determination of the owners to restore the château, and they set about rebuilding the gallery and its roof. This restoration work was completed in 2007.
Visitors to the château can learn all about this phase of the building's history (the restoration, methods used, etc.), and can also view the 93 display cases full of alchemy symbols that form the ceiling of the gallery and echo the design of the Diktynna garden outside.
Château de Dampierre
10, Place du château, 17470 Dampierre sur Boutonne, France
Tel.: +33 (0) 5 46 24 02 24
Opening hours:
Daily from 1st April to 30th September 11:00am to 6:30pm Sundays and public holidays: 11:00am to 12:00pm and 2:00pm to 6:30pm Groups of at least 15 visitors may visit outside of visiting hours provided a booking is made

Château de Crazannes
This château was built at the end of the 14th century (with modifications in the 16th and 18th centuries) on the site of an 11th century fortress. The chapel, keep, and moats from this original building can still be seen today. The château owes its fame to its place in literature.
Before becoming well known, the Château de Crazannes was an important staging post for pilgrims on their way to Santiago de Compostela.
The building still displays evidence of this part of its history in the gothic sculptures depicting the welcome given by Saint James to the pilgrims, as well as some of his miracles.
However, its location on the Way of Saint James has less to do with the fame of the château than a storybook for children that first appeared in 1697.
It was actually one of the owners of the château, the Marquis de Carabas, a colourful character, who inspired Charles Perrault to write his story, 'Puss in Boots'. The success of this tale later earned the château the nickname 'Puss in Boots Château', and its architecture (in particular the amazing chimney stacks and the high, sculpted ceiling) is right at home in a fairytale landscape.
Château de Crazannes,
17350 Crazannes, France
Tel.: +33 (0) 6 80 65 40 96
Opening hours:
From 2:00pm to 7:00pm every weekend and public holiday from April to October and every day in July and August

Château de Saint Jean d'Angle
This château was built in 1180 by the Lusignan family and remained their property until 1750, when it was taken over by the Saint-Gelais de Lusignans.
The edifice is a magnificent example of medieval military architecture, and was used to defend the salt marshes of Saintonge Bay.
Legend has it that the family who owns the château, the Lusignans (who have had several illustrious members over the years), are direct descendants of the fairy Melusine, who is said to protect them.
In 1994, the château, which was no more than a ruin at the time, was categorised as a 'Historical Monument', bought up, and completely restored.
Château de Saint Jean d'Angle
2, Route de Marennes, 17620 Saint-Jean-d'Angle, France
Tel.: +33 (0) 6 20 87 45 20
Opening hours:
Daily during French school holidays, except Saturday, from 2:00pm to 6:00pm
Adult price: £5.30
Child price (8 to 15 years): £2.60
Free for children under 8

Château de Meux
The first château built at Meux was constructed in 1250 and was originally no more than a medieval fortress.
The ruins of this building were used as a base upon which to construct the château proper at the end of the Hundred Years' War (around 1453).
The architecture of the building actually has more in common with a Renaissance manor house.
The Château de Meux belonged to the Laage family until the 19th century, when the two cylindrical corner towers, which stood to either side of the main building and were of different diameters, were destroyed in 1850. The château and estate were then taken over by farmers during the Second French Empire.
During this period, the farmers only used the outbuildings and, as the château was reduced to a purely agricultural role, it gradually fell into a state of disrepair.
It was not until 1972 that the present owner bought the château and decided to dedicate 30 years of his life to restoring it. Visitors can now admire the Saintonge 'cagouilles' (snails) adorning the spiral staircase tower, the large, sculpted stone chimney stacks, and the rose gardens surrounding this magnificent manor house.
Châteaux de Meux
17500 Meux, France
Tel.: +33 (0) 5 -46 -48 -16 -61
Opening hours:
From 1st May to 30th September, open daily except Tuesdays from 2:30pm to 6:30pm
Standard price: £4.80
Child price (6 to 16 years): £2.20

Château de Buzay
The Château de Buzay was built relatively late, in 1770, and offers one of the finest examples of the richness, finesse, and balance that made 18th century France into a universal artistic reference.
At a time when the port of Buzay was growing at a fast rate thanks to its solid trade links with the New World, Pierre Etienne Harouard, shipowner, advisor, and secretary to the king, ordered the construction of the Château.
Built to match the wealth of the shipowner, the château, which at first appears compact, was designed in the Louis XVI style. This can be seen in the perfectly proportioned lines (influenced by the masters of Ancient Greece), which soften the many details that show such great finesse. For example, the marine allegory on the pediment of the north façade is almost certainly a veiled reference to the business interests of the shipowner landlord of the premises.
The inside of the château is a similar story to the façade. The furnishings (wood panelling, beautiful furniture, family portraits, and staircase with forged iron banister) can still be seen in all their former glory and perfectly match the interior decor.
Meanwhile, the park consists of a network of paths forming geometrical patterns and meeting at circular junctions interspersed with flowerbeds and water features. It was designed with reference to Dézallier d'Argenville's 'La théorie et la pratique du jardinage' (The Theory and Practice of Gardening), which places the home at the centre of the landscape around which the rest of the property (parks and fields) must be geometrically ordered.
This park has also been classed as a 'Historical Monument' since 1950.
Château de Buzay
17220 La Jarne, France
Tel.: +33 (0) 5 46 56 63 21
Opening hours:
Daily from 1st July to 30th September from 2:30pm to 5:30pm
Full price: £5.30
Price for children under 12: £3.50
Free entry for children under 7

