Chef Boutonne our nearest town, (3km) with its fairytale château and ‘lavoirs’, (ancient washhouses) which bubble with ice cold spring water, has a bustling market with stalls of freshly caught fish and local produce.
The regional speciality, ‘Pineau des Charentes’ a wickedly delicious aperitif is served in pavement cafés in the town square. Fishing permits can be easily obtained for a day’s fishing at Chef Boutonne in the well-stocked lake at the Château de Javarzay. The château and museum are open to the public and are well worth a visit.
Without moving far from home at Melle you will discover no less than three magnificent Romanesque churches - one being UNESCO listed – which, during the Summer months, become venues for the prestigious Festival of Classical Music. Whilst at Melle, take time to visit the Silver Mines and it’s Carolingian garden which date back to Vth century. The Royal Abbey with its formal gardens at Celles sur Belle is an imposing testament to Renaissance architecture and hosts a Baroque Music festival in late August. Again, on a musical note, Operas of outstanding quality are staged en ‘plein air’ in August in the Roman amphitheatre at Sanxay. This whole area is peppered with exquisite little XIth & XIIth century churches, Medieval heritage, pre-historic remains and Roman settlements. Of particular interest is the ‘Tumulus de Bougon’, one of the oldest Neolithic burial grounds in Europe.
Niort, our nearest large town and capital of the Deux-Sèvres Department is just 45 mins from Mandegault. Steeped in history and dating back to the middle ages, Niort’s fortressed Castle Keep, the ‘Donjon’, overlooking the ‘Sèvre Niortaise’ river is an imposing testament of the Plantagenet kings. Make time to visit the Renaissance‘Pilori’ as well and don’t miss the market, a cornucopia of fresh local produce, baskets of fresh walnuts, goat’s cheeses, regional specialities and freshly caught fish from the île d’Oléron.
Further afield, although mostly under an hour’s drive, there’s boating through the leafy waterways of the Marais Poitevin also known as the ‘Venise Vert’ or visit ‘Futuroscope’, the renowned (rightly so, it’s absolutely amazing) European theme park of the moving image. The town of Poitiers itself, with its romanesque church, ‘Notre Dame la Grande’ and the rare 4th century ‘Baptistère St. Jean’ along with shops and cafés makes for a pleasant day out. Visit Angoulême, town of art and history and home to the excellent National Centre of Comic Strip Art, Cognac (for obvious reasons) or Saintes with its Roman amphitheatre.
There’s the delightful historic port of La Rochelle (90 minutes drive to be realistic) with its harbour towers, art galleries, museums and superb aquarium or simply relax and absorb the atmosphere in one of the many quayside cafés or restaurants or stretch out on the sandy beach, a mere stone’s throw from ‘centre ville’. The royal naval port of Rochefort is well worth a visit; witness the meticulous reconstruction of the 16th century frigate, the ‘Hermione’ or enjoy a boat trip to one of the charming islands of the île de Ré or île d’Aix.
For animal lovers and within an easy drive from Le Clos des Jardins, there’s the donkey sanctuary at Dampierre sur Boutonne, home to the gorgeous, shaggy ‘Baudet du Poitou’ donkey and ‘Zoodyssée’ at Chizé, an animal park of mainly European species. ‘La Vallée des Singes’ at Romagne, an extremely impressive and sensitively organised sanctuary for endangered monkey species is an absolute hit with our guests.