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Life in Rural France

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

An old house in France with blue shutters and pink flowers growing up the wall

The Quaint Villages of the French Countryside | A Trip to the Charente

The French countryside is full of hidden gems, which unless you know the area, you’d probably never find. But within each of these villages are stories of times gone by, of the people and the way of life.

The Charente is in the South West of France and very much part of the rural French countryside.

So many of the little country villages in this region date back a thousand years or more. Their colourful history takes you through the centuries and allows you to imagine life in medieval France. 

A life where towns shared wells for their water and bread ovens for baking. Where the church ruled the village and life was very hard for the ordinary person.

Today I’m going to help you discover five of these villages and their place in Charente history.

A field of sunflowers in the French countryside

The beautiful French countryside department of the Charente

Known for its picturesque villages, rolling hills, and fields of sunflowers, the Charente offers a taste of authentic French countryside life.

If you want to escape the hustle and bustle of everyday life, the Charente is the perfect hideaway.

Having lived here for seven years, I can honestly say it’s a perfect combination of history, nature and fabulous French living.

You can walk for miles without seeing a single soul, which for me is perfect, as it means I don’t get caught singing on my walks. Yes, I’m one of those people who just loves to sing away in the woods when I think nobody is around.

The Charente river runs through many of the little villages and hiring a kayak is a great way to explore the region. 

Although I will say, it’s hard work and not quite as idyllic as it looks. I couldn’t move for nearly four days after spending a so-called leisurely afternoon kayaking.

It’s home to some wonderful chateaux, including the stunning Chateau de la Rochefoucauld, dating back to the 10th century. 

And of course, it’s also home to Cognac and Pineau des Charentes wines.

A map showing Santiago de Compostela in Spain

The route to Santiago de Compostela through the French countryside

The villages of Saint-Amant-de-Boixe, Nanteuil-en-Vallée, Verteuil, Luxé and Tusson are nestled in the heart of the Charente. 

They fall on one of the four routes in France of the pilgrimage to Santiago de Compostela. 

For over a thousand years, pilgrims have walked the Camino de Santiago, or Way of St. James, to the shrine of the apostle St. James in Santiago de Compostela, Spain. 

Known as the Chemin de Saint-Jacques, this pilgrimage route dates back to the Middle Ages.

The faithful would set out from all over Europe to make their way to Santiago de Compostela

This particular route starts in the town of Saint-Jean-d’Angély, in the Charente-Maritime. Pilgrims travel eastward, crossing the border into the Charente region. 

Back in the middle ages, a whole industry sprung up around this route, with churches, inns, and hospitals all built to sustain the pilgrims.

The France to Spain route was made famous through the film The Way (2010) starring Martin Sheen.

A town hall building in a French countryside village

The village of Saint-Amant-de-Boixe

I recently visited the little village of Saint-Amant-de-Boixe, a short 15-minute drive from where I live. 

Like so many of the villages in the French countryside, it’s beautifully preserved and gives you that feeling of stepping back in time.

It’s home to the Abbaye de Saint Amant de Boixe, a 12th-century Benedictine abbey named after the village.

Standing tall, it’s the focal point of the village and is just off the main square.

The stained glass windows behind the altar are breathtaking. When the light shines on them, it almost feels like they’re shimmering. It’s really quite a sight to see. 

But the story of the village starts long before that.

A stone statue of a saint in a church in France

A legend of the French Countryside in the Charente

So legend has it, the village and the monastic community, were named after Amant, a healer and hermit. Living in the Forest of Boixe, he was said to have performed many miracles, disposing of evil spirits and healing the sick until he died in 600.

What happened after his death is a little hazy, but in 988 Arnaud, Count of Angoulême, reclaimed the abbey for its revenue. This wasn’t unusual as often a lot of money was collected from the village by the abbeys at this time.

Then in 1025, the Abbey was transferred to the bishop of Angoulême and the construction of the new abbey began. 

In 1125 the relics of Saint Amand were transferred to the new church and in 1170 it was finally completed and consecrated.

Next door to the abbey is a museum where you can purchase a ticket for €5 to do the full tour.

It has audio in English telling you the history of the diverse religious orders and the back story of the village.

For opening times and full details click here >>>

Inside of a church of abbey in France with a blue stained glass window

I have to admit, standing in the church gave me goosebumps as I thought about how many people throughout the ages had stood where I was standing.

How much life had passed through these doors in the thousand years it has been there?

One thing that struck me was how cold it was in there. It was a beautiful sunny day outside but bitterly cold in the church.

How on earth did the devout worshippers, from years gone by, stay warm as they prayed?

Where to eat in Saint-Amant-de-Boixe

Most unexpectedly in this quiet little village, we found a wonderful place to eat called L’auberge de l’abbaye.