Château de la Gataudière
It is a bit of a toss-up as to which is most interesting: the château, or the life of the famous character who was born there.
Indeed, this magnificent house, built in the typical 18th century architectural style, was the birthplace of François Fresneau.
You might well be wondering who exactly François Fresneau was.
François Fresneau was engineer to the king of France and pupil of Vauban, and spent 15 years of his life building fortifications in Cayenne. When he returned from this long trip, he brought a plant with him that would eventually take on a very important role in Europe: Hevea, better known as the rubber tree.
While François Fresneau enjoyed (a bit) of fame for discovering and importing this plant, the second 'discovery' he brought back and planted in Saintonge could have given him a much more permanent place in history: the potato.
Unfortunately for him, it only grew in popularity 11 years later, and the credit went to Parmentier. Just like its current owners, Prince and Princess Murat de Chasseloup Laubat, who, thanks to marriages and unions, are direct descendants of the Murat-Chasseloup and Laubat-Bonaparte families, the château has retained the image of its illustrious past thanks to the original furniture and mural decorations.
Shown in all its historic splendour, the house still has its reception room with its sculpted stonework, its wood-panelled dining room, a salon whose walls are lined with richly brocaded silk fabric (brocatelle), and galleries with stone and marble archways.
The pediment of the central house is decorated with portrayals of the products that made this region wealthy: oysters, wine, and salt.
Visitors to the château can also see an exhibition on the history of horse-drawn and naval transport.
Château de la Gataudière
19, Rue de la Gataudière, 17320 Marennes, France
Tel: +33 (0) 5-46-85-01-07.
Opening hours:
Visits in July and August daily from 10:00am to 12:00pm and 2:00pm to 6:00pm
Open on Sundays and national holidays.
Opened daily (except Mondays) in April, May, June, September, and October from 2:00pm to 5:00pm
Closed annually from November to March

Château de Beaulon
The Vinson family had this château built at the end of Louis XI's reign, around 1480.
At the time of its construction, architecture had reached a turning point in its development, and was entering the rich Renaissance period.
However, it can be seen from the northern façade of the complex - which, apart from the free-standing buildings, still displays the original style of architecture - that the design is strongly influenced by the flamboyant gothic style.
It is a very fine example of medieval architecture at its peak, and the left hand window of the façade, which is adorned with sculpted floral patterns (kale) and pinnacles bristling with little hooks, is the central element in the composition of the whole.
The contrast in comparison with the classic Renaissance-style lines of the right hand window emphasises not only the differences between the two architectural movements (without this in any way diminishing the overall building), but also the variations in style that there can be in a 500 year old building.
This château was the residence of the Bishops of Bordeaux during the 18th century and is now listed as a historical monument on the 'Inventaire Supplémentaire des Monuments Historiques'.
Château de Beaulon
17240 Saint Dizant du Gua, France
Tel.: +33 (0) 5 46 49 96 13
Opening hours:
Open from 9:00am to 12:00pm and from 2:00pm to 6:00pm every day from May to September
Open from 9:00am to 12:00pm and from 2:00pm to 6:00pm Monday to Friday from October to April
Weekend visits are possible if booked in advance

Château de Neuvicq
Guillaume de Neuvicq and his son constructed this fortified building ('fortalicum') around a 12th century Romanesque church, thus enabling them to become vassals to the Bishop of Angoulême.
During the course of the Hundred Years' War, the Neuvicq family line disappeared and the 'fortalicum' was partially destroyed.
The stronghold was once more taken over in 1420 by a branch of the Larocheandry family, and a new château was built on the site of the original Romanesque church in 1500.
It was pre-Renaissance in style, as can be seen in the design of the current residence.
It was later bequeathed to the families of de Goth and des Montespan (husband of the famous marchioness), before passing through the hands of several more owners who often proved unable to maintain it.
Destined for destruction, it was saved at the last minute by the mayor of Neuvicq, who bought it for the town in 1904.
Château de Neuvicq
17490 Neuvicq-le-Château, France
Tel.: +33 (0) 5 46 58 50 68 (Tourist Information Office)
Opening hours:
Guided tours every Thursday from 6:30pm to 7:30pm
For all other days, bookings are required: +33 (0) 5 46 58 50 68.
Exhibitions open daily from 2:30pm to 6:30pm except for Tuesdays mid-June to mid-September.

