The Vienne is a pretty farming area and in summer the fields are filled with sunflowers and ripening wheat, the Vienne river meandering lazily through the countryside, and there are lots of tourist attractions to enjoy. One of the four departments that make up the Poitou-Charentes (the others are the Charente, Charente-Maritime and Deux-Sèvres) it is also one of the most historic.
Although only officially created during the French Revolution, it was in the Vienne where Eleanor of Aquitaine lived (her marriage to Henry II brought this part of France under English rule). The Hundred Years was fought here with the Battle of Poitiers considered one of the key battles of history.
The capital of the department is Poitiers, a lively town of winding streets flanked by centuries-old architecture and half-timbered houses and tourist attractions. It’s also packed full of great little boutique shops, busy restaurants and pavement cafés – for the latter make for place Charles-de-Gaulle (there’s a market there every morning until lunchtime too). Its university is the oldest in France, so expect to see lots of students in term time.
WHAT TO SEE AND DO IN THE VIENNE
Nearby is the market town of Chauvigny with a huge and bustling market on Thursdays and Saturdays by the river bank. Above it, in the old town, are five medieval castles to explore as well as the brightly painted St Pierre church. In the main square are two very popular restaurants.
The Vienne is also home to Angles-sur-l’Anglin, designated one of France’s most beautiful villages (the “Les plus beaux villages de France” label is given to 152 villages in the country).
The high-tech film and science leisure park Futuroscope with its towering cinema pavilions set in landscaped, fountain-filled gardens (the latter are the focus of a sunset laser show), is definitely one of the star tourist attractions of the Vienne. You need at least a day to see it and as well as all the attractions it has plenty of restaurants and cafes so you can stop and re-fuel along the way! There are a number of animal-themed attractions too.
A great day out, especially if you have children, is the Vallée des Singes, where a variety of monkeys and apes including gorillas lives in natural surroundings. Nearby is the new La Planete des Crocodiles, where you can see 200 of the reptiles from all over the world, in five biospheres (glass domes) that reflect their native continents. Given its history, it’s not surprising that the Vienne is known for its Romanesque architecture, the most famous site being the Abbey Church of Saint-Savin-sur-Gartempe, a UNESCO world heritage site that’s nicknamed the ‘Romanesque Sistine Chapel’.
But many other small towns boast notable monuments including Loudun with its 11th century Carée Tower and Charroux with its striking octagonal tower.
For those who love messing about on or by the water, the Vienne river offers plenty of choice with prime places for fishing as well as swimming, canoeing and even yachting. There are also a number of fine golf courses near Poitiers and elsewhere in the Vienne. And of course, this being France, you’re guaranteed good food. A local speciality is goat’s cheese – make sure you try Chabis or Chabichou, both of which have been awarded Protected Designation of Origin – the French AOC. Another major attraction is the wine of the Vienne. Wine has been made in this region for hundreds of years. And though the wines of the Haut-Poitou as they are known don’t quite have the cache of those further north in the Loire Valley, there are some excellent red, white and rosé wines to be found here.
Words: Rachel LOOS
Accommodation in Poitiers and the Vienne
Restaurants in Poitiers and the Vienne
What to Do in Poitiers and the Vienne
What to See in Poitiers and the Vienne
Haut Poitou wine near Poitiers
Golf courses in Poitiers and the Vienne
Official tourism site for Vienne