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Angoulême in the southwest France, department Charente is not that well known to tourists and yet it makes for an excellent visit with a raft of attractions from a unique “treasure room” to a world famous comic museum…

5 things to do in Angoulême

From enjoying stunning views from its perch on a plateau to museums and fabulous restaurants, there’s lots to do in Angouleme

Le Cite de la Bande Dessinée et de l’Image

Comics (bande dessinée, "BD" - the "drawn strip") are big in France where they’re considered a serious and respected art form. Angoulême, with its museum, is the world capital of comics. It feels like every street reflects this love of art and even in the lovely covered market place there are reminders. The Le Cite de la Bande Dessinée et de l’Image is an enormous Museum with thousands of original examples, some of the earliest comics in existence.

Each January there is a major comic festival in the town and fans arrive from all over the world to join in the comic fun! Details: http://english.citebd.org/

Cathedrale Saint-Pierre and its “Treasure room”

“Le Trésor” has to be one of the most unusual ‘attractions’ anywhere in France. Unlike many of the grand cathedrals of France, Angoulême‘s is Romanesque, not Gothic. Made from white stone with a stunning carved façade it is beautiful and ancient, the original parts dating back to the 12th century though it’s been modified over the years. What sets this Cathedral apart though is the quite extraordinary “Le Tresor” by artist Jean Michel Othoniel, and nothing prepares you for the burst of colour you experience when you enter the three rooms he has “decorated” at the top of the Cathedral. Blue and gold are the predominant colours and glass artworks that are quite simply mesmerising. The treasures are ancient religious relics and church objects. Guided tour bookable at the tourist office – unmissable.

Museum of Angouleme

Right next door to the Cathedral you’ll find the Museum of Angoulême. Fine arts are stored here, plus one of the largest collections of arts of Africa and Oceania. It also presents the history and evolution of Angoulême with some outstanding exhibits dating back millennia. Well worth a visit.

Dine out

There are loads of great options for a gastronomic break from fine cuisine to rustic but head to the old part of town and stroll the warren of narrow roads lined with all sorts of options. One of our favourites is La Bulle Gourmande in rue de Genève, where the friendly staff make you feel welcome and feed you like you’re family. A small but tasty menu of seasonal local produce and a fabulous wine list. (Details: www.facebook.com/pages/category/French-Restaurant/La-bulle-gourmande)

Enjoy the views

This is a city in which to to wander and wonder. There are dozens of wall murals that make you go “wow” – they are so impressive. Created by comic artists of renown they give this town a real air of artistic quirkiness.

Top tip: Pick up a map of where the wall paintings are located from the tourist office.

Take a stroll through the lanes and boulevards and you’ll notice that there are distinct districts. Enjoy wide open spaces, elegant squares (Place Francis is lovely for sitting at a café watching the world wander by), grand buildings and stunning views from the ramparts.

More on what to do in Angoulême: www.angouleme-tourism.com

French Connections has loads of fabulous rentals in the Charente, one of the sunniest departments of France – pop over to our search pages to discover your holiday dream home…

Christmas in France is pretty much all about food.

The finest wines, cheeses, breads, oysters – the best of everything beautifully prepared, cooked, and presented are what make the Christmas meals in France truly stand out.

Market stalls heave with stunning displays, shops dress windows and shelves to look their festive finest. If you don’t want to spend hours cooking in the kitchen, you’ll find it’s easy to buy food ready prepared – and utterly delicious.

Le Reveillon - Christmas Eve

In France it is Christmas Eve when the big get together generally takes place. “Le réveillon” as it is called, can go on for several hours and into the next morning - hence its name which literally means the “wake up”.

For many French families, the Christmas Eve meal is more important than Christmas Day lunch.

Actually, there are two meals called the le réveillon in France. If you haven’t over indulged enough on Christmas Eve, you can do it all again on New Year’s Eve just to make sure!

