On the trail of the Romans in Saintes – Part 1

The Arch of Germanicus in Saintes, Charente-Maritime, France

The town of Saintes in the Charente-Maritime of France is a delightful town with lots of history to explore and discover. It was built by the Romans who called it “Mediolanum Santonum”, as it was built on the territory of the Santons, a gallic people. Mediolanum Santonum became the capital of Aquitaine and was one of the largest cities in Roman Gaul.

Roman remains can be found all over Saintes, and in this post I will concentrate on the Arch of Germanicus and nearby remains.

The arch was built around 18-19 AD and stood originally at the front of the bridge that crossed the river Charente, the road linking the Atlantic Ocean to Lyon and onwards to Rome; the end of the famous Via Agrippa.

View over the river Charente

The arch was built to honour the Roman Emporer Tiberius, his son Drusus, and his adopted son Germanicus. Incidentally, Germanicus was Tiberius’ nephew and also brother to Emporer Claudius.

When the old bridge was demolished in the 19th century, the arch was dismantled, and then rebuilt and restored. It now stands along the river near the tourist office at the end of the Rue de l’Arc de Triomphe.

Arch of Germanicus

Speaking of the tourist office, right next to it you will find the Archaeological Museum with lots of Roman columns on display outside of the building. While we did not visit the museum, I have heard good things about it, and a cost of only 3 Euros (at time of writing) it hardly breaks the bank!

Roman remains outside of the Archaeological Museum next to Saintes’ tourist office

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Talmont-sur-Gironde – the village without cars

Church of St. Radegonde in Talmont-sur-Gironde

About a 40 minute drive along the coast south of Royan is the beautiful village of Talmont-sur-Gironde. Talmont used to be an island and in the Middle Ages was a citadel, today it is a peninsula where no cars are allowed, with the exceptions of some locals who navigate the small winding roads with care.

As a visitor you are required to park your car in the visitors car park for a fee (€3 at time of writing) and then walk across to the entry of the village. We went for a day trip, but Talmont does have some small hotels/B&Bs for an overnight (or longer) stay.

As you enter the village look out for some of the original ramparts, which were built in 1284 on the orders of King Edward I.

The most striking view is that of the church of St. Radegonde, a Romanesque church built in the 12th century by the monks of the abbey of Saint-Jean-d’Angely. The inside of the church is as imposing as the outside.

We walked along the outer edge of the village before we slowly made our way down the wonderful narrow roads. Around each corner a pretty view could be found with traditional houses, shutters, and wonderful flowers and gardens.

There are a number of cafes and restaurants as well as gift shops, artisan workshops and galleries, catering to almost every taste. Additionally, the fact that the village juts out into the Gironde estuary means that you should be able to enjoy the views of some wildlife; we were lucky enough to see a white egret and a kingfisher, plus a few crabs.

Be aware, as always, that this village can get very busy during the height of summer, so either travel outside of July and August (we went in September), or plan to be there early in the morning to beat the crowds.

 

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Unexpected find

During our drive along the Atlantic coast, and after we had visited the dunes of La Coubre, we happened upon a small fun fair in Ronce-les-Bains. Unfortunately we got there just at closing time, so weren’t able to do much other than to admire the ferris wheel.

Grande Roue De Ronce-Les-Bains

Grande Roue De Ronce-Les-Bains

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Phare de La Coubre – great sunset by the lighthouse

Phare de La Coubre

This is the Phare de La Coubre, the lighthouse that sits on the northern end of the Gironde Estuary in the Charente Maritime in France.

To get here, you have to drive/cycle/walk through the La Coubre forest, which runs along the coast. We arrived at the dunes in the eveing as the sun was setting over the Atlantic. We took a path through the forest which eventually led to a rather steep dune (walking uphill in sand was much harder than I remembered!). Once on the top though, we had a wonderful view!

I have since found out that you can actually climb up to the lighthouse for a small fee, in return you get 300 steps to climb! For opening hours and entry fees visit the lighthouse website.

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The carrelets of the Charente Maritime

The carrelets of the Charente Maritime

All along the Atlantic coast of the Charente Martime in France you come across these “sheds on stilts” with square nets hanging off them. These are the carrelets locals use to catch anything that happens to pass by. Their distinctive spidery appearance is due to the timber poles having to be tall enough to account for the highest spring tides and any other sea conditions that may occur.

The current design dates back to just after WWI, prior to this round smaller nets were used. Over the years a large number of them had to be reconstructed due to storms taking their toll on them. There was a period when the carrelets were considered an eyesore; in the way of people’s enjoyment of “unspoilt” nature, however, this tide of opinion has turned and the surviving carrelets are now valued as part of the areas heritage.

