Arch of Germanicus, Saintes

Touring Charente-Maritime – 2: Saintes

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We were quite delighted with Charente-Maritime by the time we got to Saintes in the evening, having explored Jonzac and Pons after our leisurely morning in Cognac. Not planning to cook that evening, we chose a very cheap hotel near the train station, where parking was easy right on the street, and downtown was walking distance. After getting settled, we headed out to look for dinner. The hotel manager had mentioned a couple of nearby possibilities, but we found she’d only recommended a cheap cafe and a couple of places that were closed. It was a Tuesday, so we weren’t expecting any problem finding a restaurant, but we soon learned that many places are only open Thursday to Saturday. We had walked west along Av Gambetta, the main boulevard, across the bridge over the Charente, passing nothing open other than a few sad bars, and then turned off to the south to explore a pedestrian zone where we spotted no restaurants.

We were giving up and about to enter a grocery store, Coop, to buy things to eat, but I stopped a woman who’d just exited the store and asked her was she local, did she know any open restaurant that was nice? She thought a bit, said few places were open on Tuesday … but if we’d go a few blocks into the pedestrian zone and turn the corner, we’d come to La Musardière.

Nice? I asked to confirm, and she said it was very nice and very popular. So, off we went. Cute place from the outside, and we got a table right away on the upstairs level where dinner is served, even though few seats were available. How lucky we were to get this recommendation. Dinner was delicious; we both ordered duck breast stuffed with foie gras and thought it perfect.

The next day we spent the morning and early afternoon in leisurely exploration of the very attractive riverfront, the historic town center and the pedestrian zone.

A striking monument at the riverfront is the Arch of Germanicus, dedicated to the emperor Tiberius and his sons Drusus Julius Caesar and Germanicus. It was built around the year 19 over the terminus of the road running to Saintes from Lyon. Very impressive, with inscriptions still legible. Saintes has a Roman amphitheater as well, but we did not get to it.

The Abbaye aux Dames was founded in 1047 by Geoffrey II, Count of Anjou, and his wife Agnes, who spent her last years there. Today, it is a lively musical center, hosting many concerts.

Another landmark church, towering over the city, is the 15th-century Cathedrale Saint-Pierre, seen below.

During our conversation in Cognac with house-hunters from Paris, the woman remarked that relocating can be difficult as many places aren’t very open to newcomers; they find Cognac much friendlier than other towns, and in particular noted Saintes as not a friendly place. We couldn’t get any feeling one way or the other from our day here. It was odd to find so little open on a Tuesday night, but during the day the pedestrian area was lively. We found a nice sidewalk cafe where we relaxed over coffee while we watched people bustling around. The town does have many points of interest. We enjoyed the riverfront and found the old passageways curious and rather fascinating. Our time spent here was very pleasant, but the impression from our arrival-evening walk when the town was mostly closed up lingers and lessens the charm.

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