For le réveillon it’s tradition to start with an aperitif, a pre-dinner drink served with nibbles or an amuse-bouche, literally something that amuses your mouth, a mouthful of deliciousness and easy to buy in the shops.

Aperitifs: Champagne of course, or perhaps Kir - white wine with a splash of liqueur, usually cassis (blackcurrant) or perhaps raspberry (framboise) or peach (pêche). Or maybe a Kir Royale – sparkling white wine or Champagne served with liqueur. Champagne cocktails are also popular – here are five classic Champagne cocktail recipes. Even beer gets festive at this time of the year, you can add a liqueur called Picon or simply buy Christmas beer, bière de Noël, which you’ll find easily in supermarkets.

Starters: Work your way through the entrée (starter) which is often oysters, snails, lobster or foie gras. Rich foods and the best that money can buy is the order du jour.

Plat Principal: The main dish is usually roast turkey or chapon (castrated cockerel), goose or other birds and wild fowl served with vegetables and maybe mash, but not roast potatoes, they’re not traditional in France.

Cheese: It is unthinkable for a French person to consider a meal without cheese at Christmas.

In France, cheese is served before dessert. For a great cheeseboard, mix flavours, textures and colour. Aim for five cheeses and include hard, soft, blue, mild and strong so that everyone’s taste is covered. Also try to include cows and goats cheese, maybe even cheese made from sheep’s milk.

Go overboard with a bit of fromage carving and decorating, serve with baguette or savoury biscuits and say cheese for those Christmas photographs…

Dessert: Bûche de Noël (yule log) is a tradition in France, every boulangerie, patisserie and supermarket will have them. Crystallised fruits, nougat and praline nuts are also really popular. In some parts of southern France thirteen desserts are traditional!

Wine: Expect to serve a different wine, paired perfectly with each course.

Dreaming of spending Christmas in France? Hop over to our Home Page and use the easy to search facilities to find your perfect French holiday home…

 

We love Christmas in France. From festive markets, to Chateaux decked out in gorgeous finery, sensational food and beautiful shops. Here are five of our favourite places to enjoy Christmas in France…

Strasbourg, Alsace

Strasbourg is nicknamed the Capital of Christmas and the Christmas market, known locally as the Christkindelsmarik, is the oldest in Europe. From 23 November to 30 December 2018, beautiful lights and decorations in the most festive Christmas market with, it’s said, the tallest decorated Christmas tree in Europe. Take a boat ride, wander from one Christmas market to another – there are eleven, and prepare to be awed by the fabulous decorations on almost every street. www.otstrasbourg.fr

Sarlat, Nouvelle Aquitaine

Sarlat in Dordogne hosts three weeks of colour and warmth at it's Christmas village. It's made up of forty-two charming chalets set up around an ice skating rink. The village showcases the work of craftsmen from all over France and a variety of goods are on offer to provide you with unforgettable gift ideas.

Gourmets will appreciate the many products to be enjoyed on site or taken away. Truffles, walnuts, foie gras are some of the favourites of the locals. There's a tavern at the heart of the market where you can warm up with a mulled wine or Christmas beer. The festive atmosphere and enchanting holiday décor are lovely.  December 5 – December 31 2018. www.sarlat-tourisme.com

Carcassonne, Occitanie

Credit: Julien Roche, City Hall Carcassonne

From early December until early January, Carcassonne’s magic is at its best as it comes alive with festivities for the Christmas period. There are twinkling lights everywhere, concerts, street entertainment, an ice rink, Christmas market and a wonderfully festive atmosphere. The celebrations take place in the Citadel as well as in the ancient city centre of Bastide Saint Louis at the base of the old city. Details: www.tourisme-occitanie.com

Chateaux of the Loire Valley

Credit: © Guillaume Souvant

Several of the Chateaux put on their winter and Christmas finery for real wow factor appeal. Some of the best include the Chateau de Brissac, the tallest castle in France and Chenonceau, the castle of flowers. www.loirevalley-france.co.uk

Puy du Fou, Poitou-Charentes

Credit: © Puy du Fou

Celebrate at Puy du Fou theme park in the Vendée, with a quirky take on Christmas. Puy du Fou is a unique and frankly amazing French experience. Best described as a historical theme park, they put on re-enactments, displays and special effects on a grand and epic scale and Christmas is no exception. puydufou.com

Pays de la Loire in western France comprises 5 departments that span countryside to coast. Loire-Atlantique, Maine-et-Loire, Sarthe, Vendée and Mayenne.

