The Ogers of Touffou Chateau
The Touffou Chateau sits overlooking the Vienne River just north of the small town of Bonnes. The castle was first constructed in the 12th century by Ogers; the Oger family that is. The next major addition came in the 15th century. In this way, the Chateau combines the defensive purposes of the middle ages with the opulence and showy purposes or the Renaissance. In total, the country estate claims 30 rooms, two dungeons, and a rampart in addition to sprawling gardens that extend the beauty of the adjacent Vienne. The Chateau was purchased by advertising icon David Ogilvy in 1967. Ogilvy retired to Touffou in 1973 and died there in 1999. Both the Chateau and the gardens, claimed to be one of the best twenty-five in France, are open for visitors, not to mention a unique opportunity to take in some cooking classes in this remarkable environment.
The Hysteria of the Loudun Possessions
A half hour south of Saumur is the small town of Loudun. The English author Aldous Huxley put Loudun on the map in 1952 with his book The Devils of Loudun, but it was what happened here more than three hundred years earlier that became the story and legend. Known as the Loudun possessions, the events and trial of 1634 were indicative of the times. Indeed, there were many other witchcraft trials throughout western Europe and even America. But few rose to the popularity of the Loudun possessions. To make a long story short, a handsome and presumably promiscuous priest named Urbain Grandier was assigned to the Eglise Saint-Pierre-du-Marche in Loudun in 1617. After being arrested and released on charges of immorality in 1630, several Ursuline nuns in the convent at Loudun accused Grandier of making pacts with the devil to possess and bewitch the sisters. Exorcisms followed, first private and then public, some being watched by as many as 7,000. With the show successfully underway, Grandier was imprisoned and tortured at the Chateau d’Angers. Without delay, Grandier was taken back to Loudun and burned alive. America had the Salem witch trials of the late 1600s and France had the Loudun possessions of the mid-1600s. Incidentally, both became popular in the 1950s and both pointed to the use of such shows as a means to successfully dispense with political and/or personal enemies. Today, the Grandier’s church still stands in the center of Loudun and Huxley’s works were modified into a play, film, and opera.
Perfection in Poitou Countryside
It really is amazing what kind of places one can find in the French countryside. The small town of Montmorillon is exactly this kind of place. Home to just over 7,000 inhabitants and situated on the quant Gartempe River, the town is about an hour drive southeast of Poitiers. Its riverside location and historic beauty are enough to catch one’s eye. Dare I say that it could rival any village in France with these characteristics. As if this weren’t enough though, Montmorillon is a cultural cornucopia that would surprise you. It is the birthplace of architect Joseph Carré in 1870. Carré attended the famed Ecole des Beaux-Arts in Paris, but it was in Uruguay where he was hired to teach and introduce modern architecture into Uruguay cities.
Indicative of the town’s characteristics, a small soft mineral was discovered in 1847 that consisted of microscopic crystals, or clay, that is used in many other minerals like bentonite and for a variety of drilling and medical purposes.
Montmorillon might go into a lot of processes and products that you’ve never heard of, but the village’s other claim to fame might be one of your favorite deserts. Low and behold, Montmorillon is home to a unique type of macaron that is more of a fluffy pastry than the colorful and creamy macaron seen elsewhere. But do not be discouraged, it is delicious! Montmorillon’s famous Maison Rannou-Métivier has been making macarons since 1811. The Cité du Macaron tells this story in the oldest bakery in town, founded in 1920.
As if that weren’t enough, out of Montmorillon came the hugely popular educational posters named Coopération pédagogique in the 1950s. Founded and drawn by a French couple who settled in Montmorillon in 1953, these Rossignol Editions fueled nationwide learning that reached 18 million students through the 1980s with a collection of over 780 prints.
A Roman Theater to See
Located about 25 kilometers from Poitiers and about a quarter of the journey to Tours is an unexpected Gallo-Roman fortified establishment along the Clain River as it meets with the larger Vienne River just a little upstream. It was here that the settlement, or vicus, prospered and grew to 70 hectares (172 acres) along this important trade route. Today, Naintré retains many Roman-era features. These sites have been the subject of many archaeological excavations over the years, but perhaps primary among them is the Gallo-Roman Theatre on the outskirts of town, .75 kilometers from the Clain River. The theater is the fifth largest Gallo-Roman Theatre at 115 meters in diameter and is said to be able to hold more than 10,000 spectators. It first came to the attention of scholars in the 18th century and excavations began in 1963.