Saint Jean d’Angely…..

Our local town of Saint Jean d’Angely

Just a 10km easy drive from our family holiday cottages, La Grange du Moulin and Les Vallaies lies the market town of Saint Jean d’Angely. With a population of just 7000 it has a surprising number of great facilities. There are two large supermarkets plus several smaller ones; providing a good array of produce including fresh milk, big familiar names (Kelloggs, Nescafé and even PG tips in the foreign foods section)

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The town also boasts a thrice weekly local market (Wednesday and Saturday mornings and a smaller Sunday morning one too) Here you can wander the cobbled medieval streets with the locals and pick up fresh fish, oysters and mussels, home grown vegetables, as well as local wines and cheeses.

Restaurants, cafés and bars

After practicing your French chatting to the producers and picking up some local delights for your evening meal you can relax in a café bar and watch the local life go by. There are dozens of bars where you can sit outside and soak up the atmosphere of a small French town. ‘Ellis park’ and ‘Rum runners’ are two of the most central ones, located on the place du Pilori. The children can run in and out of the tables and peer into the ornate Pilori well (don’t worry it’s covered !) whilst you enjoy a morning coffee. When my two were young, they used to enjoy dipping their croissants a large hot chocolate – very French !

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The town also boasts a good selection of restaurants from simple bistros to top class cuisine. Le Scorlion and La Goule Beneze are two restaurants worthy of a babysitter. Enjoy a night out whilst I (a registered childminder) look after your children in your holiday cottage. Alternatively enjoy one of the many family restaurants the town has to offer – L’Annexe and Le Cabanon bistros,  Les Jacobins pizzeria, Le Mareyeur fish restaurant or La creperie de l’Abbeye for some simple crepes. All the restaurants do however not open until 7pm in the evening and many are closed on Sunday and Monday. We can make reservations for you.

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History of Saint Jean d’Angely

The town of Saint Jean d’Angely has had a long and brutal history. The Abbey is the main feature of the town. It was founded in the ninth century to house a relic of Saint John the Baptist, and rebuilt in the 14th, 17th and 18th centuries because of repeated destruction. The Abbey was then abandoned and is now a listed building.

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Saint Jean d’Angely is situated on the pilgrim route that led to Santiago de Compostela] the edifice still constitutes a major stopping-off point for pilgrims. Since 1989, the Royal Abbey has housed the Centre of European Culture, which has breathed new life into the Abbey by restoring it as a historical and cultural site and as a place for the exchange of ideas.

For a small town it has a great selection of fun family things to do:

Atlantys swimming pool centre

Again for a small town, we are privileged to have such a great indoor swimming centre. The Atlantys swimming pool center boasts a 25m sports pool, a 5m deep diving pool and most importantly a large kids pool with fountains, hot tub, baby pool and huge slide.

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On Saturday mornings (10-12) outside school holidays (so June and September) the pool is exclusively open for the under 4’s, the temperature is turned up, change mats and pottys are supplied by the pool and the pool is filled with balls, floats, mats, climbing frames and all manner of fun stuff for little ones – I went every week with my two when they were toddlers, this is where they learnt to swim at such a young age.

In summer holidays it is open every day. The doors open up into a sunbathing area and play area for the little ones. There’s also a café for snacks.  There’s no time limit on how long you stay. Clean changing rooms, lockers (need a 2€ coin- refunded after) toilets and showers. Be warned – men and boys (even toddlers) MUST wear tight fittening swimwear – no loose swim shorts allowed and this is enforced. Suitable swimwear can be purchased from a vending machine inside but may be cheaper to buy them beforehand.

The Atlantys swimming pool center is just next to the Saint Jean d’Angely park, so you can easily spend the day here.

Saint Jean d’Angely park

located next door to the Atlantys swimming pool center (follow the signs for the hospital and the urgences until you pick up signs for the Base de Loisirs or Plan d’eau (both mean the park) there’s plenty of parking but only one toilet next to the café so go before you walk over to the other side of the park to the play area !

