Angouleme is a charming town that, like Carcassonne, is visibly divided into two parts: the historical part (‘Le Plateau’) which is ringed by 3km of ancient ramparts and situated on top of a hill, and the modern, industrial part, situated in a valley below. Once famous for its paper making industry, it is now known as the ‘Capital of Comics,’ a great accomplishment considering that cartoon strips (‘Bandes Dessinées’) are regarded as a serious art form in France.
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Angouleme, originally called Iculisma, began to make its mark in history in the 9 th century when its countship began. One of the most famous names of this time is Count William Taillefer, whose descendants held the title until the end of the 12 th century.
In the 14 th century, the town began its paper-making industry, for which it drew great profits until recent years when developments in technology caused a decline in paper sales. A lot of mills were built for this purpose, one of which is now a famous museum called ‘Atelier-Musée du papier.’ Known in particular for its production of cigarette paper, this former mill is now used to recount the history of this industry and exhibit contemporary creations made from paper, cardboard and pulp.
As well as paper-making, Angoulême has participated in the manufacture of machinery, wire fabric, iron, copper founding, brewing, gunpowder, confectionery, gloves, shoes and cotton goods, not to mention wine and brandy! Today it is the capital of the Charente department and works hard at keeping up with current trends, graphic design and technology in particular.
Sights to see are: the Saint Pierre Cathedral, a masterpiece of Romanesque architecture that has suffered a lot over the years yet is still standing, the Saint Andre Church, which was re-built in the early 1800s and mixes Romanesque and Baroque styles, the Hôtel de Ville, a great town hall where Marguerite, the sister of Francois I was born and where the only remaining structures of the Feudal Counts Château (2 towers) are preserved.
‘Musée de la Bande Dessinée’ is an extremely entertaining papermill now dedicated to cartoon strips. Housing around 4,000 original drawings, it creates numerous different displays throughout the year, including the earliest stories to exist, the introduction of the speech bubble in the 1920s and the more contemporary editions (Astérix, Peanuts and Tintin). There is also a vast library where visitors are free to relax on cushions and read the comics.
‘Musée des Beaux-Artes’ is another wonderful museum, with an emphasis on 17 th and 19 th century paintings by Charentais artists, ‘Musée de la Résistance’ has themed exhibitions of WWII and ‘Maison pas comme les autres’ showcases work by the region’s contemporary artists.
Sportswise, cycling is top of the list. There are numerous cycling paths in the area and every summer the ‘Via Patrimoine’ association organises guided cycling tours on various themes (heritage, architecture etc). Boat rides on the Charente River are also popular, especially in the evening and long sandy beaches are nearby, where surfing takes place in abundance.
Other delights include: Chocolaterie Letuffe, a chocolate factory located on the outskirts of Angoulême that reveals the secrets of chocolate-making and encourages visitors to try their hand at making it themselves, the Nautilis water park and lake, which has an Olympic pool, waves and an open air ice-rink and the Château de l’Oisellerie, a Planetarium that hosts a variety of exhibitions.
The most famous festival in Angouleme is ‘La Festival International de la Bande Dessinée.’ Started in 1974 as the meeting point for cartoon and comic lovers, it now attracts thousands of visitors every January (this year there were 208,000). Popular features include personal accounts of the artistic experience by legendary cartoonists, a route through the city showcasing a series of large murals depicting famous cartoon characters and competitions for all ages.
The second biggest festival in Angouleme takes place on a weekend in September and is called the ‘Circuit des Remparts.’ Started in 1939, with just 10 participants, it is now a famous venue for vintage cars and the last race rally of its kind; fans call it ‘ Monaco without the sea.’ The Friday hosts the ‘concourse d’élegance’: a showcasing of all the newly-polished cars, dating from the 1920s to the 1970s, on the Saturday things heat up with the ‘tourist rally,’ drivers are able to stop for cognac tasting en route and then the winner receives his height in cases of cognac! In the evening there is a gala buffet with enthusiasts dressing in the era of their cars and music and dancing throught the town and then the Sunday is the biggest race day with crowds everywhere, cheering the drivers on. The prize giving ceremony takes place later that evening and this time the winner gets his weight in cognac. Every year there are over 200 participants and around 15,000 spectators.
In June there is the ‘Festival des Musiques Métisses,’ a four-day staging of music by musicians from around the world, including Guadeloupe, Algeria, Cuba, Mali, Madagascar and Cape Verde. Started in 1976, originally as a jazz and blues festival, it went on to focus on African music and has since evolved into a glabal representation of music. The festival is mainly based on a small river-bound island in the centre of town with 3 stages that have artful lighting and excellent sound.
In October there is a classical piano festival ‘Piano en Valois’ and in November there is ‘Ludoland’ featuring toys and games for children and ‘Gastronomades’ featuring gourmet food and wine, cookery lessons, debates and new recipes.Every Thursday there are also free street shows: ‘Jeux de Rue.’
Golf Club de l’Hirondelle, an 18 hole course that has a par of 70 over 5346 metres and a 20 bay practice driving range. www.golf-angouleme.com
Local recipes include: quails cooked in cognac, rabbit in pineau, young cockerel in white wine, freshwater fish (trout, eels, roach, fried baby fish), snails with a white wine-based sauce, white haricot beans (‘mohettes’) and coup de Jarnac (a meringue cake soaked with cognac).
Cognac , Pineau des Charentes and Vin de Pays Charentais are all famous local drinks that should be tasted. Vin de Pays Charentais is a new development, for which sales have tripled in the past 10 years.
La Ruelle, 6 Rue Trois Notre-Dame 16000, tel no: 05 45 95 15 19, www.laruellle16.fr , menu 31€ with traditional French cusine
Le Terminus, 3 Place de la Gare 16000, tel no: 05 45 95 27 13, menu 15 € for simple French cuisine
Scoopitone, 33 Rue de Genève 16000, tel no : 05 45 38 10 21, menu 9 – 20 € with pizza in particular
La Calandrine, 12bis Rue Trois Notre-Dame 16000, tel no: 05 45 95 16 76, menu 11 – 14 € with a heavy accent on meat and cheese.
Our team of sale advisers at Sextant Properties will be happy to help you to find a property in Angouleme. We have a large network of partners in Angoulême. All of them are registered French real estate agents and speak both French and English. Whatever kind of property you are looking for: farmhouses, longeres, barns, gites, B&B, country houses, mills, castles or chateaux, we will do our best to find a property in Angoulême matching your requirements.