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Life in Rural France

Living the French Dream….The Good, The Bad, and The Hilarious

An old street with white stone buildings and a red shop front in Aubeterre-sur-Dronne

Aubeterre-sur-Dronne, France | Prettiest Village in the Charente

Aubeterre-sur-Dronne is possibly one of the prettiest villages I’ve ever been to in the Charente. And yet, the Charente is such an underrated department in France. 

It always seems to play second fiddle to the Dordogne. However, if you’ve ever been to Department 16 you’ll know it’s as good, if not better.

With the rolling hills, fields of sunflowers, vines that seem to go on forever, and wonderful micro-climate, you’d be hard pushed to find anywhere better in South West France.

Officially classified as one of the prettiest villages in France (Plus Beaux Villages de France), Aubeterre-sur-Dronne is also classified as a Petites Cités de Caractère.

I’d heard a lot about the village when I first moved to the Charente, especially the monolithic church there, and I’d added it to my ever growing list of places to visit.

I finally got around to going on Easter Saturday with my friend Nicky. It was a girl’s day out to explore and enjoy lunch together.

And oh my goodness, we weren’t disappointed. They weren’t lying when they said Aubeterre-sur-Dronne was breathtaking. 

It really is one of the most beautiful villages in the French countryside.

Where is Aubeterre-sur-Dronne

An old market square with shops in the middle of Aubeterre-sur-Dronne

Nestled on the border of the Dordogne on the River Dronne, the village is in the southeast of the Charente. 

If you’re coming from the north of the department from Mansle, it’s a trip up the N10 to Angouleme, and then off into the countryside going south for about 25 miles.

You’ll go past signposts for another beautiful village, Villebois-Lavalette, where you’ll find the fortified ruins of Château de Villebois-Lavalette. This one is also worth a visit if you have time.

The Weather and Climate in Aubeterre-sur-Dronne

Like most of the Charente, Aubeterre-sur-Dronne enjoys a pretty mild climate. The best months to visit are between May and October.

However, we went in early April and had gorgeous weather with 18 degrees, blue skies and no wind. 

We were able to sit out in the market square enjoying a glass of rose without getting too hot.

However, in August the temperatures can soar to the high 30s, so hats and sunscreen are a must.

The Charente has an average of around 2,400 hours of sunshine every year. So if you’re like me, and need a good dose of daily sunshine to keep you smiling, then the Charente is the perfect place.

The history of Aubeterre-sur-Dronne

The facade of an old church in Aubeterre-sur-Dronne

Aubeterre gets its name from “Albaterra,” a word dating back to 1004. 

“Alba Terra” translates to “White Earth,” which refers to the white chalk rock formation surrounding the village.

Since the 11th century, Aubeterre has had a lordship. In the 12th century, the lords of Aubeterre erected a castle that sat above the Church of Saint-Jean, the underground church.

Not much remains of that castle now. The main surviving structure is its gatehouse – a solid rectangular tower reconstructed in the 16th century. It still bears the distinctive features of a medieval building, such as battlements and two vertical grooves flanking the portal that suggest a former drawbridge. 

The gatehouse has the remnants of four circular towers that formed part of the defensive walls, a small lodging house, and a Renaissance chapel.

Apparently, the village changed hands between the English and French no less than seven times during the 14th and 15th centuries.

Le Fontaine Square

During the Middle Ages, Aubeterre-sur-Dronne boasted around fifty springs, fountains, and wells. 

In the 18th century, the Fountain and its Washhouse were built, a rectangular pool bordered by a ledge. 

These types of structures were typically built by the municipality in the centre of the village and were a place of social gathering reserved for women. 

In other words, it was the place to go to find out all the village gossip. The women would gather here to do their washing and have a chat whilst doing so. 

However, in 1900, the building underwent restoration to preserve its historical significance.

But Aubeterre-sur-Dronne is also home to some famous people in history.

Marcel Merkès and Paulette Merval

A plaque on a wall in Aubeterre-sur-dronne

Marcel Merkès and Paulette Merval were a French singing duo who captivated audiences with their performances during the 1940s and 1950s. 

The duo first met in 1942 while performing in a production of the operetta “Rose-Marie.” They quickly realised their chemistry on stage and began performing together regularly. 

They had a house in Aubeterre-sur-Dronne on the Le Fontaine Square where they’d come to relax and have some downtime when they weren’t performing. 

A plaque bearing their name still sits on the side of one of the buildings surrounding the square.

Place Ludovic Trarieux

Born in Aubeterre-sur-Dronne in 1840, Ludovic Trarieux was a prominent French lawyer, writer, and human rights activist. He dedicated his life to promoting justice and defending the rights of the oppressed.

In 1882, he founded the “Ligue des Droits de l’Homme” (League of the Rights of Man), which was the first human rights organisation in France. 

His work with the League led him to become involved in some of the most significant human rights cases of his time. 

