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Undiscovered France

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1 Place Saint-Pierre, 16000 Angoulême, France
The Poitou-Charentes region of France has some wonderful Romanesque churches. Pre-dating Gothic architecture, they're full of carvings of fantastical beasts. The facade on this church (Cathédrale Saint-Pierre d'Angoulême) faces west, and lights up...
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1 Place Saint-Pierre, 16000 Angoulême, France
The Angouleme cathedral was finished in 1128 - amazing to study the carvings on its facade. There's a scene of a hunt, some unusual beasts, and a lesson about going to heaven or hell. All beautifully carved.
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The covered market at Angouleme is more than 100 years old, and full of good things. I particularly liked the cheesemongers and seafood. It's right in the old town, across from the Mercure Hotel.
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1 Place de l'Hôtel de ville, 16000 Angoulême, France
The city hall in Angouleme is part ancient castle towers, part neo-Gothic fantasy. The architect who built it left his signature in the form of a stone cat, placed atop the roof. You can climb the towers, remains of a castle built by King Francois...
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2 Place du Château, 16200 Jarnac, France
The new museum at Courvoisier's headquarters chateau has some cool Napoleon swag, including this well-used hat. Napoleon had an affinity for Courvoisier, thus the connection. (Who knows - maybe that hand inside his tunic was holding a glass of the...
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2 Place du Château, 16200 Jarnac, France
This Cognac tasting is really different. You put on a blindfold and they waft scents into the room that can be found in the Cognac - vanilla, floral, citrus peel. After inhaling each scent, you try to discern it in in the glass of Cognac. The...
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2 Place du Château, 16200 Jarnac, France
This may be the best-smelling warehouse you'll ever visit! Cognac is aging in barrels here and the escaping "angels' share" scents the building with the heady aroma of brandy. Cognac is usually assembled from many different component vintages from...
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74 Grand Rue, 16200 Jarnac, France
Hôtel Ligaro is one of those chic-but-cozy little hotels that you just don't want to leave. It's run by a delightful Irish woman who's married to a French chef (his Restaurant du Chateau is quite good, too). The buildings are hundreds of years...
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6 Rue Saint-André, 16000 Angoulême, France
The town of Angouleme is the "Comic Strip Capital" of France, with a major cartoon museum, and a huge international comics festival every year. There are also more than 30 comics murals on buildings around town. It's a good treasure hunt to track...
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20 Rue Lacurie, 17100 Saintes, France
It's not so easy to locate this huge, ruined Roman amphitheater in Saintes, France. But it's well worth the effort. You can climb all around it and even walk out into the middle of it. No crowds and no fake gladiators to spoil the mood! There's...
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10 Quai Joseph Bellot, 17300 Rochefort, France
This building is 370 meters long - nearly four football fields! It was commissioned by Louis XIV for the naval shipyard he created at Rochefort. Inside, rope used to be made, stretching the building's entire length. Now it's a fascinating museum...
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Le Jamblet, 17123 Île-d'Aix, France
On this island, about 20 minutes by ferry off of France's Atlantic coast, there are no cars. Everyone gets around by bicycle. So dogs can lie in the middle of the road and kids can run free. It's an idyllic spot, with just one hotel, a few...
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Le Jamblet, 17123 Île-d'Aix, France
On Ile d'Aix, off of France's Atlantic coast, you can bike to an oyster shack and have an al fresco feast of oysters, bread and white wine. It couldn't be more perfect! To get there, you take a 20-minute ferry ride from Fouras, in the...
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Le Jamblet, 17123 Île-d'Aix, France
Île d'Aix, 20 minutes by ferry off of France's Atlantic coast is a car-free haven lost in time. Lighthouses, amazing sunsets, bicycles, oysters...Can I go back right now??
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Le Jamblet, 17123 Île-d'Aix, France
I happened to be on Ile d'Aix, off the Atlantic coast of France, the day before the Hermione, a replica of the ship that the Marquis de Lafayette sailed to the U.S. with aid during the Revolutionary War, set sail for America. It's a gorgeous ship...
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Rue Pernelle, 17000 La Rochelle, France
This is one of the towers that guards the port of La Rochelle, Climb up for great views of the old city, the port and the Atlantic Ocean - and to see the ancient interior rooms. Afterward, reward yourself with a seafood feast at one of the...
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Quai Louis Prunier, 17000 La Rochelle, France
La Rochelle has an excellent aquarium, with displays full of French flair and creativity. At one point, you walk across a floor where projected fish are swimming and they dash away from your feet. I could have spent all afternoon playing with it....
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8 Rue Saint-Nicolas, 17000 La Rochelle, France
This bar looks like it hasn't changed in a hundred years, from the time when sailors used to hang out here. Now the customers are mostly college students. If you like time travel, this is your place!
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20-30 Rue Rambaud, 17000 La Rochelle, France
Yes, really -- this is a Best Western! They're quite different in Europe from the U.S. This one is in a lovely old "hotel particular" (private house). The real bonus is the hidden garden in the back, where you can have a drink or breakfast. TIP:...
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2 Rue de l'Église, 79510 Coulon, France
Nearly a thousand years ago, French monks dug canals to drain a huge swamp in the Poitou-Charentes region. Today, it's national parkland and you can rent a flat-bottomed boat to explore 500-plus miles of tree-lined canals. You can spot birds and...
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31 Rue Gabriel Auchier, 79510 Coulon, France
At the little village of Coulon, you can rent a boat to explore 500-plus miles of canals in the Marais Poitevin - an ancient swamp drained by monks. There are also places to get a bite, food shops selling products made with locally grown angelica,...
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113 Grand'Rue, 86000 Poitiers, France
This small candle-making operation hasn't changed for hundreds of years. They still use ancient equipment to dip the candles. If you ask nicely inside the small shop, they might invite you back to see the candle-maker at work. You can also buy...
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14 Rue Édouard-Grimaux, 86000 Poitiers, France
A former church was transformed into a hotel to spectacular effect. Here's a view from the breakfast room balcony down into the restaurant. The rooms contain various architectural elements of the church. My room, up in the vaulted ceiling was a...
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14 Rue Édouard-Grimaux, 86000 Poitiers, France
In the soaring space of this former chapel, you can get a reasonably priced, beautifully prepared fixed price meal. Delicious and fresh! There's also a Cognac bar where you can imbibe after dinner, too.
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10 Place Alphonse le Petit Palais des comtes du Poitou et Ducs d'Aquitaine, 86000 Poitiers, France
Now inside Poitier's Palace of Justice, this vast hall was part of Eleanor of Aquitaine's palace. It was said to be so big that the sound of footsteps was lost - thus the name. Don't miss the t huge, carved fireplaces at one end. It's free to...
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26 Rue Saint-Hilaire, 86000 Poitiers, France
Built in the 11th century, this is one of the most spectacular Romanesque churches I've ever seen, with arches on top of arches that take the ceiling to soaring heights. It's a stop on the Santiago de Compostela pilgrimage route, signified by a...
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44 Rue de la Cathédrale, 86000 Poitiers, France
The Grand Rue (in reality, a rather narrow little street) in Poitiers has a number of artisanal businesses. This one specializes in hand-made umbrellas. With one of these overhead, I don't think a rainy day would ever get me down!
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Rue Jean-Jaurès, 86000 Poitiers, France
Built on Roman foundations in the 4th century, this baptistery is reputed to be the oldest Christian building in France. You can still see beautiful 6th-century frescoes high on the walls. It's a place of great atmosphere, and is also home to a...