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Barbezieux-Saint-Hilaire is a little town, but one which has a lot going on. It’s a beautiful little place, but one many people don’t discover unless they happen to stop off there on their way to Paris, Angoulême and Bordeaux. Barbezieux-Saint-Hilaire is an official stopover town in the Charente department.
There are many industries here, including furniture making, agricultural machinery, food packaging manufacturing, tech and dancewear making.
There’s lots to do, with a cinema, theatre, a music school, markets and fairs. There is a media library here, and three markets a week on Tuesdays and Fridays in the town centre, and Saturdays at Place du Champ-de-Foire. There are film-making workshops, handball, futsal, badminton, climbing, gymnastics and chess clubs, a history workshop and even a sustainable development workshop. Here you can take a course in aeronautics, or watch a range of sports at the town’s three stadia. Indoor and outdoor tennis a gym offering climbing, a weight room and a sports hall for ball games, plus riding stables provide a wide range of activities. You can also sign up for various martial arts classes.
The local hospital has more than 300 beds.
The town became Barbezieux-Saint-Hilaire in 1973, when Barbezieux merged with Saint-Hilaire.
It has been part of the National Stopover Village network since 2015, sitting on an important crossroads of secondary roads. Citram bus station on avenue Chanzy offers daily routes to Angoulême. Barbezieux is also the starting point of a 20-mile cycle route to Clérac (part of the TransEuropéenne).
The village of Saint-Hilaire is located about a mile from Barbezieux and has its own town hall.
There are also many hamlets here, including Peugemard, À Ponchet, À Giraud and Xandeville, Jadeau, Moreaux and À Baron.
The origin of the name is Berbecillia, “la Bergerie” – a breeding centre for sheep. The woollens of Saintonge were once famous, along with its brandy.
The town has about 5,000 residents, including Saint-Hilaire.
The area is an important producer of cognac and pineau. The town centre has a fair few shops, including a pharmacy, hair salons, a florist and supermarkets, including Lidl.
Probably its best known landmark is the Barbezieux castle, built on a slight hill in 1453 by order of Marguerite de La Rochefoucauld. The castle was partially destroyed in the 14th century and more of its fortifications were dismantled in 1820. However a gatehouse flanked by two towers crowned with battlements, and several outbuildings remain. After centuries of glory and a period of abandonment the building now houses an Italian theatre, an archaeological museum and a tourist office. The castle has been classified as a historical monument since 1913.
Saint-Mathias Church is also striking, with an enormous bell tower overlooking the old town. It’s a vast 12th century building with a steeple and font added in the 14th century. Visitors come here to view its 26 contemporary stained glass windows in shimmering colors, produced by the artist Georges Devêche of the Limoges stained glass workshop.
The feudal lordship of Barbezieux was one of the most important in Saintonge – its lords were princes.
The Barbezieux line included a famous troubadour, Richard de Barbezieux, and Audouin IV, who supported Aimar d’Archiac in his fight against the count of Angoulême.
The grandson of Geoffroy, Guy de La Rochefoucauld, had to fight in his old age against the Cottereaux, who were brigands with long cutlasses. In 1440 traitors betrayed the town and allowed attackers in, and there is a ‘traitor’s door’ here. Guy was killed and his son Jean de La Roche created and army to restore order. Jean was a great captain who helped Charles VII drive the English out of France. He had two children, Georges and Marguerite.
Georges had no descendants, so when Marguerite married her cousin Jean de La Rochefoucauld, the area was finally all owned by the same family.
Jean de La Rochefoucauld helped King Louis XI to take Guyenne back from the English. After the ravages of the Hundred Years War and a new famine, Marguerite distributed wheat to the unfortunate and built the current castle to provide work for the local residents.
Jean died in 1472 and his son François became sponsor of the future king François I. In 1537 Charles de La Rochefoucauld inherited Barbezieux. He became famous in 1548, for fighting the rebels of the salt tax diplomatically.
Cardinal Richelieu owned the area in 1632, and improved the road from Paris to Bordeaux, crossing Barbezieux.
In the 18th century the marquisate of Barbezieux then included 25 parishes, producing 15,000 pounds of income.
The last of the lords of Barbezieux was Louis Alexandre de La Rochefoucauld, son of the Duke of Anville, appointed deputy of the nobility to the States General in 1789. Resigning and fleeing Paris, he was massacred in Gisors in 1792.
From 1790 to 1800, the town of Barbezieux was the district capital.