In 1894, he defended Captain Alfred Dreyfus, a Jewish French army officer who was falsely accused of spying for Germany. The case was highly controversial and divisive, with many people believing that Dreyfus was guilty simply because of his religion. Trarieux, however, believed in his client’s innocence and worked tirelessly to clear his name. 

He was arrested several times for his activism, but he refused to be silenced. In 1904, he was nominated for the Nobel Peace Prize for his work in promoting international understanding and peace.

The main square in the village is named after him, Place Ludovic Trarieux.

Author Pierre Very

An old house in Aubeterre-sur-Dronne sitting on a grassy cliff

Pierre Very, a French author, poet, and literary critic, owned a house in Aubeterre-sur-Dronne, now a restaurant. 

Some of his books were made into films, and he was known for writing crime and mystery novels.

Strolling the streets of Aubeterre-sur-Dronne

An artisan boutique on a street in Aubeterre-sur-Dronne

To get into the village, you come down quite a steep hill with a car park on your left. I suggest parking there if you can get a space, as it’s free and leaves you to discover the village on foot.

As you wander through the beautifully kept streets, it really is like stepping into the scene from a postcard.

The streets are filled with artisan shops, art galleries, brocantes and more. 

I can never resist a quick look around an antique store, and there was no shortage of those in the village.

An old-fashioned Dunlop tennis racket, complete with a press to keep it from warping, caught my eye. I remember my Mum had one when I was a kid, and we were never allowed to use it in case we broke the strings on it.

It was in great condition and for €25 it was a steal.

A woman holding a tennis racket in the market square in Aubeterre-sur-Dronne

We also got distracted by La boutique-atelier, opposite the pottery studio, showcasing work by six local artisans. 

We were lucky enough to be served by Annie Laroche, the creator of all the leather products in the store.

I couldn’t help myself and ended up coming out of the shop with a beautifully handcrafted butter dish and a china egg box. 

Nicky didn’t get away scot-free either and treated herself to a gorgeous water jug, also handcrafted and painted.

My final purchase of the day was in a lovely little clothing boutique. They had the most lovely linen trousers, perfect for those hot days we get here in the Charente.

The Sunday Market at Aubeterre-sur-Dronne

A busy market square at Aubeterre-sur-Dronne with market stalls set up

Local markets are a way of life here in France, and the market in Aubeterre-sur-Dronne is worth a visit. 

Held every Sunday in Place Ludovic Trarieux, you’ll want to get there fairly early as they usually start packing up around Midday. 

It can be a bit hit and miss out of season, but there is always an abundance of seasonal local produce, so it’s worth it.

And besides, sitting with a glass of something cold after getting your fresh produce is the perfect way to end any trip to a French marché.

Restaurants in Aubeterre-sur-Dronne

The exterior of a restaurant with lavendar in Aubeterre-sur-Dronne

There is no shortage of restaurants in Aubeterre-sur-Dronne, and it really depends on what you’re looking for.

I ended up choosing La Taverne, mainly because I was curious about the fact it had been owned by author Pierre Véry.

La Taverne Maison Pierre Véry

And oh my goodness, does this place look the part. 

Whether you’re looking up from down below or approaching from the top, opposite the underground church, it is a beautiful building covered in lavender.

As we entered, you could see the old, rickety wooden stairs leading down to the restaurant’s terrace and then up into the private quarters.

The main dining room inside was lovely, and as nobody was eating in there, I was able to nip in and take a quick picture.

As we made our way down the tiny wooden staircase, there was evidence of Paul Véry and his work everywhere.

Pictures from where his books had been made into movies were on the walls, along with old postcard-style pictures of the original books.

A wooden staircase with pictures on the wall of an hold house in Aubeterre-sur-Dronne

As the weather was lovely, we were able to sit out on the wooden terrace looking out over the Charente, and my goodness, what a view.

The menu was a typical French menu and the Filet de boeuf was calling me. I wasn’t disappointed. It was perfectly cooked and simply delicious.

Nicky and I decided to share a dessert and opted for Café Gourmand (4 small desserts with coffee). 

I love ordering this dessert, especially when I can’t make up my mind which dessert I want. It allows me to have a little taste of most of the desserts on the menu.

The four desserts included miniature versions of crème brûlé, chocolate mousse, mango in jelly and a fruit tart.

We washed it all down with a lovely bottle of Merlot rose.


Restaurant Au Cochon Prieur

This restaurant is at the bottom of the village and has fantastic reviews. Another typical French menu. 

It’s a little pricier than some of the other options but apparently more than worth the price tag. 

For opening times and to book a table, click here >>>

Restaurant Crêperie de la Source

An old stone building with green shutters in Aubeterre-sur-Dronne

You can’t come to France and not try a crepe. With 29 different crepes on offer, I can highly recommend stopping off at Crêperie de la Source.

Just off the main square, it’s easy to find, and you can sit out on the balcony and enjoy the view whilst eating your crepe. 

To take a look at the menu, click here >>>

The Underground Church at Aubeterre-sur-Dronne - The Saint Jean Church

A big cliff with a building at the bottom in Aubeterre-sur-Dronne

I was really excited to see this church as I’d heard quite a bit about it, plus I’d never been in a monolithic church before.

