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The town of Jarnac (population 4,427) is famed for many things. It is the birthplace of President François Mitterrand, home to Courvoisier and the site of a major battle.
It is also a bit of a favourite with tourists and watersports enthusiasts.
Jarnac sits between Cognac and Angoulême on the Charente river, with little riverside villages at each end, offering the type of pretty cottages so beloved by Francophiles. Property here is much cheaper than southern England. It’s warmer too.
Jarnac is a ‘station verte’ – a holiday destination for outdoor activities such as canoeing, cycling and walking.
Several villages just outside the town are also attractive propositions for the would-be expat. Bourg-Charente has a Michelin-starred restaurant, and Bassac, Vibrac and St-Simon are worth a look too.
It is the site of the Battle of Jarnac in 1569, when the Huguenots – including Sir Walter Raleigh – battled the Catholics, leading to a great loss of life. The battle was ugly – Prince Louis I was killed after he surrendered and his body was paraded through the town on an ass. The Huguenots were defeated, but both leaders were killed in the aftermath of the battle.
Jarnac has several large and renowned trading houses and many small producers of cognac, Pineau des Charentes and Vin de Pays Charentais.
The town is served by the SNCF line from Angoulême to Saintes and Royan. Its station is actually out of town in Gondeville. The Charente river, described by Henry IV as “the most beautiful ditch in the kingdom” offers the change to sail for 100km over clear waters packed with fish and other wildlife. Most of the land surrounding Jarnac is covered with vines, but there is some cereal production here too.
Major distilleries include Courvoisier, Louis Royer, Thomas Hine & Co, Tiffon, Braastad, Delamain and Vilquin.
There is a museum dedicated to President François Mitterrand here, where he is buried. It features unpublished photos and documents, and objects, sculptures, drawings gifted to the President by celebrities.
Tourists can enjoy a visit to the old town, the Saint-Pierre church and the crypt, and the quays of the Charente. There is also a municipal park, a swimming pool and a three-star campsite here.
Sports fans will love living in Jarnac. There are clubs here for football, basketball and rugby, gymnastics, athletics, mountain biking and tennis, pétanque, fishing, canoeing, hiking, judo, karate and fencing. There is a racecourse in nearby Mainxe, where the Canobus Grand Prix is held each year in June.
Jarnac has a full range of health services, including doctors, dentists, physiotherapists, nurses and pharmacies. There is also plenty here for culture vultures –the Orangerie houses the media library, and there is a poetry space and films shown at the auditorium.
The 12th century Saint-Pierre church has been restored several times and features bits from each renovation.
The town hall is a fine example of architecture of the 19th century. Its central arch bears the date 1867, the year it was completed.
Inside, the Table de Condé, a remarkable object in carved wood topped with a red marble slab, is said to have housed the remains of the Prince of Condé killed during the Battle of Jarnac.
The 19th century Château Saint-Martial was built by rich cognac traders and is currently laid out as guest rooms.
President Mitterand’s brothers Robert and Jacques were also born here. Robert was an engineer and Jacques an air force general.
Jarnac was one of the Calvinist centres of Angoumois. A first temple was installed in a barn next to the castle and destroyed in 1684, before a second temple was built in 1761. The current temple was redeveloped in the 19th century. The temple has been listed as a historic monument since 1998.
The convent of the Reverend Fathers Récollets de Jarnac was founded by Count Guy-Charles Chabot and his first wife Marie-Claire de Créqui in 1680. In 1825 it was sold to be transformed into a prison before becoming brandy stores in 1875.
Jarnac has had a settlement since the Neolithic period, evidenced by the many flints, fragments of polished stone and a table of dolmen found in the area. Objects from the Bronze Age and the Iron Age have also been found here, and potters’ kilns from the Roman era.
In Roman times Jarnac was the only river port on the Charente between Saintes and Angoulême and would have been an important area at the time.
In the tenth century a lord of Jarnac, Wardrade Loriches, Earl of March, was living in the Château de Jarnac, where the current Place du Château is now.
