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A town historically renowned for its specialist spice is basking in a new orange glow since the crop was revived.
Champniers in the Charente Department was known for its saffron production for over 200 years.
There was even a saffron fair every December and in the 17th century saffron was grown in the Charente from Champniers to Balzac, Brie and Mansle and saffron in Champniers was officially recognised by Louis XIV. About a ton of the expensive spice was harvested each season and each December a foire was held in which buyers came from around the world.
But then a series of hard winters, where temperatures dropped to -20°C destroyed the bulbs. Industrialisation saw people move to the cities, and a switch in agriculture to wheat and vineyards saw saffron disappear.
Years later, in 2003 a group of growers banded together – called SAFRAN – to start a saffron revival and today there is an annual Saffron Festival each August in Champniers where you can buy saffron products and find out more. The growers also visit the Gastronamades food festival in Angoulême and a select few markets in the area. The festival celebrates not just the spice, but a range of foods and recently held an English-themed festival, with stilton among the goodies.
Champniers (is five miles from the city centre of Angoulême, and about 20 miles from Cognac. The Angoulême-Cognac international airport is mainly located in the town.
The town is crossed by the two national roads – the N 10 from Bordeaux to Poitiers, and the N 141 from Saintes to Limoges.
The town also has an important employment area with a Leroy-Somer factory, which produces electric motors, and the Montagnes commercial area on the north exit of Gond-Pontouvre.
The town includes important hamlets – Viville (the Bouillons and the Barn in Pillarget), Argence, Vouillac, the Chignolle, the Nightingales, the Chauvauds, Denat, Fontenille, Fraîchefond (or Frègefond ) and Chez Suraud, the Cloux, the Simarde, the Coussauds, Villeneuve and the Mountains (commercial area).
The town is criss-crosssed by rivers and streams, and numerous fountains also dot the town.
The town, which has a population of just over 5,000, launched a sustainable development policy in 2012 and in 2017, it was awarded a flower by the National Council of towns and villages in bloom of France. There is a popular mountain shopping area here, too.
Wine is also an important activity here, it being in the designated area for cognac production. Relatively important fairs, mainly for livestock, are held in the village of Champniers every month.
The 12th century Sainte-Eulalie Church is built on the foundations of an older church. Composed of a single nave, a transept and a semicircular apse without a choir span, it underwent several modifications until 1863 when a major restoration altered the facade.
The town has many fountains and wash house. A local 10 km hiking trail connects most of them, between the village and the Rossignols.
Artist Lucien Deschamps (1906-1985) was born here he is described as the “perfect picture maker of the Charente”. The Champniers media library was named in his honour.
Artist and poet Jeanne Petit (1924-1991) married to a Chaniéraud. Her glass paintings are described as avant-garde and original. The exhibition rooms of the media library bear her name.
French Aviation General Edmond Jouhaud (1905-1995) is buried there, and French politician Jules Bertrand (1864-1942), was born in Champniers.
The extensive town of Champniers had a large number of fiefdoms, the most important of which were Argence, Puy de Nelle, Breuil and Vouillac.
The fief belonged to Argence Tison of Argence, a famous noble family in the Angoumois which traces its origin to the 17th century. However there is nothing left of their home in Argence.
The castle of Puy de Nelle once stood with its towers and battlements at the top of the hill which dominates the town of Champniers to the north. There is absolutely nothing left of this, either!
Before the Revolution, the church of Champniers, like that of Vindelle, depended on the archpriest of Ambérac.
At the beginning of the 20th century, the main industry in the area was a cardboard factory on Argence, Moulin Garraud.
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Despite Charente being the fourth largest department in France for British expats there are currently no direct flights here from the UK.
The road network is good, with the eastern ring road and a western bypass.
Champniers has a nursery school, two elementary schools and a primary school.
Anais is a town eight miles north of Angoulême. It is crossed from south to north by the national road 10 between Angoulême and Poitiers.
The town is also crossed from east to west by the D 11, road from Chasseneuil to Rouillac by Vars, road that crosses the village, and the N 10 by an interchange.
Anais is three miles north of Angoulême airport. The nearest railway station is also in Angoulême.
The town has two large hamlets or villages, as big as the town: Breuil d’Anais, to the south-east, and Churet, to the south on the old national road 10 near Chignolle (town of Champniers).
To the west of the village, the Touche has developed thanks to the interchange on the N 10. The town also has many smaller and more farm hamlets: La Clavière, Puymenier, Les Nomblières, Puyfrançais, Les Rivauds, Romefort and the Poutardière.
The town is crossed by the Argence, a tributary on the right bank of the Charente at Balzac. It is made up of two small tributaries, the Moulin des Rivauds stream which has its source in the east and the Pond which has its source in the north. La Fontaine de Maillou, on the southern edge near Churet, also supplies Argence.