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Located on the lake you can hire canoes and pedaloes and it’s linked to the river Boutonne, so you can take your canoe further afield if you wish. There are some (signposted ) lovely walks, there’s a café /restaurant open in summer, a football pitch, ping pong table, mini golf, skateboard parc, childrens play park and rope climbing web. Take a picnic and feed the ducks. It’s a very easy and pleasurable afternoon out.

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Saint Jean d’Angely itself

The town itself is a pleasure to walk around with its cobbled streets and medieval buildings. The tour de l’horloge is worth a look – push open the door and climb the steps. (open mid june to mid sept, tues- sun, 10.30-12.30 and 14.30 – 19.00 & FREE !) wander around the old abbey, take a look at the ceiling in the library and the beautiful old herb market too (now the indoor market) On a rainy day maybe pop into the museum des cordeliers which among other things has a fabulous exhibition of the expeditions of Citroen in Africa in the 1920’s (open tues – sun, 10.30 – 12.30 & 13.30 to 18.00 from mid june to mid sept, see web site for openings at other times)

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All in all our local town of Saint Jean d’Angely has a wonderful history and although small is a bustling, vibrant town (just don’t go on a Monday when it’s asleep !) and has everything you will need for an enjoyable self catering stay at our family friendly holiday cottages here in the Charente Maritime region of south west France.

Content by Wendy Blakeman

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Aulnay market

2015-07-05 11.20.49  The Sunday morning market in Aulnay de Saintonge in the Charente Maritime department of SW France has been a regular haunt of ours over our 20 years of living here and it’s still as popular as ever.

This bar/restaurant ‘Le Colombier’ on the market square is where we sit and enjoy a drink and watch the world go by both on a hot summers day and a cold crisp sunny day in mid winter. The first time we went we asked for a croissant (or three) to dip in out hot chocolate, as all good French people do. To our surprise they did not (and still don’t) serve croissant and suggested we pop over to the boulangerie on the other side of the square to purchase some – which of course we did and still do.

The market itself is quite small – I often tell guests they could hold their breath walking around it ! Its not quite accurate but it isn’t a huge market – but it’s quality not quantity that matters and in this delightful small market town you can purchase anything from a mattress to mussels, or fennel to flowers.

2015-07-05 11.50.19 Over the years a number of British ex pats have started up businesses here, you can buy English books from Bens book store to beautiful hand painted cards from Angela Berry designs; even the famous ‘Popsy’ started out here selling takeaway Indian – she now has a thriving restaurant in St Jean d’Angely with a good mix of both British and French clientele.

The Brits have not in anyway taken away from the French nature of the market at all, there is still a majority of very French owned stalls selling oysters and octopus; garlic and grillon, saucisse and snails.

 

The flower stall is one of our favourites and you’ll always be faced with a long queue to purchase a beautiful bouquet for an amazingly low price, the owner does the Saturday morning market in Saint Jean d’Angely too. Just ask him to make up a bouquet for 20€ and you’ll be amazed at what you get.

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The flower stall is one of our favourites at the Aulnay de Saintonge Sunday market

This is also the place to purchase your Sunday ‘fruit de mer’ platter, choose from an array of delicious seafood, fresh fish, oysters and mussels.

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An ideal Sunday morning outing when staying at our family friendly holiday cottages La Grange du Moulin and Les Vallaies here in the Charente Maritime, France. Then why not have a leisurely lunch at your holiday cottage with all the delicious charcuterie, fresh salads and seafood you have purchased before heading over to St Savinien ‘port miniature’ – an absolute must for families with young children.

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content by Wendy Blakeman   wendy@childfriendlygites.com

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Aulnay de Saintonge

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Last Wednesday I was taking Thomas to his football training and we were a little early. It was a beautiful day so I suggested a wander around the ‘new’ garden next to the 12th century church; I say new, it’s been there a while but I just havn’t had a reason to visit it until now.

Aulnay de Saintonge was founded in the 1st century AD as a Roman Camp known as Aunedonnacum as it lies at the crossroads of some important Roman roads. Centuries later it became an important stop for pilgrims on the route to Saintiago de Compostela. The beautiful church was built in the mid 12th century but the graveyard surrounding it is much older and the discovery of over 1500 sepultres (tombs) under ground led to the inspiration for the garden.

