Saturday, December 9, 2023

Advent postcards, Dissay and the Clain, Vienne

French Village Diaries cycling adventures Advent postcard Dissay Vienne
Advent postcards, Dissay, Vienne

Advent day nine 

Today’s cycling advent-ures postcard is from our cycling themed few days in the Vienne, and with a special mention to the river Clain and the small town of Dissay.


We were in the area to spend the day with the Vienne based UCI Women’s world professional cycling team, FDJ-Suez, who were putting on a bit of a show to launch their 2024 season. As well as a meet and greet the athletes, we had the chance to cycle alongside them and enjoy the Grand Départ spectacle in the evening. A good time was had by all, even if the weather wasn’t exactly joining in the celebratory mood.  

You have no idea how excited I was to realise our accommodation was just a few kilometres from Dissay that is home to one of the most beautiful Renaissance châteaux I’ve seen. We made good use of the sunshine on the Friday to get the bikes out and explore, enjoying the autumn colours that had clung on into December. Our first stop, naturally, was Dissay to take in the magnificence of these towers, turrets, crenelations and more. It even has a real moat with a little arched bridge crossing it and a formal parterre garden at the rear. This château dates back to the 15th century and was built by Pierre d’Amboise, the Bishop of Poitiers. It was used as a residence for bishops up until the Revolution and is now a spa hotel and restaurant, although sadly a little above our budget. I have to admit I had a little bit of château envy. 

French Village Diaries cycling adventures Advent postcard Dissay Vienne FDJ-Suez le Grand Départ 2024
FDJ-Suez women's pro world tour team for 2024

Friday, December 8, 2023

Advent postcards, Aulnay Charente-Maritime


French Village Diaries cycling adventures Advent postcard Aulnay Charente-Maritime
Advent postcards, Aulnay, Charente-Maritime

Advent day eight

The jet stream has once again turned on us, bringing wild, wet and windy weather this weekend. We did have exciting cycling plans, but for the moment, it looks like we’ll have to take a rain check in the morning – keep your fingers crossed please. At least I can look back on our summer fun and remember that wonderful feeling of the heat of the sun on my skin.


Aulnay, in the Charente-Maritime has been an important stop for pilgrims on the Chemins de Saint Jacques de Compostelle for hundreds of years and a special place for us since our first St Jean d’Angeley 100km-day cycle route in 2017. There is something quite magical about reaching Aulnay and the last twenty kilometres of the day.


This year Aulnay has featured twice on our cycling calendar. As well as being our last cake-break and offering cool shady grass to lay down on, with a view of the impressive church spire, on our 100km a day, it was also a cycle ride destination to explore it more on a Terra Aventura adventure. This, once again, took us to hidden places we’ve missed, and pointed out so much more details than we’d noticed despite many years of cycling here.


The church of St Pierre dates from the 12th Century and is a beauty. The spire draws you in from many kilometres out, and once you stand underneath the enormous carvings on the arched doorways, there is so much to see, one visit isn’t enough to appreciate it all.


I can’t wait to return to Aulnay next year, celebrating not only turning 53 but ten years of birthday 100kms-in-a day-bike rides.  

Thursday, December 7, 2023

Advent postcards, Rom Deux-Sèvres

French Village Diaries cycling adventures Advent postcard Rom Deux-Sèvres
Advent postcards, Rom, Deux-Sèvres

Advent day seven

Today for our cycling advent-ures postcard we are staying in our home department of the Deux-Sèvres and visiting the village of Rom. This is one of the most interesting villages we have revisited this year, as there was so much more to discover than we’d imagined. We had previously visited the cemetery where there are thirty Commonwealth War graves, mostly RAF Special Air Servicemen who lost their lives on 7th July 1944 during Operation Bulbasket. It is a sobering and moving place to visit and the RAF lay blue wreaths in September every year in remembrance.


Working in a museum, I decided that this year I needed to visit some of the other tourist sites locally, so when our visitors ask for information on things to see, I can do more than hand out a leaflet. We started our visit at the church, with its interesting stone tombs and painted chapels, but it was the Rauranum museum next door that we had really come to see, and it turned out to be the star of the visit.