In Fongibaud, the remains of a Gallo-Roman construction were discovered around 1900, with column shafts and an Antoninianus by Claude II. A Roman statue of Jupiter from the second or third century was found in 1811 near the village of Claviere, but sadlyunfortunately destroyed about 1846.
In 1568, the church was destroyed by the Protestants, and was not rebuilt until 1630 after an epidemic of black plague which decimated the local population.
In 2017, the town had 581 residents, having increased its population significantly since the 1970s.
The local agriculture is mainly cereals, with some wine production.
The Touche d’Anais business area is along the N 10 and has an Intermarché, a hotel restaurant and various companies including Aluplast, AMS, Crousti’charente, Inomould, industrial boilermaking Guerin, SOMC and trade, materials, tyres and petroleum products.
In the village there is a bakery, and another at La Touche as well as a bakery company.
The craft businesses are a masonry, a general building company, an agricultural company and a garage.
The school is an RPI between Anais, Aussac-Vadalle and Tourriers. Anais is home to a kindergarten and primary school, Aussac-Vadalle and Tourriers to elementary schools.
The parish church of St Peter dates from the 11th century. It was almost completely destroyed by the Protestants in 1568 and rebuilt in 1630. In the meantime, worship was celebrated in a barn. The church was restored at the end of the 19th century and the bell tower and the facade date from this period.
Vars is seven miles north of Angoulême and features many hamlets – Pétouret, Fonciron, Rouhénac, le Boquet, le Portal, the Rivière and Vaillat, Peusec, La Prade, Chez Brard, Beaubrenier, Couziers, Chez Rousseau, Beaumont and Coursac.
The Angoulême airport is just five miles away.
The town was created Vars in 1793 but its community goes back much further.
The old Roman road from Saintes to Lyon via Limoges, the road to Agrippa, limits the town to the north, and that from Rom to Périgueux via Mansle, Montignac and the Puy de Nanteuil, also called Chaussade or Chemin Chaussé crosses the east of the town, between Fossejoint and Couziers.
At a place called Les Combes, southeast of the village between Little Bel-Air and the Little St John, a masonry basin of tegulae and Roman coins, presumably from a Roman villa, was discovered tin he 19th century.
To the east of the village, a lead sarcophagus, probably from the Middle Ages, was unearthed in 1541, it contained a skeleton and a gold leaf engraved with Greek characters.
From the early days of the Middle Ages, the land of Vars belonged to the bishops of Angoulême. Bishop Girard increased this area and built a castle there with walls and moats.
Despite this, towards the end of the 12th century, the son of the Count of Angouleme, Vulgrin II, head of a band of cottereaux, ravaged the lands.
But it was during the Hundred Years War that Vars suffered the most. The castle, built on an island next to the village, was taken by the English in 1421. Recaptured three years later, it was razed by order of the King of France, for fear that it would be recaptured.
Towards the end of the 15th century, Vars rose from its ruins. The castle was rebuilt, probably by Bishop Raoul du Fou, who provided it with battlements. In the second half of the 16th century, Bishop Francis Péricard made it a pleasure residence, where bishops had to spend part of the summer. This residence still exists, private and located between the Charente and the church.
The church was built towards the middle of the 16th century, replacing a church from the 12th century that Girard bishop had built in the castle.
In the north of the town, at the highest point, once stood the castle of Beaumont, which also belonged to the bishops. It was destroyed during the Hundred Years War.
Before the phylloxera (vine disease) crisis, Vars produced famous red wines, the wines of Roc de Vars.
In 2017, the town had 2,081 inhabitants.
They benefit from a major employer, Lidl’s logistics base and regional management and a public primary school.
There are many associations offering sporting activities, such as gymnastics, pétanque, badminton, the Hunting Society and the Amis cavaliers des Sablons.
The parish church of St Denis was built in the 16th century in place of an old church of the 12th century, destroyed by the Hundred Years War.
The town of Balzac is four miles north-west of Angoulême, in a bend in the Charente river and forms a sort of peninsula near its confluence with the Argence.
Its inhabitants, the Balzatois, live in several localities such as Genins, Rochiers, Terrier de Bourguignol, Chabots, Essarts, Texiers, Bourdeix, mainly located on the heights.
Recently, street names have appeared such as “rue des Genins”, “rue des Essards”, etc.
The back of the land which separates the Charente valley from the Argence valley forms a sort of long cliff, very high and steep in its northern part which is the concave bank of the meander of the river, around the villages of Coursac and la Font-Saint-Martin, and which gradually lowers, ending up at the foot of the castle of Balzac.
A castle existed here in the 12th century. In the 12th and 13th centuries the castle changed ownership many times. The current castle was rebuilt on the same site around 1600 by Guillaume Guez and his wife, who occasionally left their house in Angoulême for the countryside. It was the residence of the Guez de Balzac family and Jean-Louis Guez de Balzac, the restorer of the French language, lived there.
