"Small Towns of Character", get off the beaten track

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aerial view of Lusignan ©Thomas JELINEK - Agence Zebrelle

La Vienne matters three villages with the Small Towns of Character® label : Charroux, Monts-sur-Guesnes and, more recently, Château-Larcher. A recognition that values atypical rural municipalities by their history and heritage. A fourth municipality is in the process of winning it. Guided tour !

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Charroux, the “Treasures” of the abbey

Arriving at Charroux, the 37-metre high octagonal silhouette of the Charlemagne tower immediately catches the eye. Like a lighthouse planted in the middle of the village, a few steps from superb XNUMXth century hallsth century, the largest in western France, it impresses with its size and architecture.

It was certainly enough for this village of just over 1000 souls, stage village du way to Compostela, wins the “Small Cities of Character” label. But it conceals many other treasures. By delving into its history, we discover that the tower was part of one of the most powerful Benedictine abbeys in Carolingian Europe which housed the relic of the Holy Cross: Saint-Sauveur Abbey founded in the 8thth century.

Today, classified Center of the National Monuments, the site invites to free or guided visits in the spaces of the abbey having resisted the assaults of time: the splendid chapter house, the so-called room of the Treasury or the cloister, bucolic space which also serves as an exhibition space. By taking a little height on the forecourt of the Saint-Sauveur church, where the view embraces the whole village, one realizes better its power.

Continuing in the quiet little streets, here and there, the houses half-timbered recall what medieval past.
Another peculiarity, Charroux perpetuates a tradition of more than 160 years: ostentations. Every 7 years, processions present the relics of saints to whom powers are attributed against illnesses or even natural calamities. 

Monts-sur-Guesnes, in the shadow of its castle

Another municipality in the department which proudly displays the label, which is largely justified: Monts-sur-Guesnes. Planted on a hill, overlooked by its castle, it does not go unnoticed in the Loudunais countryside. You can see it from several kilometers around. Its location is not due to chance: since the Middle Ages, a medieval castle was built on this highest point of 146 m to defend the territory. In the XNUMXthth century, it became a stately home, around which the town developed. Strolling through the peaceful streets of the village, it is almost inevitable to come face to face with the impressive Gothic facade of the castle where illustrious people such as Louis XI and Henri de Navarre, future Henri IV, stayed.

Don't miss a visit to the Castle of Monts sur Guesnes, a new fun and educational site retracing 1 years of the medieval period. The program is attractive: eight scenographed rooms, 800 m² of discovery areas, a giant video projection on the Hundred Years War, a medieval children's village, an adventure course and many workshops (archery, stone cutting, etc.).

Château-Larcher, the last “Little”

Having just joined the popular club of “Petites Cités de Caractère”, the town has spared no effort for more than 7 years to obtain the label. It must be said that she had good arguments in terms of heritage. In the first place, its castle, which overlooks the village, of which there remains the XNUMXth century dungeonth century, stately living room, with its singular pentagonal shape. To better realize the importance of this castral site, you have to go down along the small Clouère stream, in the green theater. From the same period, the very well-preserved châtelet guarding the entrance to the lower courtyard of the castle. The slides allowing the harrow to lower are still visible.

Other monuments, just as well preserved, the Romanesque church of Notre-Dame and Saint-Cyprien, with a tower on its side that was added to strengthen the defensive system of the fortified castle, but also lantern of the dead. Planted in the middle of the medieval cemetery to watch over the souls of the deceased at night, this lantern nearly 9 meters high is one of the last in France. Heritage elements which, from this spring, will be the subject of a signposted circuit decorated with information panels and a booklet to be collected from the town hall.

The jury for the “Small Cities of Character” label was also won over by the activities which draw on this rich heritage with strong participation from residents. Particularly during the magic of Christmas but also and especially during the major event: the medieval fair, held for almost 20 years in September. On the program: exhibition and sale of arts and crafts, artisanal food market, medieval music companies, demonstrations of trades of yesteryear, dance and theater...

Which city will be the next “Small Cities of Characters” in the Vienne ?

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Lost ! The correct answer is...

Lusignan, the City of Mélusine

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Small Cities of Character e1687267050896 - Tourism Vienne
Small Towns of Character®

This label, which values historic rural municipalities offering the discovery of a remarkable heritage, valued and animated, all in a quality approach to welcoming visitors. 

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Lusignan, under the watchful eye of the Fairy Mélusine

It certainly does not yet have the label (in the process of being approved), but Lusignan, the cradle of legend of the Melusine Fairy, has all the assets to win it. To find out, head to the top of the village. It's on a rocky promontory, overlooking the Vonne, that this old medieval stronghold, closely linked to the powerful dynasty of the Lords of Lusignan, still proudly displays the remains of its enclosure lined with ditches and enclosed by towers. Going through the only door still standing, superbly restored, it's like stepping back in time. We seem to hear the echo of the horses' hooves on the cobblestones. A feeling that continues by penetrating a little further into the village.

Facing a half-timbered house, the magnificent north portal of the Notre-Dame et Saint-Junien church from the XNUMXth-XNUMXth centuriesth centuries, can be admired. From the viewpoint at the foot of the church, more modern architecture catches the eye: the railway viaduct built in 1850, which, for the record, features a bas-relief of the Fairy Mélusine on one of the pillars. It overlooks Lusignan beach with its two pools very popular in summer. In the 1960s, the site was the scene of the famous Fête de la Plage which attracted many stars such as Claude François and Johnny Hallyday.

Historic City of Lusignan©Thomas JELINEK – Agence Zebrelle

Further on, the market halls with their wooden framework take us back to another era, the 19thth century. The narrow streets then lead to a large esplanade where the fortified castle was built, devastated during the wars of religion. There remains a trace of the Mélusine Tower, visible by taking a path that goes down towards the Vonne Valley, a place for beautiful nature walks.

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The Henri IV Bridge in Châtellerault ©ACAP
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Medieval Fair in Château-Larcher ©Bastien SAUVE – Agence Zebrelle