The lovely surroundings of Poitiers

In search of typically French villages, castles and nature

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The south of France is huge. And because of the new division of the regions in France, I sometimes lose my way. Which is what happened to me when I arrived. Nouvelle Aquitaine was created on January 1, 2016 by the merging of the regions of Aquitaine, Limousin and Poitou-Charentes. It is a colourful mix of areas; from beaches to mountains, from vast forests to medieval towns.

The city of Poitiers

City Hall in Poitiers. ©Corno van den Berg

I'm familiar with the Poitiers Futuroscope region because to the amusement park, but I'm unfamiliar with the city. So I begin my journey at Poitiers. I quickly make my way into the city from the TGV, the famous fast train. This is a good way to travel, and it is also sustainable. This is where my journey begins from; for the next two weeks. I will travel almost 500 kilometres south, deep into the French Pyrenees.

Poitiers is a student town, therefore there's plenty of pubs and eateries. Life happens on the street here, even in the summer. I see people arriving in a pub with their own food. This is allowed if you order a drink with it. It's a fascinating concept, that is not so well-known in France.

I explore the center dominated by Notre-Dame la Grande on foot. This massive Romanesque chapel is noted for its legendary sculptures of imaginary creatures, but I have no idea what I’m looking at. With its many arches, the Saint-Hilaire le Grand church is also worth a visit. It's a lot of fun to wander around this surprisingly tiny city. I also get a drink and settle down to watch the world go by.

Read my tips for Poitiers

Sleeping in a floating wooden cabin

Floating Village in Pressac, France. ©Corno van den Berg / Drone

Welcome to Village Flottant, in English it is known as a Floating Village. It is located in the small town of Pressac. I rowed my boat to my own floating chalet. But when I arrive it looks more like a tree house on the water or whatever you want to call this accommodation. For me, it makes it even more clear that Village Flottant is a unique place.

The cabin has a large bed and a simple toilet. You can only arrive paddling yourself, but this is what makes it extra special. Electricity runs on solar energy, so it is very sustainable. There's a terrace on the water, ideal for the sunset.

My cabin in Village Flottant. ©Corno van den Berg

Dinner is served on a floating restaurant along the shore. I call this active dining. I have to prepare all the food on the grill myself. I put my vegetables and meat on different iron plates on the fire. I almost forget the lovely view over the lake. My house is right in the middle. Yes, I will definitely sleep well tonight. “There's probably a surprise for you tonight,” says Laurent Debiais. He is the boss of the floating village and smiles mysteriously.

The bed in my cabin. ©Corno van den Berg

The lake is remarkably quiet at night, although I can hear the cry of an owl. Laurents words still ring in my head. Suddenly I hear something crazy, like a primal cry. It reverberates across the lake. It can't get much more natural than this. The next morning Laurent tells what it is; a bellowing red deer. It was male that was looking for females. His call let other deer know that he is there. Yes, the Floating Village is on the edge of a nature reserve. This is one of the reasons why everything is done sustainably.

The lovely villages Montmorillon and Angles-sur L’Anglin

A view of Montmorillon. ©Corno van den Berg

Villes et Villages Fleuris is a famous quality mark for villages that are green with lots of flower beds, trees and parks. It is well-kept and also sustainable.Let's visit several of these villages. First on my list is Montmorillon in the department of Vienne. I've never heard of this town, but that's what makes it fun.

The city center of Montmorillon.

Montmorillon is located on the banks of the Gartempe River. It is mainly known for its many bookshops, but for me the location on the water and the rocks is what stands out. I can walk to the waterfront from various places for a wonderful view. Which is perfect for taking photos.

A view of Angles-sur L’Anglin in the rain. ©Corno van den Berg

Angles-sur L'Anglin is, as the name suggests, on the river Anglin. This village is also labeled Les Plus Beaux Villages de France, and is one of the most beautiful in all of France. I walk through the narrow streets with the castle ruins on top of the rocks. I love to take pictures so I can go wild here. After that, you can enjoy a drink on a terrace.

Enjoying the Nature

Relaxing on a SUP. ©Corno van den Berg

I go out on the water to get to know the area well. At the village of Lathus-Saint-Rémy I get on a SUP, or Stand Up Paddle. It's a small river and the local guide from CPA Lathus shows me how to remain standing.

Or actually how to keep my balance. But he doesn't say anything about the rocks underwater. If I hit one I'm in the water. But that's part of the experience. I see children having a lot of fun splashing in the water.

Abbey Church of Saint-Savin-sur-Gartempe

The ceiling of the famous Abbey Church of Saint-Savin-sur-Gartempe. ©Corno van den Berg

The UNESCO World Heritage List is a good source of inspiration. Especially to discover why something is on the list. This also brings me to the Abbey Church of Saint-Savin-sur-Gartempe, also known as Saint-Savin Abbey.

This 11th century church is also known as the Romanesque Sistine Chapel. The reason for this is the many frescoes, which are mainly made on and around the ceiling. They show all kinds of scenes from the Old Testament. Including famous images of Noah's Ark. I strain my neck looking at the beauty and colourful frescoes.

Spending the night in a tree house

The lovely tree house that waits for me. ©Corno van den Berg

Cyclamen is a lovely flowering plant and best known from your local flower shop. I did not know that these colourful flowers can be found in the wild in France. They flower in September, as one of the last flowers of the year. I see them literally everywhere in the woods at Domaine du Petit Trianon in Ingrandes. What a sight.

The abundant flowers in the forest around the tree house. ©Corno van den Berg

The wooden tree house lies in the middle of the forest. It's my place to sleep tonight. I walk around the campsite and watch a very colourful sunset. The sun peeps through the trees and gives this lovely hut beautiful light.

The 5 Castles of Chauvigny

Chauvigny seen from one of the viewpoints. ©Corno van den Berg

Chauvigny is also a medieval city with a rich past. The town has no fewer than five castles, you can visit almost all of them. The most special is a wall that is the last remnant standing on the edge of a hill. A breath of wind seems enough for it to collapse, but it has been there for centuries.

One of the churches in Chauvigny. ©Corno van den Berg

A stroll through the town is a peep into the Middle Ages. I see a sign fo a bird of prey show. It is being held in one of the castles, but I enjoy the view over the city more. The best view can be seen on the other hills. Especially when the sun breaks through.

Cycling on train tracks with Velorail

The Velorail just outside Chauvigny. ©Corno van den Berg / Drone

There is something typically French to do in Chauvigny. The Chauvigny Vélorail is an old train track on which you can cycle. This  activity is very popular in France. You sit on a specialised bicycle with big iron wheels. After a few short instructions I can hit the road, or train track that is.

It is remarkably easy with two people. Let's just hope that no TGV train is approaching, the standard joke is already said with a smile. At your leisure you paddle through the landscape, over bridges, past some of the castles and into the forest. Sometimes the trail leads uphill, but it is not too difficult to cycle. And sometimes you go down, then you can rest for a while and take a look around you.

It is a wonderful outing for the family, although there are also a striking number of couples who do this tour. In love, they often even pedal in sync. Would they get it? It is a wonderful excursion to end the tour through Poitiers and the surrounding area. It's time to travel further south in Nouvelle Aquitaine.