In the 12th century the Aquitaine was owned by the English. Henri III returned the estate to Hugues X de Lusignan, count of Marche and Angoumois.
During the Middle Ages, Jarnac was also on a secondary east-west route frequented by pilgrims to the sanctuary of Saint-Jacques-de-Compostelle and to the relics of Saint Eutrope in Saintes.
The Chabots reigned in Jarnac for three centuries, with family members born in the castle and buried in the Saint-Pierre church.
The elders were great captains and the younger members were knights of Malta.
Guy Chabot de Saint-Gelais, second baron of Jarnac, demanded justice for slanderous rumours circulating at the court and in 1547, King Henri II agreed he could hold a duel with La Châtaigneraie, which he won.
Louis Chabot was in charge during the Fronde, which saw him promoted to the rank of field marshal. He commanded in the Cognac region until the end of the unrest, in August 1652.
Years later, Charles-Annibal de Rohan-Chabot, prince of Léon, never ceased to improve, increase and embellish his domain. But he was quarrelsome, brutal and haughty, and he ended up leaving Jarnac for Paris in 1744, and never returned.
Jarnac passed to his first cousin, Charles Rosalie de Rohan-Chabot, the last lord of Jarnac.
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Jarnac is a super pretty little town, but one which has all the facilities you could need. Its position between Cognac and Angouleme makes it ideal for people seeking peace while having access to bigger towns, and there are scores of lovely properties where you could happily settle, along the banks of the glittering Charente.
To see properties for sale in Jarnac, click here.
Jarnac is near major roads to larger towns and there is a railway station nearby.
Jarnac has two public nursery schools and two public elementary schools.
There is also a public college and a private Catholic college as well as a Rural Family House (MFR).
Chassors is a village two miles from Jarnac and five miles from Cognac. It is 18 miles from Angoulême.
The large village of Luchac is the real centre of the village, however the town hall and the village hall are in Guitres while the church is in Chassors.
The other hamlets are Villeneuve, Puybernard, le Buisson, and les Six Chemins.
Chassors has a primary school and an 11th century church – Saint-Romain.
The church was rebuilt in the second half of the 12th century and restored in the 15th century.
The 18th century Chateau Montjourdain was registered as a historic building in the 60s.
The home of Estivalle, or home of Chassors, would have, according to Charles Daras, been rebuilt in 1730, date inscribed on a walled portal. Its polygonal tower was restored in the 20th century.
The old town hall-school, located at Six Chemins, dates from 1869, and was rebuilt in 1950.
The GR 4 hiking trail, which goes from Royan to Grasse, crosses the town.
Les Métairies is a village two miles from Jarnac and 14 miles from Angoulême. It is formed by the union of a number of hamlets, which sit seven miles from Cognac .
The village of Coursac is the ‘town centre’ and has the town hall and the school. The other hamlets are Brassac and Les Champagnères.
Les Métairies is one of the three communes of Charente that does not have a church or a cemetery.
During the first half of the 20th century, the town was served by a small railway.
Les Métairies has a public elementary school.
La Motte à Poljeau (or Motte Paljean, Motte à Peljeau or Motte Plate ) is an ancient burial mound from the Neolithic period, classified as a historic. It is also a fortified building made up of a moat and a motte dating either from Antiquity or from the High Middle Ages.
Merpins is a town in the west of the Charente department, bordering with Charente-Maritime, located on the left bank of the Charente 3.5 km southwest and downstream from Cognac.
The village of Merpins adjoins the town of Cognac along the D 732, which must be continued to reach the old village of Merpins where the D 732 continues towards Pons and the D 144 allows you to cross the river. The industrial zone of Merpins occupies the south-east of the town. Vieux Bourg, to the west, is the old village, which includes the castle and the church. Further south, La Frenade included an old Cistercian abbey. Its inhabitants are the Merpinois and the Merpinoises1.
The town is on a low limestone plateau dating from the Cretaceous period.