As ever in France, there is a lot of red tape around these structures. Firstly, the number and location of these are tightly controlled; secondly, you don’t actually own the carrelet, instead you rent it from the state for an annual fee and any reconstruction is at your cost. There are a lot of hoops to jump through if you want to build a new carrelet in place of a previously demolished structure, which again, you will not own, but the cost of building is yours to bear! There are regulations with regards to size, shape, materials to be used and even colour.

 

We found these wonderful structures on our drive along the coast north from Royan to the La Coubre lighthouse and I was lucky enough that we had a wonderful sunset that evening.

 

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Église Notre Dame de Royan

The Église Notre Dame de Royan

When you are in Royan you cannot miss the concrete tower that is the Église Notre Dame de Royan, a post war concrete block of a church. The original church that used to stand there was destroyed during WWII. It’s replacement, built between 1955 to 1958, is not perhaps as aestetically pleasing on the outside as some churches we visited, but still has some great appeal with its leading lines. I was expecting a lot of bulking concrete inside, so when we stepped in via an unasuming side door, I was not prepared for the awe inspiring interior that presented itself.

Looking towards the altar

I totally forgot that the church is made from concrete, instead I marvelled at the massive space which was not interrupted by any internal pillars, the wonderful glass windows illuminated by the light shining in, and the magnificent organ. The church holds up to 2,000 people, consists of 24 pillars on the elliptical circumference, and the organ is a masterpiece of over 3,000 pipes.

The organ

 

The church is easily reached on foot, as it is only a 10 minute walk from the waterfront and about the same distance from the town center; entrance is free. However, if you are planning to visit this church during your visit to Royan, please check to see if it is open, as there are a number of renovations planned. We missed some, which had been ongoing earlier in the year.

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Royan – a beautiful seaside town

Our trip to France started in Royan, a seaside town just 1.5 hours drive north of Bordeaux. Royan sits on France’s Atlantic coast at the mouth of the Gironde estuary and has a population of just under 20,000. We visited in September, and while there were still tourists in town, it was not as busy as I am sure it must be in the height of the summer months. Our hotel, the Brit Hermitage, was a wonderful little place that served a really great breakfast. Sitting right by the water it was the perfect base for us.

We had been to Royan before, on a day trip, so we were excited to be back for longer this time around. We couldn’t wait to get to the beach, living in Alberta, where the nearest coast is a 12 hour drive away, it was the number one priority for us. It did not disappoint!

The photos below are from our walk along the main beach, La Grande Conche, which, aside from the beach, showcases a number of different architectual styles, from traditional to modern, and everything in between.

La Grande Conche, Royan, France

Royan’s harbour

Looking back at the harbour from La Grande Conche

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French markets – How I already miss them!

Since returning from our trip to France last month I have really missed being able to pop to a local market that is full of fresh produce, bread, flowers, meats, cheese and fish! In the summer months we do have a little local market here in town, but what’s on offer is limited and a lot of the stalls are offering non-food items. So we made full use of the markets we came across during our little french trip. Most little towns have at least a weekly market and some of the bigger towns have more than that. We stayed in Saintes for a number of days and found out that it has a market every day other than Sundays and each of them in a different location!

Each market is different in size, but all have at least one stall each offering fresh produce, flowers, bread, fish, meat, or cheese. I loved shopping at the markets, you always get fantastic service and advise from the stall owner and the quality of the products are unmatched. I cannot wait until we move and I will have access once again to this wonderful tradition of shopping locally. It’s strange how I have always taken this for granted when we lived in Germany and the UK, but since living in Alberta, Canada it has been one thing I have really missed.

Below is a selection of photos I took of the different markets and stalls we visited.

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Surprise encounter

This summer I have been trying to photograph our local mule deer population and have been trying to get photos of the deer in the fields that surround our little town, with little success. Everytime I would see the deer they were either in our neighbourhood, walking along roads and footpaths, or if they were in the fields, I was on my way to or from work without my camera at hand.

This morning I was on my way to pick up our online grocery order and on a whim took my camera with me – so glad I did! Just as I was heading out of town on my usual commute route I spotted a mule deer stag in one of the fields. Thankfully there was a pull out just across the road and I was able to get some photos of this wonderful animal.

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Reflections

On our way back from Salmon Arm the other month we stopped at this lake to catch a climpse of a train passing on the other side and for me to capture some great reflective photos.

Trains over here are long, very long in fact, sometimes containing 100+ carriages.

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