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The garden itself is actually two gardens in one – superimposed over each other. The most obvious is the medieval style garden with geometric shapes and built from materials of the era. It is planted with medicinal and herbal plants as well as fruiting trees and vegetables as it would of been in that period of history. The ‘second’ garden was inspired by the archeological finds of ultrasound of the area surrounding the church which revealed an unknown chapter in the history of ancient Aulnay.

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The metal sculptures symbolise the sarcophagi in stone beneath your feet and the clusters of small bushes, the tombs made from materials such as wood which have of course since perished but their trace can still be picked up on the ultrasound.

We had a delightful wander around this small but interesting garden on a gorgeous February morning and captured some lovely shots of the church itself too. Unfortunately I did not have time after dropping Thomas at football to take the short stroll into the town centre to enjoy a hot chocolate in the bright winter sun at one of the several bars in town.

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We recommend a visit to Aulnay to our families staying in our holiday cottages, on a Sunday morning. Each Sunday the town has a small but delightful, bustling market. An ideal place to pick up some fresh salad, fish and meats to enjoy later in the day when you light up the barbecue. Being on holiday you will have time to grab some fresh croissants at the boulangerie (so good the queue stretches into the street) and then sit at one of the bars outdoor tables in the sunshine enjoying the buttery flaky delights over a hot chocolate or coffee and watch the world go by. Since they were tiny I have taken our two boys for hot chocolate and croissants there. It’s only a 10min drive from our cottages so an ideal short trip out.

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After your hot chocolate you could take a stroll along to the church and these gardens (to walk off the croissants !) then maybe head over to the little playground – even my two at 11 and 9 yrs still enjoy playing there for a little while before heading home.

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A lovely way to spend a Sunday morning when staying at any of our family friendly cottages here in the Charente Maritime, France

For further details of all our properties grangedumoulin.com and lesvallaies.com visit the links on the navigation bar at the top of the page

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Content by Wendy Blakeman

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Cognac

All Cognac is brandy but not all brandy is Cognac – Cognac can only be made in a specific area surrounding this French town of the same name in the Charente department of the Poitou-Charente region of western France just an easy 30min drive from our family holiday accommodation.

The town itself is a prosperous one with medieval cobbled streets that fan out from a delightful riverside quarter.  On the river is where you’ll find the largest concentration of chais or cellars where the Cognac is matured.  It’s not hard to spot these world famous chais as their walls are covered with ”torula coniacensis” a microscopic fungus which feeds on the vapours of alcohol, known as the ”Angels’s Share”.  There are many Cognac houses to visit including Otard, Martell and Hennessy Cognac, which keeps 180,000 barrels in stock. Here (and in all the distilleries) you’ll discover the fine art of Cognac making and the secret of blending, as all run regular tours throughout the year and all end with a tasting.

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Martell distillery

We highly recommend participating in one of these organised tours as even young children are kept interested.  Cognac is what our area is all about and you should not miss learning more about it. The vineyards growing grapes for the Cognac industry are grown in 6 zones which all have differing ‘terroirs’ (soil/rock compositions)

 

These differing terroirs give the wines and subsequently the eau de vies, they produce differing properties – some giving body and depth, others giving longevity – essentially Cognac is a blended product and it is down to the expertise of each ‘houses’ master taster to ensure the specific character of their individual product year in year out . Our own family holiday accommodation is in the Fin Bois zone and we have our very own local Cognac producer 2 mins away from our cottages ! Producers of Cognac must obtain an Appellation d’origine contrôlée meaning its production methods must meet certain quality requirements. In particular, it must be made from specified grapes such as Ugni blanc, which makes for rather an acidic wine – but is perfect for distillation, it is distilled twice in copper stills and aged for at least two years in French oak barrels from the Limousin or Tronçais forests but you will learn all about the ins and outs on your tour.

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Otard Cognac house is set in the Chateau de Cognac or Chateau des Valois as it is also known

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

The Hennessey tour is quick moving and although lasting 1hr15 it never stops for more than 5 or 10mins in one place, with lots of exciting sounds and smells inside the chai to keep even the littlest holidaymaker entertained – there’s even a boat trip across the river. We particularly enjoy the short film with the sounds and sites of the Vendange or grape harvest, as having participated in this experience every year since we moved here, we can vouch for the fact it is a very realistic view of how it is – children laughing and playing, the chatter of the pickers and yes even singing !