It certainly lived up to its reputation. I was completely blown away by the sheer size and scale of the whole thing.

It’s open every day and closed for lunch between Midday and 2 pm. 

We were offered an audio guide in English to listen to as we made our way around.

Built in the 12th century it’s one of the largest underground churches in Europe. Carved out of the cliff it sits underneath the castle, although enormous cave might be a better way of describing it.

A stone archway and wooden bridge leading to a church in Aubeterre-sur-Dronne

As you would imagine with an underground building, you could feel the cold before you even went in. As we stood just outside by the entrance we could feel the cold and damp creeping over us.

Crossing a wooden bridge to enter the church, you’ll see the crypt on your right-hand side. Discovered in 1961 when a wagon turning around in the square fell through the ceiling, it’s 17 metres long. 

Dating back to the 12th century there is a staircase on either side, which allowed access to the original chancel above. 

On either side of the crypt are rows of seats cut from the rock; these were used by the Cannons during the religious services.

If you turn around at the far end of the Crypt you’ll see four holes in the vaulted ceiling. These were spy holes that gave you a direct view of the altar from the Nave above.

An underground stone crypt like a cave in Aubeterre-sur-Dronne

When you enter the church the first thing you see are seven big monolithic columns. But when you turn to your right you’ll see the massive edifice, or monument, built to represent the tomb of Christ.

It was under the command of Peter 1st of Castillon, the owner of the castle above, that the church was built. 

Peter took part in the first Crusade by Pope Urban II in 1096 and it was on his return from the Holy Lands that he financed the work at Aubeterre.

A big stone monument in an old stone cave like building in Aubeterre-sur-Dronne

The monument, known as the “anointing stone”, is the most imposing part of the church and stands 6 metres high. 

Devout followers would come and worship the relics brought home from the Orient buried in the shrines inside. 

Unfortunately, none of the relics remain as they disappeared over the centuries.

Another fascinating part of the church was the burial area which contained 170 human-shaped graves. These were later dug up and the bones were moved to the front of the burial area. 

The idea behind the design was that it would allow the bodies covered in shrouds to be laid one on top of the other allowing for more people to be buried there.

The view of an old stone building with arches, a monument in the middle and columns underground in Aubeterre-sur-Dronne

But to really appreciate the enormity of this structure and design make sure you climb the steps up into the gallery so you can look down on the edifice from above.

Apparently, the gallery was originally built to give the lords private access to the church for religious ceremonies.

As we climbed into the gallery, we found what looked like a secret tunnel channelled out in the rock. Who knows what that was used for?

In my mind, I see it being used as an escape route during times of unrest. Possibly a place for people to hide during the wars of religion. Who knows, but this fascinating church is one not to be missed.

To find out more about the church, click here >>>

Aubeterre-sur-Dronne Beach

A lake with a sandy beach surrounded by trees in Aubeterre-sur-Dronne

The Charente is known for its rivers and lakes. The beach at Aubeterre-sur-Dronne is situated on the banks of the River Dronne. And although it’s not huge, you can swim in the lake without worrying.

Aubeterre is also classified as a “Station Verte”, meaning it’s a green tourist destination with lots of natural beauty to enjoy and explore.

In addition to swimming and sunbathing, there are plenty of other activities to enjoy. Visitors can rent canoes, kayaks, and paddle boats to explore the river or take a stroll along the picturesque riverbanks. 

There is also a nearby park with playgrounds, picnic areas, and walking trails, making it a perfect spot for families with children.

To hire a kayak, check out Aubeterre Rentals >>> and for more information about the village, check out the official village website.

Getting to Aubeterre-sur-Dronne

Unfortunately, there is no train station in the village. Your best option is to hire a car or catch a train to Angouleme and then get a bus the rest of the way.

For the best rates and deals for hire cars, we always use Discover Cars

Your nearest airports are Limoges, Poitiers and Bordeaux.

Conclusion: The pretty village of Aubeterre-sur-Dronne

I cannot recommend this village highly enough. A step back in time to a beautifully preserved village, that almost feels like walking onto the set of Chitty Chitty Bang Bang. 

So many wonderful boutiques and artisan stores to browse and something new to discover around every corner on the lovely streets of Aubeterre-sur-Dronne.


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About Me

I’m Kylie….

And I live in the beautiful Charente region of France having made the move back in 2016, and I’ve never looked back.

Now, I’m sharing everything I’ve learned about living in rural France. From visiting wineries & chateaux to negotiating French admin and learning the language.


Here are my favourite resources I use each time I travel!

🇺🇸 🇨🇦 Travel Insurance US & Canada – I use Safety Wing

🇪🇺 🇬🇧 Travel Insurance UK and Europe – I use Globelink

🚘 Car Hire Comparison – I use Discover Cars

🚌 🍷 Day Trips and Wine Tours – I use Viator

🚂 Booking Train Tickets – I use Trainline

🏨 Accommodation – I use Booking.com

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