Visit the magnificent La Rochefoucauld château, historic mills and medieval gardens...
This verdant corner of the Charente is coloured by rivers and the forested valleys which enfold them. For centuries the succession of gentle hills uniting the forests of Dirac and La Mothe Clédou marked a linguistic frontier – until the 1900s, Occitane was spoken on the eastern side, while to the west French was the rule. During WWII, this same line divided free and occupied France. Today you’ll come across châteaux and old mills, many of the latter having been restored to working order, and milling both flour and extracting walnut oil the traditional way.
This hilltop town is overlooked by a fortress dating back to the 10th century. The chapel, outer walls and round towers date from this period, while the subsequent enlargements spanned around 300 years. From the summit you’ll enjoy panoramic views of the surrounding countryside. Open daily (closed for lunch) from May to September; +33 (0)5 45 64 71 58
The town’s market hall is one of the oldest and finest in this part of France, with mighty oak roof timbers supported by stone columns. Built in 1665, the flagstones of the sloping floor have been well-trodden ever since, and Saturday’s market-day traders sell local produce including honey, bread and Atlantic coast oysters.
This atmospheric market town is dominated by the mighty chateau of the La Rochefoucauld family, one of the oldest and most noble in France.
Within a comfortable drive of La Rochefoucauld is the medieval village of Tusson. Marguerite d’Angoulême, sister of King of François 1 and known for her writings and political influence, lived here after forsaking court life. Today Tusson’s homes, both medieval and Renaissance, are being restored, and its medieval garden grows vegetables, flowers, herbs and fruit.
The Charentais people have long employed water power, and along the rivers of the Horte-et-Tardoire lie a number of restored working mills:
Moulins de Menet and de Chabrot, Montbron: both date from the 19th century, milling various types of flour (which you can buy) and the Moulin de Chabrot also bakes its own bread.
Moulin de la Chaume, St- Germain-de-Montbron: this 17th century mill on the Bandiat river produces walnut and hazelnut oils plus stoneground flour.
Moulin de la Pierre, Vilhonneur is the only mill in France using hydraulic energy to cut limestone.
Canoeing & walking
See the area in perfect peace from the river, cruising down the Tardoire past mills and chateaux (the journey down to the Chambon Gorges is particularly recommended). Montbron Tourist office has details. Or simply stroll along one of many trails penetrating silent chestnut and oak forests. Particularly worth seeing is the Arboretum Jean Aubouin du Clédou at La Mothe-Clédou, created by the botanist in 1932 and covering over 10 hectares. A trail planned by the Office National des Forêts takes you among trees (including the giant sequoia) from almost 40 countries: +33 (0)5 45 64 71 58
La Rochefoucauld: 1 Rue des Tanneurs; tel +33 (0)5 45 63 07 45
Montbron: Place de l’hotel de ville; tel +33 (0)5 45 23 60 09
Tusson: Village centre; tel +33 (0)5 45 30 32 87