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Visit the Haut Val de Sèvre

Visit the Haut Val de Sèvre

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.

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

niort market-deux-sevresHaving 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.