Thursday morning we drove the 45 minutes west to Saintes. This is a large riverfront town with several fascinating things to see, and a charming old core.
We first grabbed a parking space right at the Roman Amphitheater. Built in the 1st century under Claudius, it could hold 15-18,000 people. And was used for all those good traditional Roman entertainments. It was built into a natural bowl, so the seating was built into the sides. Originally there were short walls above, which have since tumbled. And speaking of ongoing maintenance, we saw a crew carefully tearing ivy off the exterior walls. There were very few people there, just a few school groups. There’s an audioguide (they even have English) with a lot of detail before it goes into a cheesy reenactment of a gladiator fight. You can walk a trail from here to the rest of town, although we were told its a long, hilly walk.
We headed over to see one of the churches we were interested in, Saint-Eutrope basilica. Originally a church in the 6th century, the oldest part now is from the 11th century. There are two parts,the upper church with the addition of its Gothic tower, and an older lower crypt. For those interested, the head of Siaint Eutrope is inside. We were more interested in the Romanesque carvings, both in the upper church and the splendidly creepy crypt. Acanthus flowers, intertwined vines, animals, humans, lots of details are well preserved in spite of the wars of religion and the Revolution.
Many moneys hide in the crypt, a popular image in Romanesque art as they can symbolize the Devil and also humans in a state of degeneracy.
And here’s my favorite mermaid/siren who we’ve seen many times before.
After spending time in ST Eutrope, we headed over the river to the other part of town. We ran into the same couple we had met in the Amiptheater and the church, they’re from Portugal and their English certainly better than our Portuguese, which consists of thank you and hello. Lunch was at La Table du Marion, where a smiling wife runs the small dining room while her husband is the chef. We had the daily menu for 22 euros, starting with a good slice of homemade pate, then a wonderful beef daube, and ending with cherry clafouti for Larry and creme caramel for me. We saw others eating fabulous-smelling fish, and one lucky couple having a lengthy tasting menu. Good meal, and nice people.
We also saw the 1st century Arch of Germanicus, and a flamboyant gothic church, Saint Pierre, with fabulous tympanium and flying buttresses.
Larry had noted that we were close to the oyster-farming area near the coast, so we drove another 1/2 hour west to Mornac-sur-Sedre. This area is more water than land, hundreds of inlets and pools devoted to oyster cultivation. Mornac was unfortunetely largely a tourist town, with streets of boutiques selling tsotkes to the few tourists wandering around. Still some pretty scenes to enjoy. But we did go out on a road along the oyster beds to see the shacks and boats.
Back home, we enjoyed our little bottle of Pineau des Charentes, the local apero made from grape must and cognac (that has a slow kick, we were told of village fetes where everyone was falling over after an afternoon of drinking this) , then made a nice vegetarian dinner of steamed artichoke, salad and endive gratin. Wish I could get this quality for these reasonable prices at home!