In 1829, in order to avoid the total destruction of the castle, the town of Barbezieux began negotiations with the Levraud family, then owner, and bought it from him in 1845. The main building was abandoned but the north gate and its two towers have been restored. The theatre was built on the old outbuildings. A hospital and a girls’ boarding school were also installed there.
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Quite simply, this is a gem of a town, which can be overlooked because of its relatively small size. Yet Barbezieux-Saint-Hilaire is in an ideal position between larger towns, offering a village atmosphere but with all the facilities of a town.
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The Compagnie des Charentes station is on the line connecting Châteauneuf to Saint-Marien.
It has been part of the National Stopover Village network since 2015, sitting on an important crossroads of secondary roads.
Citram bus station on avenue Chanzy offers daily routes to Angoulême. Barbezieux is also the starting point of a 20-mile cycle route to Clérac (part of the TransEuropéenne).
There are many sporting fixtures around here, as the town supports many sports clubs. Markets are held here three times a week.
There are two private schools here, plus a primary school, two colleges, a secondary school and a high school offering higher and vocational courses.
Criteuil-la-Magdeleine is a village formed by the merger of Criteuil and La Magdeleine in 1860.
It sits in the triangle formed by Segonzac, Archiac and Barbezieux, in the heart of Grande Champagne, premier cru of cognac.
The village is four miles from Archiac, five miles from Barbezieux and Segonzac, eight miles from Châteauneuf, 11 miles from Cognac and 18 miles from Angoulême.
Away from the main roads, the town is crossed by the D 151 which runs along the Né valley, the D 44 and the D 90 which converge to the south at the Magdeleine.
The main hamlets are la Vie and Chez Cormier, Beaumont, Bernac, Luchet, Les Verdoiries and chez Drouet.
The village occupies a low plateau gently descending towards the Born valley in the south and that of Collinaud in the north. The highest point is at an altitude of 89 m, in the centre of the town near the old windmill.
Le Né, a tributary of the Charente, runs to the south and a stream, the Collinaud, runs to the north.
At the foot of the village, at the Logis de la Motte, a small tributary of the Collinaud supplies a wash house.
The source of the Grand-Font, at the foot of Bernac, supplies drinking water to the 15 or 16 municipalities of the Baignes-Sainte-Radegonde water union. Taken at a depth of 200m, it has a constant temperature of 19°C.
The village has a very rich heritage made up of crosses, a washhouse, farms and lodges. There is a logis here, with a moat.
A hiking trail allows you to discover the history of the mills in the area.
Older history can also be explored here –a Gallo-Roman cemetery discovered here yielded imperial coins and funeral vases in tombs dug into the stone. At Les Beaux Pins they found signs of a villa and the remains of an aqueduct once used to supply thermal baths.
Distilleries selling Pineau des Charentes and cognac direct from producers can be found here.
The 12th century parish church St Macrin-Saint-Jean-Baptiste in Criteuil has a rare and beautiful octagonal tower which was recently restored and illuminated.
The church of Sainte-Madeleine, in the ancient village of the Magdalene, dates from the 17th century.
Saint-Médard is 15 miles from Angoulême and 13 miles from Cognac.
The village is only crossed by the D. 126, an east-west road which runs along the Born.
The old railway line from Châteauneuf to Montguyon, converted into a hiking trail, passes through Barbezieux, Baignes, Chevanceaux, and stops at Clérac, shortly after Montguyon, to make way for the railway line which continues to Saint-Mariens in Gironde. On the Châteauneuf side, the extension is being studied and the tar stops at Viville.
The village is quite spread out, with many hamlets and farms including les Hâtiers, Chez Chéty, la Roche and la Ballangerie.
The town is bounded to the north by the Né, a tributary of the Charente and crossed by the Beau, a tributary of the Born.
There are few woods and mainly agricultural land, producing cereals and vines, as well as the meadows of the Born and Beau valleys.
Saint Médard was bishop of Noyon, who died in 545, and who gave his name to some 20 villages in the southwest.
During the Revolution, the town was provisionally called Lenclos, Lanclaux or L’Enclos.
Aerial archaeology has revealed many historic ditches. Sites point to a Gallo-Roman occupation.
Between 1872 and 1938, the town was served by the railway line from Châteauneuf to Saint-Mariens (connecting Angoulême to Barbezieux), and a stop was located near the town.
At the beginning of the 20th century, there were two wheat mills, one in Roche, and the other in Montville. The farm of Heal, in the west of the town, was a model farm dating from the second half of the 19th century, incorporating a dairy.
Cognac is an important activity of Saint-Médard. Some producers sell cognac, Pineau des Charentes and vin de pays on their property.
