I know I have said it before ... but sometimes things excite you SO much that you just have to keep telling people. Even more so when you feel you have stumbled on something truly special ... and no-one else seems to know anything about it !!
I am talking about Angouleme, the stunning cream limestone city perched majestically on a high rock outcrop overlooking the winding Charente River. Although it is the capital town of the Charente Department, and once boasted a top-class rugby team back in the 1980's captained by the late great Maurice Colclough, the grand slam winning England International second row forward, it is virtually unknown to the outsider.
Indeed Maurice was revered so much by the locals that he was nick-named the Prince of Angouleme and, on his recent untimely death, a special testimonial was held where the match was started by a drop-kick from one of his daughter
Photo of Bill Beaumonts Grand Slam Winning Team of 1980 ... Maurice Colclough outlined in Yellow - and Clive Woodward MBE in Red !!
So why is Angouleme still such an undiscovered Gem? Perhaps it is the natural reticence of the locals to seriously "blow their own trumpet" (the local tourist information board has had three directors in as many years) or just their good natured easy-going manner, which can sometimes be a little too laid back for their own good!
The opening up of the new Ryanair Link into Angouleme-Cognac Airport in April 2008 will definately bring Angouleme to the wider attention of British Visitors
At present however, many potential visitors seldom take the trouble to venture into its heart. Maybe it is because on first sight, as you wind your way down the N10 from the Poitiers Plains, you are greeted by a large conurbation, with industrial suburbs, commercial superstores and all the bustle that goes with a modern city. Many drivers head on by - pushing on south east towards Bordeaux and Spain, or south west into the Dordogne and the Lot Valley - but they are missing something truly special.
Having lived in the Angouleme area for the best part of a decade now, I have come to love its quaint cobbled streets, with charming squares and secret hide-aways, and its laid-back and yet vibrant youthful attitude.
For those of you unaware of its charms, I urge you to visit .. Follow signs to "Centre Ville" and head up onto the Old Plateau. Stop off at Les Halles, a sunny square dominated by a "Victorian Era" cast-iron and glass indoor market hall.
.... Place des Halles
Here you will find outdoor tables and chairs, belonging to Le Chat Noir or the Blues Rock Café, both worthy of a visit, and bustling with locals and visitors alike.
..... Blues Rock Café ........ ..... ...... Le Chat Noir
Sit under the shady trees in summer, sipping your favourite tipple, and listen to the outdoor Bands that play here every Thursday evening from June till September.
Just round the corner, pop into the Girafe Bar with its interesting African art decor, warm friendly patrons and great "indie" music. Dont forget to visit the Place de Minage, with its cast-iron fountain and gravelled heart where the locals play Boules in the evenings.
Venture further up the cobbled street and you will need to wind your way through the outdoor tables, crammed with diners enjoying the warm evening air. The choice is very wide, Classic French like "Chez Pauls", where you are likely to be sitting next to the editor of the Charente Libre, or even "Monsieur Le Maire" himself.
In Summer, the tables and the dinners come outside !!
For a more modern meal, try the beautifully cooked "Tex-Mex" style brochettes and nachos of "Le Cabana" Bar.
And for those of you that fancy a more "exotic" approach, there are Vietnamese, Chinese, Lebanese, Caribbean, Italian, and an excellent Curry House !! , see my previous blog, at the Jardin de Kashmir.
And of course, I doubt there is a city in the World where there isn't at least one "Irish Bar" ( I even found one myself in Sarajevo during the Bosnian Civil War, which was acting as the unofficial social HQ for the various UN peace-keeping contingents !) We have ours in Angouleme too, "le Kennedy Bar" just round the corner from Chez Pauls.
Fancy a Pint of Guinness ?? ( just remember to pronounce it in French .... basically "Pin" .. with a soft "t" added ... not "Pine with a hard t")
And then there are the Festivals! - Firstly we have the "Circuit de Remparts", where vintage cars from all of Europe descend on Angouleme for the third weekend in September to race round the streets (This year the Official Guest of Honour was none other than Stirling Moss!) In April and May we have the street theatre festival and the "Musique Métisses" Jazz and Cross-Over Music events. In October and November we have the "Piano en Valois" festival and January sees the Cartoon Community descend in force on central Angouleme, with the squares covered in temporary marquees - even over the fountains!
The National Centre of BD .. Museum
one of the classic "trompe d'oeil" .... one of those girls isnt real !!!
again .. this is in reality a flat gable end !!
To sum it all up .... Angouleme is a wonderful small city, full of charm and surprise glimpses of "L'art de BD" cartoons painted on the walls of over 150 buildings. Come and visit it, and marvel, as I do, at its never-ending ability to delight and uplift the senses.