Roman remains, Romanesque church towns, Renaissance châteaux – and fun in the water.
The Charente-Limousine countryside has gently rolling hills, lush forests and fields of grazing Limousin cattle, while local villages and small towns preserve centuries’-old Romanesque architecture. It’s also an area for water-based fun, whether on water skis, in a canoe or with a fishing rod, and for those who prefer to keep dry there are many trails for walking, biking and horse riding.
Confolens, on the confluence of the Vienne and Goire rivers, is an attractive medieval town famed for its International Folk Festival, held in August. Once a wealthy centre trading salt, skins and timber, the legacy is visible in 18th century riverside mansions, and in timber-framed houses around Rue du Soleil, in the older part of town. A 12th/13th century granite tower is a survivor from a medieval chateau.
Saint Germain de Confolens is celebrated for its 12th/ 15th-century fortress perched on a rocky outcrop behind the town, overlooking the Issoire and Vienne valleys. You’ll see four towers with arrow-slits, plus vaulted cellar rooms. In the village other historic buildings include a Romanesque church constructed on the plan of a Greek cross, plus a medieval bridge and weaver’s house.
Brigeuil became a fortified town during the French Wars of Religion and inside is a much older town, which witnessed the Gauls’ struggle against the Romans. Architectural highlights include 15th century portals, a Romanesque church, the Logis de l’Espérance (with a Renaissance gateway), the château courtyard, a 12th century monument to the dead, the Quiterne round tower and an unusual pyramid-shaped fountain.
The striking granite tower of the Romanesque church in Lesterps is 43 metres high and built in a column formation. Built originally by Augustine monks it was destroyed in 1040 before being rebuilt 300 years later. Scots will be interested in the town of Champagne Mouton where the church contains the tomb of a high constable of Scottish origin. His arms can be seen on one of the keystones of the vault.
For evidence of Roman history head for Chassenon which preserves remains of Gallo-Roman thermal baths from the first century. Considered the largest example in Europe, you’ll discover a network of aquaducts, hot and cold rooms and swimming pools – all well preserved.
There are displays of finds from the archaeological dig, and during the summer there are guided tours. Open daily, but closed at lunchtimes. Tel: +33 (0)5 45 89 32 21
The Upper Charente Lakes
The two fresh water Lacs de Haute Charente – Lac Lavaud and Lac Mas Chaban – between them cover almost 400 hectares. Popular for windsurfing, water-skiing, sailing, canoeing, fishing and swimming, they’re also havens
for walkers and bird-watchers. Lake Lavaud’s water sports centre offers lessons, and has duty lifeguards plus disabled access. On either side of Lac Lavaud, at La Guerlie and Videix (which lies in the Haute-Vienne), are sandy beaches shaded by oaks and willows with plenty of picnic spots, plus trails for ramblers, shops and restaurants. Both lakes offer permits allowing fishing from the shore, including night fishing for carp, and at Foucherie, you can use a hide (by appointment) to observe some of the 70 visiting bird species. Maison des Lacs; +33 (0)5 45 65 26 69
Place Henri Dézaphie; tel +33 (0)5 45 84 22 22
Maison des lacs; tel +33 (0)5 45 65 26 69