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Vendange 2014 – the boys are old enough now to actually do some work rather than just eating the grapes !

 

The layout of the tour means you can always sneak out if toddler has a ‘terrible twos’ moment and rejoin when he’s ready to carry on . You can also bribe them with a trip to the park afterwards – we always did when ours were tiny.

 

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André mermet parc, loads of space to run and play

The Andre Mermet park in Cognac has loads of fun things for children including bouncy castles and a splash pool in peak season. All the play equipment is free to use but for access to the bouncy castles and splash pool you will need to purchase a wristband but gives access all day long. You could spend the whole day there or pop to and fro perhaps spending lunch at the nearby La Courtine restaurant, set close to the river Charente. It has a ‘pub’ like interior, so it’s informal dining but has a superb terrace , so a beautiful spot to enjoy a relaxed lunch on a warm summers day. We have eaten there several times and always had a delicious meal.

You can park for free along the river and walk up into the town itself where you’ll find lots more restaurants of all flavours and budgets; there’s lots of cafés, brasseries and fine dining, so something for everyone – you may prefer just to take a picnic and sit in the jardin public a lovely green space in the center of town, watching the world go by. There are lots of shopping opportunities and a morning market which is on Tuesday to Sunday and also lots of cultural sites to see too; museums, the church Saint Léger, the chateau des Valois and lots of beautiful French medieval architecture such as the Maison de la Lieutenance.

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Cognac town center

If you’d like to visit Cognac then why not take a look at our family holiday accommodation we have on offer close by. Visit us at

www.french-gites-and-villas.com and

www.child-friendly-gites.com

Content By Wendy Blakeman 

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La Palmyre

The word ‘Zoo’ has some very negative associations and so I try to avoid using the description to our guests before I have described what a fantastic place this is to visit when staying at zoo04-270x210
our family holiday cottages and stick with the ‘animal park’ which doesn’t sound so controversial.

Every year, millions of people visit zoos around the world, some are amazing others should be closed immediately; La Palmyre is one of the former. They have assumed an active role in the protection of rare species threatened with extinction and are a ‘centre of education and environmental consciousness-raising’

La Palmyre are a member of the European Endangered Species Program, where global coordinators are given responsibility for different endangered species. Their goal is to optimize a species’ ‘reproductive conditions by setting up groups and avoiding any
inbreeding. This may involve sending a particular animal to another zoo, so a primate born at La Palmyre might end up starting a family in Tokyo.’

zoo1-250x195La Palmyre Zoo is also a founder member of CEPA (Conservation of Animal Species and Populations), which was founded in 1997 to focus on species that are both seriously endangered and generally neglected because little known, such as the Amur leopard or Tahiti monarch. There is particular emphasis on the wild animals of France’s overseas departments. Further information on their missions can be found on their site here
www.zoo-palmyre.com

Everyone who visits the La Palmyre zoo always returns with glowing reports, most sayingIMG_1290-250x187 it is the best zoo they have ever visited and we agree.We ourselves go every year, our boys never tire of running around the shady paths getting really close to so many animals, having the huge wet tongue of a giraffe lick over your hand to eat popcorn (provided by the zoo) and goats run around you feet and nudge your bottom to get the last crumbs from your pockets left by the giraffes. Its a full day out and in peak season we recommend leaving early to get there as the gates open, to avoid the crowds. It does get unbearably busy later on, so its best to keep ahead of the crowds by starting early (I’m talking about an 8am start from your gite) In May, June and September this isn’t such an issue as the French children are still at school – just avoid weekends and Wednesdays when the school children are off at any time of year. Its a great place to be with toddlers when its quieter as they can run around freely, chasing peacocks and shouting out all the animals names as they see them.

IMG_1276-187x250There are a few ‘snack bars’ but we recommend taking a few sandwiches and sitting on one of the many benches under the shade of the huge pine trees for a leisurely picnic or if you have really little ones who arn’t worried about reading every bit of info about each
animal, then you could be out by lunchtime and have a meal in nearby La Palmyre town.

