This post is actually inspired by a question that I’m asked by the French who live in larger cities, plus some of my American colleagues who’ve been to Civray. Other Americans seem less concerned by the idea that there could be a part of France that isn’t interesting. 🙂
Since Alexis and I recently realized that the next weekend when we will both be in the area is in October, we decided that we’d plan something really fun for our last weekend – Friday evening was mine to plan and Saturday was his.
I looked into several options, but Friday night can be a little tough. There was a music festival near the coast, but unless you’re going to stay the night, that makes for a long day after work! He agreed, so we went with something easier for that night – a movie in VOST and I found a rooftop restaurant in Poitiers. So, what is one thing that you can do on weekends in the French countryside? Enjoy a view of the city and watch the sunset while enjoying a drink, dinner and the company of good friends.
There was a much greater variety of activities to enjoy on Saturday though! Since we’ve traveled north to Poitiers, south to Angoulême and west to enjoy the coast, the original plan was to head east and see what is out there to explore; however, over coffee on Friday night, I mentioned that I had found a few things going on over the weekend, but they were all a little difficult for Friday and were better for a Saturday. He was curious what I’d found because he had plans for the day, but not evening. My favorite option was the Highland Games, which I often went to in July near Portland (my family is very Scottish – I recently tested as genetically 92% English/Scottish). Given how interested I was in the games, plus the bonus fact that there was a Celtic concert on Saturday night, Alexis made a change of plans.
What else can you do on the weekend in the middle of nowhere? Go for a bike ride along a beautiful trail (ok, the first part of the trail had big rocks and a lot of nettles, but the rest was great) and time the ride so you are at a grassy area by a waterfall at lunchtime. Of course, to get this timing right, Alexis had to change the path we took once he realized that I haven’t been on a bike (outside of Xi’an) in three years! Riding with me is clearly not a real workout for him, but we could be flexible because the park he chose was the starting point for walking trails between 1 hour and several hours, the bike trail we took that was marked as 2 hours, 15 minutes and HUGE bike trails that would take the better part of a day. The park is in Saint-Benoît and is conveniently called Park Saint-Benoît (also, Parc de Strunga).
After lunch, we had a small rest in the park, and then enjoyed another activity that is great for a weekend in the French countryside – rent a canoe (or kayak). The same park that has several walking and biking paths also has a facility where you can rent canoes, kayaks or paddle boards. Their website states that there are varying levels of difficulty; however, with my wrist not doing well, we shared a canoe and Alexis volunteered to do the majority of the paddling. There is a 4 km and 7 km path on mostly flat, slow-moving water, which was perfect for us! I was able to paddle a little to help and the combination of biking, then rowing, was a fantastic full-body workout. If you’re looking to have fun while “doing sport” (aka exercising), this park is a great choice!
One thing that I have learned about the French countryside is that, from roughly April until October, there seems to be a festival of some kind going on every weekend (possibly multiple festivals). There are music festivals from classical in an old abbey to modern music, frequently free or at low cost, and film festivals and literary festivals . . . festivals around plants and art and, well, whatever you’re interested in, there’s probably a festival for it! If you want to stay closer to home, there’s probably some small activity taking place in the neighboring villages, but if you’re willing to drive ~1-2 hours away, you can generally find a larger event! I swear by “Living” magazine for English-speakers and I’ve found several events that even local French people didn’t know about. The magazine covers a large part of the French countryside – Dordogne (SE of me), Vienne (where I live), Charente (just South), Charente-Maritime (coastal area near La Rochelle), Vendée (coastal area, slightly North – where Les Sables d’Olonne is) and more! There is always a section on upcoming events, along with small articles about the region.
This is how I learned about the Highland Games. A weekend pass was around 13 Euro? and a day pass was 8 Euro for Saturday, less for Sunday. Once you were inside, a beer was just 2 Euro! A water was just 0.50 and an Irish coffee only 4 Euro. There was food for 2 Euro (long sausage dog) or full meals for around 7-8 Euro. This is completely different from the US, where food and drinks at an event are often ridiculously expensive because they assume that you don’t want to leave and eat elsewhere.
Having been to several of the Highland Games near Portland, I was excited to see what the French version would be like. Due to the other activities, we arrived after the games and dancing, but still in time for some of the pipe bands. I was really impressed by the setting, which was in the ruins of an old castle or fortification.
The event takes place in Bressuire, which is in the Deux-Sèvres area of France (west of Poitiers, but not quite to the coast) and also covered by Living magazine. This year, Alexis and I arrived primarily to attend the Celtic music concert on Saturday evening; however, after a look around, he suggested we should attend for the full day next year (sadly, I’ve learned the event is biannual, so it will be 2019 when we return)!
If the above doesn’t provide enough ideas for how to spend a weekend, this was also one of the last weekends that L’américaine is in town when I’m here before she moves back to the US. There is a château that we had noticed several times because it rises above the village of Verteuil like something out of a fairy tale when coming from one direction (I think from the South?) and is stunning from the bridge in town as well. We drove around the château looking for any sort of entrance last spring, but had no luck!
The trick to seeing this lovely château is knowing that you buy the tickets from a lovely wine bar (La Régie), which also sells bottles of wine and pineau and is in an ancient building decorated with lovely giant chairs and tapestries on the wall. The tours are on weekends at 3 PM in April, May, June and September and every day at 3 PM in July and August. The owner of the bar also gives the tour and speaks in slightly slower French (which meant I understood quite a bit), but also summarizes the key info in English.
It’s relatively small, as French châteaux go, and parts are private; however, you get to view the grounds, the kitchen, the chapel and the incredible views! The guide also shares stories about the history and the family who owns the château. It’s quite unique because it is still owned by the original family; they were fortunate enough to repurchase the château after it was seized in the French revolution. Sadly, the terraces were destroyed, as was a walkway that connected the main building to the library (historically, three prisons were under it) and to the chapel. Such a French thing to do – spend the weekend touring a château!