Rom might be just a small rural village now, but two thousand years ago it was a major stage post along the Roman road that ran from Poitiers to Saintes. Rauranum was a vibrant place, home to around four thousand people and with visitors from all over Europe and north Africa. It was equipped with all the facilities you’d expect from an important Roman town and the remains of the stables and baths can be seen as you wander around the village. We visited the museum on a Sunday afternoon and were lucky enough to have it to ourselves. It might not be the biggest museum in France, but there a vast display of the artifacts found locally, and we also learned so much about the Roman history in the area. It is certainly somewhere I can now enthusiastically recommend to local tourists. 

Wednesday, December 6, 2023

Advent postcards, Embourie Charente

French Village Diaries cycling adventures advent postcard Embourie Charente
Advent postcards, Embourie, Charente

Advent day six

Today’s cycling advent-ures postcard is from a small village in the Charente, home to only around one hundred inhabitants but that kept a huge secret for hundreds of years. Hidden in a field above the village of Embourie are the remains of an impressive Gallo-Roman villa and many other artifacts have been uncovered in area in the last fifty years.


It is much to my shame that Embourie has been on our cycling radar for many years, including as a morning coffee stop on our Christmas Day picnic rides, but having regularly climbed up past the church, we had never before turned off the narrow main road and followed signs to the villa. In our defence, France (and particularly French villages) have a habit of enticing the traveller off their chosen path with intriguing signs for Dolmens, cheese farms, Roman villas etc that often result in a huge detour for something that is closed or rather unremarkable. I’ve made Adrian follow enough of these over the years to make him wary, but I’m happy to report that Embourie isn’t one of these wild goose chase detours. 


Closely following the Terra Aventura app, we had visited the church and ancient tombs in the cemetery, and taken a walk through the antique garden, set out to illustrate the planting and structure of a garden in a wealthy Gallo-Roman villa. It was finally time to find the villa. At the end of a flower edged lane, a short stretch along the hedgerow of a field led us to a marked-out area with low stone walls depicting the remains of the villa, with handily placed information boards to explain it all. Embourie might be small, but our visit was fascinating and there was so much more to discover than I was expecting. 

As I look back on our various outings this year, Gallo-Roman sites have featured many times from Saintes, in the Charente-Maritime, to Perigueux, in the Dordogne, to Rom in the Deux-Sèvres, where we will be visiting for tomorrow’s postcard. It is wonderful to live in an area with so much history, from so many different periods. 

Tuesday, December 5, 2023

Advent postcards, Grignols Dordogne

French Village Diaries cycling adventures advent postcard Grignols Dordogne
Advent postcards, Grignols, Dordogne

Advent day five

Today’s cycling advent-ures postcard is another from our Périgueux trip in June, where the village of Grignols and its impressive château caught my eye, thanks again to the Terra Aventura app.


We left Périgueux under perfect blue skies, taking the cycle path that follows the river Isle towards St Astier, enjoying the cool shade provided by the water and tree canopy, with the delicate scent of tilleul flowers in the air. I can almost feel the heat of that day, just from looking back at our photos.

Grignols was a sleepy place with a market halle and auberge (closed) at river level, a Renaissance château commanding a position high above, and narrow lanes with houses between them. It was a hot climb up to the château which really is a beauty and as the road wound up and around, there were no end of lovely views and vistas of Renaissance architecture and Dordogne countryside. The château is a private residence, so there is no access, but it was definitely worth the effort. 


It wasn’t just the château that I loved about Grignols, in the market halle I found several paper booklets, available for free, with a variety of treasure hunts to follow as you explored. This great idea for tourists of all ages, really showed the pride they have in their history and heritage. The only thing the village seemed to be missing was a picnic table for us to enjoy our ham and cheese baguettes, but just over the river Vern, we found a bench by a church where there was a sad little vide grenier (car boot sale) to entertain us too.