The plateau forms a promontory between the Charente and Né valleys, on which the Vieux Bourg is built, at an altitude of 29 metres. The lowest point is 4m, at the confluence of the Né and the Charente3.
The town is bordered by the Charente to the north and to the west by the Né canal.
There used to be a tile making industry here in Roman times, and there are remains from the Bronze to the Iron Age.
Merpins was taken by the English in 1152 with all of Aquitaine, but returned by Henry III.
During the Hundred Years War the fortified castle which controlled the passage to Cognac was the object of several sieges. It was finally besieged and then destroyed in 1387 by order of Marshal de Sancerre.
In 1421, the ruins were auctioned and acquired by a resident.
Merpins has more than 1,000 inhabitants and like many towns nearby, viticulture is an important activity.
Small producers of cognac, Pineau des Charentes and Vin de Pays Charente are located in the town.
There is an industrial zone here, a public primary school, two kindergarten and four elementary.
Julienne is three miles from Jarnac, on hilly territory that separates the Charente valley from the lowland plain of the Netherlands.
It is five miles from Cognac and 18 miles from Angoulême.
The main hamlets are la Tuileries, la Touche and Bellejoie.
Julienne was one of the places where the Protestants were hunted down after the revocation of the Edict of Nantes.
In 1793 Julienne was an enclave of Chassors and was not created as a village in its own right until 1801.
Julienne’s population dropped dramatically during the phylloxera vine disease crisis, a decline that continued throughout the first half of the 20th century.
The school is an RPI between Saint-Brice and Julienne. Julienne hosts the elementary school and Saint-Brice the primary school.
There is no church nor cemetery here, but there are a few graves and a Protestant cemetery used from 1790 when Catholics were buried at Chassors.
Triac-Lautrait is a couple of miles from Jarnac and 12 miles from Angoulême, on the right bank of the Charente.
The village of Triac, is a cluster of houses around a church and a castle. More people live in the large village of Lautrait, where the town hall and the school are located.
The other hamlets are Lantin and La Rente.
The town is bordered to the south by the Charente. To the west the town is bordered by the Belloire, a tiny tributary of the Charente.
There are fountains here, including that of Lautrait which feeds the Belloire and that of Triac, on another small tributary of the Charente.
Near the church there are the foundations of a primitive castle, a strong castle on the hill which dominates the area.
This first castle, as well as part of the church, was destroyed during the Hundred Years War.
The lordship of Lartige belonged to the family of Lestang from the 14th century. Of the new castle closer to the river, only one remains of the two towers which flanked the main building after it was burnt down in 1569 by the Protestants after the Battle of Jarnac.
It was in the meadow here that the main phase of the Battle of Jarnac took place in 1569, and it was here the Prince of Condé, commanding the Protestant army against the Duke of Anjou (the future King Henry III) was killed. Wounded Condé was trying to surrender when he was assassinated with a pistol shot by Joseph-François de Montesquiou, captain of the Duke of Anjou’s guards called the Red Coats. His body was paraded through the streets on a donkey before being exhibited for two days on a table at the Château de Jarnac. A pyramid has been built where he fell.
In 1802, the Château de Triac was acquired by Roy d ‘ Angeac, whose granddaughter married Louis-Joseph de Fereire. Sold again in 1871, it changed owners several times since that time and was set on fire again in 1877. Bought by a merchant, it has been restored.
The village, like most in the cognac region, has distilleries. Some producers sell cognac and Pineau des Charentes on the property.
The town also includes the Tiffon establishments, two wine-growing companies, and a few craftsmen.
The school is an RPI between Triac-Lautrait and Bassac. Triac-Lautrait hosts the elementary school and Bassac the primary school. A municipal school is near the town hall in Lautrait.
The MFR of Triac-Lautrait provides agricultural education including viticulture-oenology and horticulture, landscaping and floristry.
The Saint-Romain parish church is in Triac. Partly destroyed by the English, it was restored in the 15th century.
The Castle of Triac was rebuilt in the 18th century. It has a park, ditches, a fishpond, a dovecote and agricultural outbuildings.