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Discover Jonzac

Discover Jonzac

Visit the historic capital of the Haute Saintonge in the heart of the Poitou-Charentes region....

chateau-jonzac

The town of Jonzac, capital of the Haute Saintonge, has plenty to offer the tourist because for the last 25 years people have been visiting this spa town to take the waters in its troglodyte thermal baths. A whole infrastructure of sites to visit, organised outings, entertainments and guided tours have been established – not the least of which is the famous 'Antilles de Jonzac' fun water park, heated by geothermal energy.

A visit of the heart of the town begins at the tourist office, situated opposite the Renaissance castle right in the centre of Jonzac – be careful where you park, as the central car parks are 'zone bleu', which means you must pop into the tourist office and ask for a free parking disc to place inside your windscreen before you leave your car. Otherwise, there's free out-of-zone parking a five-minute walk from the centre.

Industrial heritage

Jonzac's first industries came, like Pons, from the river Seugne with tanning and weaving. Yet recent archaeological digs have shown it to be a Neanderthal site, and a Gallo-Roman villa is being excavated at the moment. You can actually take part in the digs, which are open to the public on Tuesdays and Thursdays, as long as you sign up first at the tourist office.

Chateau_jonzacAlthough the château existed before the Renaissance period, it was completely destroyed during the Hundred Years War and then rebuilt to house the lords of Jonzac. Before the 19th century it had a moat and drawbridge, but these were removed to facilitate life during the industrial revolution. The château was bought by the town in 1841, and what you see today is a restoration – part of Jonzac's policy, begun in 2003, to restore the historical heart and create a route to stroll along and discover its heritage and charms. Already, the square in front of the château has been restored as well as two picturesque medieval streets including Rue de Champignac.

A guided visit takes you inside the castle, which is used daily by the Conseil Municipal, and you can discover the magnificent Italian-style theatre in the former castle stables. Not only is the castle a listed building, the décor inside the theatre is also listed, as it dates from 1862, and its deep reds give a sense of intimacy to the 250-seat theatre. Regular shows are held here.

The next stop is the Protestant temple, restored and opened in 2009, which doubles as an exhibition centre, and then a walk past the elegant Halles, in iron and glass, dating from 1898 takes you to the St Gervais church. The façade is Romanesque, and the terrace in front has traces representing the medieval sarcophagi found underneath – legend has it that Charlemagne came to Jonzac to bury his dead. The interior of the church, dating from the 19th century, hasn't yet been restored. The visit continues with the Carmes building and cloisters, which houses exhibitions, receptions and the library.

marché-et-église

Geothermal

Jonzac proved to be a forerunner in alternative energies when, in 1979, the town drilled and found a reserve of hot water. This geothermal energy was used to heat the buildings in the town centre, and when the discovery was made that the water was rich in minerals useful in treating phlebology, rheumatism and respiratory disorders, the thermal baths were created.

The thermal baths lie on the south side of town, on the opposite side of the Seugne to the Antilles. Unique in France as the sole underground baths, the site uses a former stone quarry of 7 hectares and the water comes from 1800m underground, arriving at a temperature of 62°C. The baths boast a series of facilities such as mud baths, swimming pool, river and power jets – you can book yourself in for a wellbeing session just for a half-day, if you like – and if the water works for you, don't hesitate to buy the range of Lea organic beauty products made from Jonzac water.

jonzac-les-thermes--C-CDCHS-V.Sabadel-CDCHS-V

To learn more about geothermal energy, you can visit the Maison de l'Energie on foot from the baths. Free and open every afternoon, there are discovery games for children as well as an energy advice point for individuals and a film tracing the story of Jonzac's search for hot water.

One of the most attractive aspects of Jonzac is that footpaths run along the river and between the town centre, the Gallo-Roman site, the Val de Seugne (Antilles and Casino), the leisure park and the thermal baths. This means you can enjoy strolling from one district to another, and find the perfect spot for a picnic along the way.

Water Fun

Along this path you'll discover the unmissable Antilles de Jonzac, with its caterpillar-like structure and water fountains, and beside it the Casino Barrière. The Casino is a welcoming establishment with an ambience similar to a modern pub. Obviously, you can play for money here, but there's also a restaurant with a terrace and gala room for cabaret dinners and shows, and regular special events are organised. While you have to be over 18 (bring proof of identity so the Casino can check you have the right to play) to play the games, children are welcome in the restaurant and to certain shows. And as for the dress code, you simply have to be dressed in town clothes (i.e. not shorts and flip-flops).

Other attractions not to be missed include the restored 18th century 'Moulin du Cluzelet' windmill on the hill above the Antilles and the 'Moulin de Chez Bret' watermill on the river between the Antilles and the Base de Loisirs. The miller himself explains how the Berton system windmill makes flour (a text in English is available on demand) and how the watermill makes walnut oil. As for the kids, they'll love the Base de Loisirs with its lake, sandy beach and playground as well as climbing wall, ropes course, archery, trampolines and canoes to hire – and electric boats with a guide for the less sporty. There's also a playground at Le Mail de Seugne park beside the river and close to the town centre.

jonzac-moulin-du-cluzelet-n575-CDCHS-V

Tourists tend to use Jonzac as a base to explore the surroundings, and the tourist office at the thermal baths organises four outings a week to sites of interest not too far away. But you don't need to be part of a group to discover the 'Maison de la Vigne et des Saveurs' in Archiac, situated at the roundabout featuring a huge barrel. Opened just last summer, this cultural centre and tourist office has an excellent, modern museum introducing cognac, pineau and cooperage to the visitor. You can also see exhibitions, buy local products, take part in culinary workshops and enjoy presentations from local producers here.

Jonzac

Planning your visit

Jonzac is 60km south east of Royan and 20km from Pons

Tourist Office:

22 place du Château, 17500 Jonzac. +33 (0)5 46 48 49 29, www.villedejonzac.fr

See the tourist office for information about the Base de Loisirs and the mills

Tourist Office guided visits of Jonzac in English: 4pm every Wednesday in July and August

Places to visit

Thermes de Jonzac: Heurtebise, BP87, 17503 Jonzac cedex. +33 (0)5 46 48 59 59, 

www.compagniedesspas.fr

 

Les Antilles de Jonzac: Parc du Val de Seugne, 17500 Jonzac. +33 (0)5 46 86 48 00,

www.lesantillesdejonzac.com

Casino Barrière: Parc du Val de Seugne, 17500 Jonzac. +33 (0)5 46 48 16 16,

www.lucienbarriere.com.

Open every day from 10am-3am during the week, and 10am-4am on Fridays and Saturdays

La Maison de l'Energie: +33 (0)5 46 04 84 51

Villa Gallo-Romaine: Communauté des Communes de Haute Saintonge. +33 (0)5 46 48 12 11

Maison de la Vigne et des Saveurs: Archiac. +33 (0)5 46 49 57 11,

www.maisondelavigneetdessaveurs.com

 


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First published in Living Poitou-Charentes June 2011 © All rights reserved