To the Sea

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We were a bit undecided on what to do with our last day in the Charente. The weather had turned iffy again, and so since my weather app showed that the coastal areas would likely avoid rain longer, we headed west. The landscape is lovely, our neighborhood of rolling hills of vines giving way to flatter coastal plains, and finally marshland as we got closer to the Estuary.

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Before we reached the coast, we made two church stops from my Google map. The first was in the village of Chadenac to see the Romaesque Eglise Saint Martin, where the keyholder living next door ran out to open it for us. Back in the day, this church was one of the pilgrimage stops on the way to Compostela. There are some wonderful carvings, particularly on the exterior. More of the twin motif, devils, and a little scene on the corner of the Three Kings.

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A few miles down the road in Marignac, we found Eglise Saint-Sulpice. This was a church I was really looking forward to seeing, and we were thrilled to find it open on this Friday morning. The rather grim exterior gives no hint of what is inside. It has some of the best preserved early wall paintings in the Charente in the Romanesque crossing and apse (the nave was rebuilt in the Gothic style after destruction during various wars in the 14th and 15th centuries)

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Vines, animals, flowers, geometric shapes on the capitals, a carved and painted cornice band that really highlights the animal carvings. The whole thing is marvelous, and really gives a sense of what these churches looked like before time, war,  and changing tastes.

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We finally dragged ourselves away, and continued to the coast, stopping briefly in Mortagne-sur-Gironde for a bathroom break and to pick up brochures from the tourist office. The road winds along the coast to Talmont, giving peeks at the Estuary.

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Talmont-sur-Gironde is a jewel of a setting, although heavily tricked our for the tour bus groups. I doubt there’s anything like a real village anymore. On this cold windy day, there were few visitors, primarily French and a few Brits. Given the huge parking lots in front of the pedestrian-only village, it’d likely be a nightmare in season.But most of the shops were selling artisan items, there are beautiful views out of the estuary and the fishing weirs, and an imposing church perched on the rocks.A wedding was about to begin, and the poor bride was trying to maintain her hairdo and gown in the midst of high winds while getting photographed.

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We walked around, and then got a table at what seemed to be a popular restaurant, Auberge Le Promontoire, although sadly because of the wind had to sit inside. We didn’t have high expectations, but our lunch was delicious. We shared mussels, then I had a gorgeous grilled dourade in a buttery sauce while Larry had steak, then an ille flottant for dessert for me and a cognac crepe for Larry. I was fascinated by two gentlemen across from us who went through piles and piles of langoustines, and then demolished a huge platter of fish, and were on their second bottle of wine when we left.

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We drove up to Meschers-sur-Gironde where there are cliff dwellings, but this looked to be a rather tacky commercial establishment so we went to look at boats in the harbor instead, and the view back toward Talmont.

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A small sign for “Gallo-Romain Site Fa” just before Talmont grabbed our attention, so off we went up a gravel road through the fields. There we found a partially-excavated  site with a small museum.

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Although it was known there was “something” buried in the fields, it wasn’t until aerial photographs showed shapes from different colors of the crops that signified minerals from stones under the soil that anyone realized how extensive the ancient city was. So far they’ve uncovered a huge bath system, a Temple, the main street with buildings on either side, and a theater. They do educational programs here, there’s a cool space where schoolchildren can pretend to excavate, and a lovely Roman-style garden where I was entranced by the flowering artichokes.

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We drove back home (going by the direct route, it was less than an hour) for the sad task of packing. I used leftovers to make a last meal of pasta with lemon and herbs, our last artichoke, salad, and cheese for dessert. And the last glass of cognac sipped next door to where it was made.

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