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Get away...discover Deux-Sèvres & environs

Get away...discover Deux-Sèvres & environs

We all feel the need to get away to a change of scenery, whether for a weekend or just a day, so here we visit the Deux-Sevres out of season

At this time of year the vagaries of the weather mean that getaways can be difficult to plan. However, find a warm and welcoming hotel with its own restaurant and you needn’t hesitate in getting out and about during the day to enjoy the winter landscape in all its moods.

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Marais Poitevin

In any season cycling is perhaps the best way to explore the meandering waterways and charming villages of the Marais Poitevin, the second largest wetland in France. You’ll discover tree-lined canals and wet marshland, criss-cross the waters by bridge or barge and enjoy spotting quaint waterside cottages or stumbling into villages with pale limestone buildings and pretty squares. Now the days are lengthening, there’ll also be more opportunities to rest awhile and take in the scenery, enjoy a warm drink or dine in a village restaurant.

The Marais Poitevin is also one of the most rewarding areas for birdwatching in France, so take some binoculars and you can enjoy observing native and over-wintering species. The Sèvre-Niortaise river flows into the sea on the unspoilt Baie de l’Aiguillon just north of La Rochelle and its circular basin provides an exceptional feeding ground for wintering and migrating birds (and is in fact one of the most important sites in France).

Golf

If you’re a golfing fan, or perhaps thinking of taking up the game, you’ll find one of the region’s most popular courses at the Domaine des Forges Golf Resort. As its name implies, the 18-hole course itself is just one of the amenities you’ll find here – see our Golf feature for full details and a useful introduction to golf in France. 

La Rochelle

A perfect year-round getaway destination, where you can fill your lungs with sea air on long promenades and enjoy some of the region’s finest seafood restaurants before turning your attention to the town’s wealth of specialist boutiques. There’s also an array of museums and monuments to visit, including a Second World War bunker constructed secretly in the town centre – or perhaps the museum of perfume bottles might have a more irresistible appeal. See www.holidays-la-rochelle.co.uk for ideas and information.

While you’re here it’s well worth climbing at least one of the three towers (Chaine, Saint Nicolas and Lanterne) at the entrance to the old harbour, to
appreciate the importance of the maritime fortifications, and to enjoy unbeatable views of the town, Fort Boyard and Iles d’Aix, Oléron and Ré.

Fontenay-le-Comte

Heralded as the architectural jewel of the Vendée, this attractive Renaissance town was formerly a port and fording point on the Roman road between the coast and Niort. When the coastal marshlands gradually silted up and the land was drained by Benedictine monks, the port fell into disuse. Keen-eyed visitors to the area might spot signs and place names recalling Fontenay’s past as a trading port. Visit the Tourist Office for a useful guide to discover all there is to see in the town, and to learn more about its chequered history. To find out more, visit www.tourisme-sudvendee.com (French only).

Where to stay

Château de l’Abbaye, 85450 Moreilles. Tel: 02 51 56 17 56,
www.chateau-moreilles.com

This is a family house in the style of a bygone age. Unashamedly romantic, your hosts pride themselves on offering a warm and generous welcome to guests. Visit the website to discover special offers and packages, such as the Weekend en Amoureux complete with Champagne on ice in your room – the perfect Valentine’s Day treat. The Château de l’Abbaye is situated in the Marais Poitevin, in the southern Vendée and just 30 minutes’ drive from La Rochelle. If you feel like some gentle exercise, bicycles are available free to guests who wish to explore the Marais on two wheels.

  

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3 Visit the Haut Val de Sèvre


A short distance east of Niort, St Maixent l’Ecole is an elegant town with a fascinating history stretching back to the 5th century. Many buildings date from the 15th century and frequently conceal vaulted cellars where the limestone was excavated to provide building materials. Enter beneath the formidable Porte Chalon and you’ll discover a pleasant traffic-free street with period buildings and a selection of shops and restaurants. Nowadays, the town is supported economically by the army training school. Its surrounding fertile and sheltered south-facing agricultural landscapes produce typical Poitou fare, including sunflowers and Charentais melons, and are home to several goats’ cheese producers.

St Maixent is a good starting point for countryside walks, visits to Niort and the Marais Poitevin or the nearby town of Melle, famous for its ancient silver mines and trio of fine Romanesque churches.

 

 

 

Niort

Having undergone a major facelift, the city now feels more welcoming to visitors, who will enjoy its traffic-free shopping streets, selection of restaurants and pleasant waterside strolls. The defensive Donjon de Niort constructed in the Middle Ages has a new exhibition (see Snippets), which is interactive and should appeal to all ages. The Musée Bernard d’Agesci is actually three museums in one - natural history, fine arts plus a collection relating to education. For opening times and tariffs visit www.agglo-niort.fr.

No trip to Niort would be complete without visiting Les Halles. This extraordinary covered market accommodates over 100 specialist producers and is open every morning except Monday, with extra stalls spreading over the outer courtyard on Thursday and weekends. See www.halles-de-niort.fr for details.

 

 

Where to stay

Logis Saint Martin, 2 Chemin de Pissot,79400 Saint-Maixent l’Ecole.
Tel: 05 49 05 58 68,
www.logis-saint-martin.com.

This charming château-hotel, set in its own grounds on the outskirts of St Maixant l’Ecole, provides all the ingredients for a romantic weekend away – stylish and comfortably-furnished bedrooms, plus superb food. For a romantic break choose the suite in the Donjon for character, exposed stone walls and the ultimate in comfort and privacy (there’s independent access direct from the grounds). The restaurant serves innovative dishes inspired by classic French cuisine from chef Aline Jarriault, whose menus employ seasonal local produce, served in chandelier-lit surroundings with the added warmth of an open fire. The hotel offers packages such as the Gourmet Adventure or a Relaxing Escape, whose prices include a candlelit dinner, room and breakfast for two.