Toilets are dotted regularly along the trail but be warned, many of the smaller blocks are still the old fashioned hole in the ground – doesn’t bother my boys but my nieces arn’t so keen to use them !  There are baby changing facilities too.

All in all a fantastic day out for all the family and in our top ten sites to visit when staying at La Grange du Moulin or Les Vallaies family holiday cottages.

content by Wendy Blakeman

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La Rochelle – a great day out

When staying with us at our family holiday cottages in the Charente Maritime region of western France, La Rochelle is a ‘must see’ and very probably number one on our list of family days out.

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The area has been inhabited since before Roman times. The Romans used the area for the production of salt (still produced today on the salt flats of the nearby Ile de Re and Il d’Oleron )and of wine. It became an important port in the 12th century; became
English for 12 years in the 14th century and then became an independent protestant republic in the 16th century. More recently it was an important German stronghold during the war with a submarine base and was the last French city to be liberated. Today La Rochelle has a population of around 80,000 and is an important tourist centre being the third most visited city in France.

Being just an easy one hour drive from our holiday cottages, La Rochelle has so much to offer for a full day out. Before you start, pop a bottle of wine in the fridge for later.

We recommend starting the day early (particularly in peak season) and arriving at the La Rochelle aquarium at around opening time (9am in summer)  You could quite easily spend several hours visiting this popular attraction, so to get in early before the crowds is
highly recommended particularly if you have young children.

aquarium-220x162The tour starts with a descent to the depths of the ocean in a submarine disguised as a lift and when the doors open you are immediately surrounded by fish, rays and even sharks. The aquarium is divided into the oceans and waters of the world, so you’ll travel

from the Mediterranean to the Atlantic, to the Pacific, the Caribbean, the Indian ocean, lagoons and finally to the tropics giving a great insight into the flora and fish found in these very differing waters.

Why we love the La Rochelle aquarium so much is that it is so child friendly and we mean toddler and baby friendly too. We have been taking our children here since they were tiny and they loved crawling up to the huge tanks that rise from floor level, so even on hands
and knees your baby will get a great view. The star attraction is the three story shark tank where you can sit and watch these majestic creatures to the sounds of classical music; however my two adore their own star attraction which can be found in a hallway ! Its an
interactive projection of fish swimming on the carpet – when you walk or jump and ‘splash’ in the projected water the fish scatter to your movements – we love it and the boys will happily spend 20mins trying to catch the fish !

The tour ends in the obligatory gift shop where you can purchase large fluffy turtles and sharks if you wish. There is a restaurant there too which by all accounts is very good but we prefer to move onto our next La Rochelle highlight – Andrés seafood restaurant.

Content by Wendy Blakeman

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Saint Savinien

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Saint Savinien in the Charente Maritime department of the Poitou Charente region of France, just an easy 30 drive from our affordable family friendly cottages

It has a weekly market and an annual wine fair. Wander the small winding streets up to the church, buy some fresh oysters and fruit for lunch and then picnic by the Charente on a hot summers afternoon.However, you must not miss the ‘port miniature’ and the children would never forgive you if you did !

P1030622-150x150-186x186In the park is a large lake with two canals. Here you will find the’Port Minaiture’ where over the last 20yrs the vision of l’ATELIER DU MARTIN PÊCHEUR has been achieved through his own hard work. All the boats have been carefully constructed from scratch,
beautifully designed and painted and put to work (on sunny days) on the lake which he alone has modified with hand dredged canals and handmade Japonese bridges.

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There are a flotilla of different boats from cross channel ferries, to tugs and the rainbow warrior. Each boat is chosen for its captain and crew depending on their age and number. From 9yrs and over you can captain your own low sided tug boat, for the toddlers with mum and dad in tow, you’ll get the high sided Britanny ferries cross channel ferry (with a life jacket too).

When staying at our family friendly holiday cottages in Charente Maritime, France, St Savinien is a lovely afternoon trip out where you can play in the park, relax with an ice cream and cold drink in the shade, have a meal in a restaurant or picnic by the side of the river and the whole family can enjoy a ride out on one of these beautifully crafted electric boats.

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content by Wendy Blakeman

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