The road to Vars was a salt road that started from the port of Basseau and salt was transported there on donkeys.
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The school is an RPI between Balzac and Vindelle.
The parish church of St Martin, away from the town and next to the castle is 12th century. Its name comes from the Saint-Martin fountain. The bell tower was rebuilt in 1760.
The castle of Balzac, located next to the church, was built by the father of Jean-Louis Guez de Balzac in the 17th century. This castle includes a house which overlooks the Charente surrounded by a park and outbuildings. A canal, a fishpond, a wash house and a castle church complete the estate. It has been listed as a historic monument since 2007.
Chazelles is eight miles east of Angoulême and six miles south of La Rochefoucauld. It is a rural and community away from major roads halfway between the D 699 which passes 2.5 km north of the village and the D 4, road from Angoulême to Nontron which passes to the south by Bouëx and Marthon.
Several small scattered hamlets comprise Chazelles, with the main ones being the Gare, the Combe, Saint-Paul, the Luquet, the Morandie, the Pipaudie, Treille, the Grand Maine, the Age Martin, at Picard, Rochepine, at Poirier, Chambaudie and Les Prats.
The Bandiat valley crosses the town, it is wide and not very deep.
Chazelles is crossed by the Bandiat, which irrigates its plains and crosses its village.
Chazelles has been occupied since the Neolithic period, as evidenced by the remains found in the caves of Quéroy, made up of ten rooms connected by galleries with remarkable white stalactites.
The Chemin des Anglais, a Roman medieval road from Angoulême to Limoges, passed on the northern limit of the town near Saint-Paul.
In the 18th century, the iron of the Bandiat Valley was transported by wagons to the Lane foundry for cannons.
At the beginning of 20th century there were stone cutting workshops here, helped by the arrival of the railway. Chazelles station was opposite the village, on the other side of the Bandiat. The line was commissioned in 1870, and was closed to passenger traffic in 1940. Goods continued to circulate between Quéroy-Pranzac and Marthon until 1985, when the track was removed.
In 2017, the town had 1,558 inhabitants, who enjoy excellent broadband speeds.
Chazelles is also known for its pure limestone soil, and the town claims to be ‘capital of stone’, as proclaimed on a statue near the old station.
Several factories are here, including a manufacturer of fireplaces, inserts and stoves, the parquet and panelling sawmill Plazer frères, the Sucal baths and the Packetis pharmaceutical packaging factory.
A natural gas network recompression station (GRTgaz) is also in the town.
There are general shops in the centre, plus a hairdressing salon, building craftsmen, masons, plasterer, painter, carpenter, joiners, locksmith, stonemason, sawyers, and the food industry, horticulturalists and a poultry breeder.
Chazelles has a primary school, kindergarten and elementary school.
It has a medical centre with doctors, dentists, physiotherapist, nurse and a pharmacy.
The edges of Bandiat and mills of the village, Picard, and Rochepine are in the Natura 2000 zone.
The old railway line offers a trail of about 18 miles from Pranzac to Nontron in the Dordogne. Chazelles is the second town crossed from the start of the line, which comes from the Angoulême – Limoges railway line in the form of a railway branch at Pranzac. Rails and sleepers have been removed and, in Chazelles only, replaced by a limestone embankment making the route quite passable on foot, by bike or in a stroller. This place to walk is popular with residents.
The GR 4 hiking trail from Royan to Grasse also crosses the north of the town via the caves of Quéroy.
Taponnat-Fleurignac is three miles north-east of La Rochefoucauld and 15 miles north-east of Angoulême, on the road from Angoulême to Limoges.
The town is made up of two villages, Taponnat and Fleurignac, which merged in 1845.
Taponnat, where the town hall is, is a mile from Fleurignac. La Croix d’Aignan and Chez Tarnaud, in the far south of the town, form a suburb of La Rochefoucauld. The La Rochefoucauld karting circuit is also here.
La Marvaillère is an important hamlet south-west of Taponnat, west of the national road 141.
La Chassagne is a hamlet which almost touches the village of Taponnat, to the north-east. It is separated from it only by the Bellonne and the stadium.
The former home of Taponnat was bought in the 17th century by a wealthy citizen of La Rochefoucauld, Mathieu Regnault.
At the beginning of the 20th century, the main industry was the manufacture of lime, which you can still see the in remains of the furnaces near the Taponnat station along the old national road.
In 2017, the town had 1,504 inhabitants. They worship at the parish church of Saint-Martial.
The Château de Taponnat dated 1679 on the oeil-de-boeuf of the front door. The buildings surround a courtyard with two pavilions, one of which has a square watchtower.