The church of Saint-Médard dates back to the 12th century. It was rebuilt in the 15th century.
Saint-Bonnet is 16 miles from Angoulême, six miles from Blanzac, eight miles from Châteauneuf, and 17 miles from Cognac.
The town is crossed to the south by the D 5, road from Barbezieux to Blanzac and the N 10 between Angoulême and Bordeaux passes a mile or so west of the village.
The village is quite scattered, with many farms and small hamlets, including Le Gât, Chez Magnet, Sainte-Catherine, Chez Besson, Chez Merceron, Lazérat, Chez Rétoré, Chez les Bonnets and Chez Moindron.
The area is quite large, with few woods and mainly agricultural land producing cereal and wine.
Saint Bonnet was bishop of Clermont at the end of the 7th century. It gave its name to some 40 areas in Auvergne and the south of France.
During the Revolution, the town was provisionally called Bonnet-Rouge.
Saint-Bonnet was once known for its production of white wines, before the phylloxera disease hit.
During the first half of the 20th century, the town was served by the small railway of the economic Charentes Railways from Barbezieux to Angouleme called Small Mairat.
Wine production is an important activity here. Producers sell cognac, Pineau des Charentes and vin de pays on their property.
The parish church of Saint-Bonnet dates from the 12th and 13th centuries, and was rebuilt in the 15th century. It has been partially listed as a historical monument since 1948.
Salles-de-Barbezieux is two miles from Barbezieux and 18 miles from Angoulême and Cognac.
Although rural, the town is on the outskirts of Barbezieux, and it is served by the N 10 between Angoulême and Bordeaux.
Like many Charente villages, Salles is sprad out and has many hamlets and farms, as well as a few housing estates. Areas include the Couronne, the Chauvins, the Lamberts, the Lande, Chez Fouquet (which has an agricultural school), Villechevrolles, Lileau, Chez Grassin and Chez Nouleau.
Le Beau, a tributary of the Né and a sub-tributary of the Charente, borders the town to the east. The Condéon, a tributary of Beau, waters the west of the town and passes through the village. These two parallel streams flow from south to north.
The village was created “Salles” in 1793 from the name of the parish, then named “Salles-de-Barbezieux” in 1801 to distinguish it from other towns of the same name in the department.
A church built in the 13th century suffered damage in religious wars in the 16th century, and was rebuilt in 1741 thanks to the parish priest, Jean Monjou, and parishioners’ money.
The home of Puymoreau, in the east of the town, was the seat of Lord Puymoreau, who played an important role in the uprising of the salt tax in 1548 and was executed. The home of Puymoreau was first mentioned in 1596. There remains a door of the xvii th century, but was rebuilt in the 20th century.
Between 1876 and 1891, the town particularly suffered from the phylloxera vine disease crisis. The population fell by a quarter, then was maintained by the arrival of families from Vendée who practiced animal husbandry, the cultivation of cereals and root crops. Some vines have been replanted.
The mill of Isleau dates from the 19th century. The town also contains a significant built heritage, mainly farms from the 18th and 19th centuries.
Reignac is four miles from Barbezieux and 20 miles from Angoulême, not far from Charente-Maritime.
The main road crossing the town from north to south is the national road 10, between Angoulême and Bordeaux, whose interchange south of Barbezieux is only 1 km from the village. The village is on the D 14, route de Barbezieux à Baignes and the D 127 from Montchaude to Condéon. The D 731, route from Chalais and Brossac to Barbezieux and Cognac, crosses the north-east of this fairly extensive village.
The town has many farms and small hamlets, such as Chez Saillant, le Rambeau, la Châtaigneraie, Chez Desmard, Venelle, les Oliviers, les Chaussades and Peurché.
The Trèfle, a tributary of the Seugne which passes through Jonzac and a sub-tributary of the Charente, originates in the south of the town then flows north and passes to the village.
The Petit Trèfle, a tributary of the Trèfle which passes through Lamérac, originates in the west of the town.
The stream of Condéon, tributary of Beau which passes east of Barbezieux to flow into the Né, passes at the eastern limit of commune.
The church was fortified in the 15th century, after it was built in 12th century.
South of the town, the area of Tastet was a stronghold owned by Grimouard Holy Cross the 17th century, and by Fradins in the 18th century.
At the beginning of 20th century, there were a few small mills here, and tile and pottery factories. During the first half of the 20th century, the town was served by the line of Châteauneuf St Marians by Barbezieux, and the station was located near the town.