Religious buildings

Trizay abbey
This mediaeval monastic complex was founded in the 11th century by one of the lords of Tonnay-Charente and was, from the very beginning, a dependency of the Benedictine Chaise-Dieu abbey in Auvergne.
Building began on the complex around 1100 with the church, and would then be carried out in stages over the course of the first half of the 12th century.
The design features of this priory match the traditional characteristics of this kind of Middle Ages building.
The chapter house (the room in which the religious community gathered each day), which is built up against the church in the east wing, was built at a later date than the rest of the building, around 1150. The ceiling of this room as seen today is no longer the original, which was probably a very simple design. The current one, which replaced it in the 13th century, consists of six vaults with equilateral arches.
The refectory has kept its role as a silent place where meals are taken. The only person allowed to speak in here is the monk who stands at a pulpit or in a recess to read a passage from the Gospel while the others take their communal meal in complete silence. This large room, which is the most distant from the church itself, underwent major changes in the 15th century. It was raised in order to be covered with three large vaults supported on equilateral arches, whose jack arches are decorated with paintings depicting the symbols of the tvangelists.
Of the original 12th century refectory, the two easternmost windows can still be seen today, along with sections of the stone bench that originally encircled the entire room but now only remains in pieces.
The western wall is a kind of triumphal arch with three alcoves and dates back to the beginning of the monastic complex.
Abbaye de Trizay
17250 Trizay, France
Information: Trizay Tourist Information Office +33 (0) 5 46 82 34 25

Fontdouce Abbey
The role of this abbey has continually swung from one of anonymity to one of great influence over the course of the centuries.
Everything started in 1111, when a small monastery was founded on the banks of a stream called 'Fontaine Douce'.
The Romanesque building remained much the same throughout the 12th century. The lower chapel displays the kind of understated architecture that was in line with the austere way of life demanded of the Cistercian monks who occupied the monastery.
When Saint Louis stopped there with Eleanor of Aquitaine, at the end of the 12th century, she was so charmed by the austere monastery that she decided to grant it large sums of money.
Using these funds, during the next century the monastery was able to add a second one next to the first, the newer monastery being built in the gothic style. This marked the beginning of a period of growth for the abbey, which gradually began to exert more influence in the region. At the peak of its powers, the abbey owned all the lands within a 60 mi radius, and had its own port and saltworks on the coast. Growing rich, it expanded and its dependencies increased with its temporal power...
When the wars of religion broke out in the 16th century, it is not a huge surprise that the abbey should have been one of the preferred targets.
With the Wars of Religion and the French Revolution (during which the refectory and other buildings were lost), when the last monks left the abbey in 1793, much of it was left in a sad state of disrepair. However, it wasn't rebuilt, and when it was sold as a national property a year later, it was quickly forgotten (and became an agricultural property).
It was not until 1820 that it rose from anonymity once more, when the family of the current owners purchased the property and started to restore it in 1970.
The whole property was listed as a National Monument in 1986.
Abbaye de Fontdouce
17770 Saint-Bris-des-Bois, France
Tel.: +33 (0) 5 46 74 77 08
Opening hours:
In April, May, June, September, and October: open daily from 10:30am to 6:30pm
In July and August: open daily from 10:00am to 7:00pm

Abbaye-aux-Dames de Saintes abbey
Founded in the 11th century by Geoffroy Martel, the Count of Anjou, and his wife Agnès de Bourgogne, Abbaye-aux-Dames de Saintes was the first abbey for the women of Saintonge.
After its consecration in 1047, the abbey, which is dedicated to the Virgin Mary, grew in wealth and influence, and saw its temporal power extend considerably, largely thanks to the importance of its founders!
It was something of a 'deluxe' abbey, and the thirty abbesses who succeeded one another at its head all came from noble backgrounds: Agnès de Barbezieux (1134-1174), Françoise I de la Rochefoucault (1557-1606), Françoise II de Foix (1606-1666), etc.
Aware of the importance of the site, they continually worked to embellish it, and their efforts can still be seen today in the ruins of the cloister, which dates back to the 13th and 15th centuries, the 17th century convent and chapter house, and the façade and bell tower, which are among the best examples of 12th century Romanesque art.
It is one of the rare abbeys that experienced such a long period of prosperity, running for 740 years. However, as was the case of many other religious buildings, all monastic activity here stopped with the onset of the French Revolution. It was first turned into a prison, before being converted into a barracks by imperial decree in 1808.
The town purchased it in 1924 to restore it, and religious activities resumed in 1939.
Abbaye-aux-Dames de Saintes
Place de l'Abbaye, 17100 Saintes, France
Tel.: +33 (0) 5 46 97 48 48
Opening hours:
From 1st October to 31st March, from 2:00pm to 6:00pm; Saturdays from 2:00pm to 6:00pm
From 1st April to 30th September, from 10:00 am to 12:30 pm and from 2:00 pm to 7:00 pm; closed annually from 25th December to 16th January Entry price: £1.75 per person (free for children under 16)
Entry price with audioguide: £3.50 per person / £1.75 for children under 16

