Angoulême’s Old Quarter

Angouleme is around two hundred miles southwest of Paris in the ‘Department’ of Charente. More importantly it happens to be about 19 km from Château L’Age Baston and is a lovely fortified town that sits on an elevated plateau with quaint, narrow streets, pavement cafés and open squares. Angoulême’s ‘old quarter’ was built high on top of a strategic limestone outcrop that was a superb defensive site and gave the inhabitants protection from a string of military invasions dating back to the 5th century. At the foot of the hill is the lovely winding River Charente that King Francois 1st described as, “The most beautiful river in my Kingdom”, but then he was a local boy.

Angouleme is famous for it’s paper production dating back several hundred years and the local area is still dotted with lots of old paper mills, now sadly in decline. It has been for long time the largest town in the Charente and the largest centre of industry and employment, which is why it is the capital of the department and where you will find the ‘Prefecture’ – the administrative centre.

When arriving in Angouleme, if you need information, head to the Tourist Centre on Bis Rue du Chat in the old quarter. There they have lots of free brochures and sight-seeing tips about what’s on and where to visit. Here’s a summary we prepared earlier:

The Town Hall of Angoulême is a major rebuild of the original Château d’Angoulême, which was a historic residence of counts and governors and even has a connection to Plantagenet Prince John of England (there’s a romantic story attached but you will have to come and visit to find out). The town acquired the chateau in the 19th century. Mayor Paul Abadie decided to completely tear down the main buildings whilst retaining the polygonal keep, a tower and the châtelet. After a visit to the town hall, another nearby building worth checking out is the 16th century townhouse called Hotel Saint-Simon where the French Renaissance architecture is exquisite.

There are two prominent churches in Angoulême; the Cathedral and the Church of Saint-Andre. The Romanesque cathedral has ornate décor and a super stone carved facade. The Church of Saint-Andre was built in the 12th century and is often visited by curious tourists drawn by its ‘lanterne des morts’ (lantern of the dead).

Angoulême also boasts of a number of interesting museums, the Museum of Paper and the Museum of Comic Books being the most remarkable. You might also consider a visit to the Museum of Angouleme which is in the Bishops palace next to the Cathedral and houses both a Museum of Fine Arts and a very good Archaeology Museum.

The month of September is an exciting time to join the locals on the ramparts for the “Circuit de Remparts” festival. It is an annual contest where racers from all over Europe bring their vintage cars to be admired and cheered on while they race past.

Another popular festival unique to the town is the International Comic festival. Once a year in the 4th week of January Angoulême is transformed as the must go-to place for comic enthusiasts, mural artists and cartoonists as well as lots of tourists. During this period, the streets are brought to life by participating mural artists, cartoonists, exhibitions, animations and crowds of enthusiasts and collectors. Don’t think Marvel Comics, think graphic novels, grown up story lines and partying.

The Angouleme plateau has winding cobble streets, superb architecture and that proper European urbanity that is hard to find outside the old world. In short, it’s well worth a visit.

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