Mayenne – glorious countryside and rivers galore

Mayenne is in the interior of Pays de la Loire but its borders are just 30km from Normandy’s famous Mont Saint Michel. The capital of Mayenne is lovely Laval. It’s a sleepy sort of town except on a Saturday morning when the market takes place and the whole town bursts into life. The department neighbours the Loire Valley, Brittany and Normandy though it tends to be warmer than Normandy thanks to its microclimate.

There’s plenty to do and see in Mayenne from chateaux, to water activities, vineyards, museums and more.

5 Things to do in Mayenne:

Laval

Laval is in the centre of Mayenne. It’s the sort of small city where you can walk everywhere quite easily. It’s a designated “town of art and history” and very pretty. There’s plenty to see and do in the town as well as round and about. Enjoy wandering the streets of the town. A great place to admire the views is across the river to the Quai Gambetta, at night, the lights twinkle and reflections sparkle. Roam the streets around Place de la Trémoille where the market takes place, and you’ll find dinky creperies, art shops, fromageries and boutiques in the winding, hilly lanes. Don’t forget to buy some of the local cheeses while you’re here – the famous Port-Salut is made at Entrammes, just outside Laval. Other Mayenne-made cheese include: Chamois d’or, Chaussée aux Moines, Vieux Pané, Saint Paulin, Rouy, Babybel, Bons Mayennais and Président. There are plenty of delicious restaurants and bistros and for a gastronomic break, l’Esprit Cuisine (8 rue Mazagran) takes some beating.

Saint Suzanne

Officially one of the most beautiful villages in France, Saint Suzanne is charming, wonderfully pretty and makes for a great place to visit. A town and castle perched on a hill, flower filled streets, cosy cafés and stunning countryside make this a memorable destination.

Robert Tatin Museum

Local artist Robert Tatin is remembered at the house he transformed from a modest home to a work of art. You can take a bus from the centre of Laval for the short journey to the museum. If you fancy a gentle cycle ride, rent a bike in Laval and take the route along an abandoned railway track from the town right to the entrance. The sprawling house and outbuildings are covered inside and out with Tatin’s art and the gardens are full of extraordinary pieces of work. It’s unusual but brilliant.

Cite du Lait Lactopole

The world’s biggest diary museum is in Laval, and Mayenne is a leading dairy production area. Did you know that the average cow produces around 9000 litres of milk a year? Or that the rind of Camembert is good for digestion? Or that yoghurt as we know it, was introduced to France by Russian immigrants in the early 20th century and that in those days you had to buy it at a pharmacy because it was considered medicinal? This is a big museum with around 4000 artefacts – from milk churns to cheese lids. It’s quirky but rather fascinating!

Bike and Boat

Follow the Velo Francette through spectacular countryside on a designated cycle route in Mayenne. Of course you can go much further, it runs for 630km in total. It stretches from Ouistreham in Brittany to La Rochelle, taking in iconic landmarks from the D-day landing beaches, via the Loire Valley, through vineyards and along the most beautiful country lanes.

Or take a gentle cruise on the River Mayenne, enjoy the scenery from an electric or motor boat or pedalo if you’re feeling a bit more energetic.

Useful information: http://www.laval-tourisme.com/en; Atout France

French Connections has lots of lovely holiday rentals in the Pays de la Loire, just hop over to our easy to use search pages and find the holiday home of your dreams.