Saint-Jean-d'Angély Royal Abbey
Legend has it that the head of Saint John the Baptist was recovered by a monk, Felix, in Alexandria, and brought back by boat to Angoulins (to the south of La Rochelle). Here, King Pepin received him, having been told in a dream of its imminent arrival.
The amazing relic was then transported to Angeracum and placed in a monastery that was founded in order to keep it. As often happened, a village grew around the monastery.
Angeriacum first became Saint Jean d'Angéry, then Saint Jean d'Angély.
However, it was only to remain peaceful for a short time, because on three occasions (in 850, 860, and 876), it fell victim to attacks by Vikings who had settled in nearby Taillebourg.
During these attacks, the monastery was destroyed and the relic lost. Around 940, King Louis IV of France himself decided to build an abbey in Saint Jean d'Angély. It was officially founded in 1010 and became a very common stop on the Way of Saint James. In the years that followed, the abbey grew both in prosperity and power. However, the Hundred Years' War proved to be yet another stumbling block in the development of the region, which was the scene of violent battles.
Saint Jean d'Angély was plundered and occupied by the English, and was not liberated until 1372, by Du Guesclin. Troubled though this period was, it did not stop the construction of a gothic abbey from going ahead.
After the Hundred Years' War, the Wars of Religions struck with full force, because the town had become one of the main strongholds of the 16th century reform movement. During the confrontations, between 1562 and 1568, the abbey-church was destroyed and the town capitulated to Charles IX before falling into the hands of the Prince of Condé, a Huguenot general, in 1576. A new, temporary, abbey-church was built between 1608 and 1615, but as we all know, nothing temporary can be expected to last... When the now Huguenot town fell to King Louis XIII, the abbey was once more plundered and ruined.
During the dark period that followed, Saint Jean d'Angély lost all its rights as a reprisal for its time as a Huguenot town, but it was absolved by Louis XIV and was able to emerge into a new period of prosperity based on the brandy business.
The people of Saint-Jean-d'Angély being tough nuts to crack, the abbey was yet again rebuilt between 1622 and 1772. However, during the Revolution, work on the abbey-church (started in 1741) was brought to a halt and it remained incomplete but for the towers we can see today.
Over time, the abbey finally found tranquillity and is now a Historic Monument.
Today, visitors can look around all the buildings in which the monks lived, including the guests' hall, the abbot's sitting room, the refectory, and the cells.
Abbaye Royale de Saint-Jean d'Angely
17415 Saint-Jean-d'Angély, France
Tel.: +33 (0) 5 46 32 04 72
Opening hours:
From 1st July to 31st August, at 3:00pm, 4:00pm, and 5:00pm

Saint Pierre d'Aulnay church
Saint-Pierre d'Aulnay church is a UNESCO World Heritage Site, and for good reason, because it is without a doubt the prettiest and 'purest' Romanesque church in France. It was, and still is, a not to be missed stopping point on the Way of Saint James.
It was built in the 12th century in the pure Poitiers Romanesque style for buildings with side aisles.
The contrast between the external appearance of the building and its interior is considerable.
The church façade is rich in adornments and sculptures, for example, the 'Sermon Saintongeais' depicts the struggle between vice and virtue in large figures on the stones forming the central vault (the arches) of the doorway.
Entry to the church is through one of the magnificent doorways (to the west and south), and the purity and simple lines of the building's interior is just as impressive as its exterior.
The only sculpted features in this simple space are the capitals, which are decorated in a great variety of patterns.
Visitors can marvel at the depicted scenes: Dalilah cutting Samson's hair, animal figures, and even grotesque patterns.
An extremely rare bonus for a building so old is the trace of colouring that can still be seen on the sculpted tympanums decorating the two blind doorways.
Eglise Saint Pierre d'Aulnay
17470 Aulnay, France
Tel.: +33 (0) 5 46 33 14 44
Opening hours:
On request at reception from May to September
From Monday to Friday in July and August
Price: £2.60
Audio guided visits are available all year round from the Tourist Information Office, priced at £4.40

  • The Treasures of Saintonge , France
    The Treasures of Saintonge
    © Leonid Andronov / 123RF
Amy Adejokun
Amy Adejokun Expert destination France

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