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The surrounding area
Le Vieux Chai is in a small hamlet in the
commune of Jazennes, between Gémozac and Pons. These two towns contain a variety
of typical French shops including butchers, grocers, Post Office etc. There are
weekly markets and oyster stalls open on Sundays. Over the fields in the closer
village of Villars-en-Pons there is a Bar/Café where the basic essentials
including bread, milk and newspapers are sold; a French “corner shop”.
Pons is a mediaeval town that stands on one of the pilgrim routes to Saint Jacques de Compostelle. The ancient dungeon and the “Hôpital des Pèlerins” are both open to the public.
Twenty minutes drive to the north is the Roman city of Saintes with its historic artefacts, the Arch of Germanicus and the amphitheatre as well as the Cathedral, churches and the Abbaye aux Dames, now a music conservatoire and the home of the annual July music festival. Saintes is also the principal shopping centre for the region and has a popular golf course that has daily membership facilities for visitors. The Charente flows through the city and in summer there are river cruises starting close to the Arch of Germanicus.
Cognac, which also stands on the Charente, lies to the east of Saintes
and is world renowned for its eponymous spirit. Although “cognac” is made in
hundreds of small local farms where the tradition has been practiced for
hundreds of years it is here in Cognac that you will find almost all the most
famous “cognac” names, including Martel, Remy Martin, Hennessey and Otard, (the
missing name, Courvoisier, is based in Jarnac a few miles further east). Here,
too, you will find shops, restaurants and history to explore and enjoy.
The Gironde estuary, twenty minutes to the west, abounds in little inlets created to provide shelter for the fishing fleets of yesteryear. Today they are small marinas and the villages that grew up to support the industry have some wonderful restaurants. The spectacular church of Ste Radagonde, built on a promontory jutting out into the estuary at Talmont should not be missed when visiting the area.
At the mouth of the estuary the towns of St Georges-de-Didonne and Royan have delightful sandy beaches with areas designated for safe and clean bathing or for water sports. The Gironde is served by two ferry services, from Royan and from Blaye, which allow you to explore the famous vineyards of the Médoc peninsula including Pauillac, Margaux and St Julien.
Bordeaux, to the south, is the largest city in the area and as well as
the commercial side has an abundance of shops, restaurants and of course wine.
Driving around the area the names come at you from all sides, Sauternes, Barsac,
St Emilion, Fronsac; it is like walking around Oddbins.
Rochefort was once the home port of the French navy and retains many
naval buildings including the French Maritime museum and the Corderie Royale
where ropes for sailing ships were manufactured. In one of the old dry docks a
modern replica of an eighteenth century warship, l’Hermione, is being built
using the traditional tools methods of the period.
The seafood, local wines, cognacs, cheeses, fruit, vegetables and meats are excellent and the regional aperitif, Pineau, either rouge or blanc, served chilled is well worth trying.
Visits, and things to do
Wine tasting, ‘dégustation’, is available at many of the small local vineyards where the regional vin de pays Charentais can be sampled and bought. Further afield the enormous range of vins Bordelais can be found. It must be pointed out that the French drink/driving laws are half the UK level, 40mg/ml, and although it may appear that there are no laws relating to driving in France the opposite is the case and laws when applied, are rigorously enforced.
Mornac is a craft village with artistes studios and a very good restaurant. Les Arenes has a very good pottery studio. Talmont has a variety of shops within its narrow streets selling clothing, pottery, glassware, paintings and other crafts.
There are lots of designated routes for hiking in the area, both inland and along the coast. There are special maps that clearly indicate the tracks and what can be seen on the walks. Similar maps exist for cyclists.
At the Ecuries du Val de Seugne at Jonzac and elsewhere in the region horse riding centres can be found.
The closest golf course is at Saintes. In addition there are courses at Royan, La Rochelle and Cognac. There are also miniature and fun courses in the area.
Canoeing and kayaking with rental facilities can be enjoyed at Pons, Belluire and Jonzac.
Boat trips, ‘Promenades sur la Charente’ can be taken from Angoulême, Jarnac, Cognac, Saintes and Port d’Envoux. Promenades sur Mer are available from Royan, La Rochelle, Marennes and Fouras.
Flights from the ‘Centre de Vol et Voile’ can be arranged at the aero-club at Avy near Pons.
Le Chateau des Enigmas
This renaissance chateau is the setting for a series of games each posing a puzzle to be solved helping the corsair “Willy” to find the treasure of “Moctezuma”. Restaurant facilities, picnic area and free parking.
An indoor water park at Jonzac featuring, for all the family;
• Tropical lagoon
• Fitness centre
• Beauty centre
• Panoramic restaurant
The Zoo at Palmyre, North of Royan is one of the best in France with over 1600 animals.