We had a fantastic Sunday lunch there and the food was excellent. Click here to read our restaurant review >>>

There is a lovely outdoor terrace perfect for enjoying lunch in the warmer months. But as we visited in March, it wasn’t quite warm enough for lunch al fresco, so we ate inside.

A pretty village square in the French countryside

The Village of Tusson tucked away in the French countryside

Tusson is a lovely little village, to the North of Angouleme, probably best known for its medieval monastic garden.

Located along the old Post-Royal road from Paris to Bordeaux, it was once a bustling hub famous for its cattle market.

There was a large marketplace where farmers traded pigs, donkeys, mules, sheep, cattle and horses.

In fact, one of the village squares still bears the name “Place aux cochons” (Pigs’ Square).

Where the town hall now stands there used to be a covered market, which was replaced by a new market between 1880 and 1882. This included the town hall and museum of folk arts and traditions. 

But I soon discovered there is so much more to Tusson than cattle.

It was the creation of an abbey by Robert d’Arbissel, sometime between 1045 and 1100, that put Tusson on the map in the middle ages.

Royalty stays in the French countryside village of Tusson

Marguerite d’Angoulême, daughter of Charles d’Orléans and Louise de Savoie, sister of King Francois 1, and Queen of Navarre, had a house in the village.

The house dates back to the 15th century and was situated outside the original abbey wall near the convent.

Now the Museum du Patrimoine, visitors can explore exhibitions and art installations throughout the year that celebrates Marguerite’s legacy and house many regional antiquities.

A Medieval monsatry garden in a village in France

Next door is the pièce de résistance of the village – the medieval garden, also known as the Monastic Garden of Tusson.

Created by a dedicated team of local enthusiasts, it’s been designed to represent an accurate recreation of what a medieval garden would have looked like.

It’s certainly earned its title as one of France’s ‘remarkable gardens’! 

There are four different areas dedicated to vegetables, medicinal plants, fruits, and ornamental plants. The garden also boasts fascinating stone features, including a majestic fountain and ancient tombs, that adds to its allure.

While the garden is closed in January, at three euros entry fee it’s accessible for all to enjoy.

And, you can even catch a glimpse of the original priory wall with a doorway still intact from the garden.

An old church set against a bright blue sky

Other things to see in Tusson

The Church of Saint-Jacques de Tusson is worth a look. Originally built in the 13th century, it was more or less destroyed in the Hundred Years’ War. 

Rebuilt in the 15th century, the only remaining piece of the original church is the Bell Tower.

Inside is a stunning vaulted ceiling and the murals under the steeple were done in 1946 by Dutch painter, Emile Viagers.

An old building behind a church with a hanging sign

To the side of the church, which you’ll see in the picture, is a rather unique sign. There’s a cat perched on top of what I think is a monk holding a stained glass window. 

Possibly the window is supposed to represent the one in the church, I’m not sure. Either way, it’s a cool sign and it certainly got my attention.

And as if that wasn’t enough, Tusson has its own Neolithic Tumuli which are over 6,000 years old. This is actually quite common for this part of the Charente and there are many Dolmen dotted around the area.

The four tumuli of Tusson are the Tumulus de la Justice, the Petit Dognon, the Gros Dognon and the Vieux Breuil.

They’re among the largest in Europe and sat in a field on their own to the East of the village.

Where to eat in Tusson

Not exactly somewhere you’d eat, but somewhere that sells food is La Maison de Charente – Spécialiste du foie gras et du canard. If you love duck this delicatessen should be on your list. 

You’ll find everything you could possibly want from these duck specialists who have over 25 years of experience.

Some of my favourites are the duck cassoulet and confit de canard.

Old stone building with a pink facade and flowers outside

And if you’re into cake then there is no need to look any further than Gâteaux. Their cakes are absolutely delicious.

Run by Scottish-born and bred Lydia this little slice of heaven is the perfect place to hang out and enjoy some coffee and cake.

There’s also an array of lovely plants and flowers for sale making it the perfect place to while away an hour or two.

Finally, if it’s gourmet cuisine you’re after then Le Compostelle has you covered. Possibly one of the best meals I’ve had here in the Charente, the restaurant is really rather special. You can read my full review right here >>>

The best of the French Countryside in the village of Luxé

If you’re looking for a picture postcard village in the French countryside, then you don’t need to look much further than Luxé. 

Three rivers run through the town, The Charente River, the Ruisseau du Valandeau, and the Ruisseau du Bief, making a beautifully picturesque backdrop.

You’ll drive over a bridge to go into the village, and I couldn’t help but stop and park up to take some pictures. 

Even though it was a bit of a grey day, it was still beautiful.

I’m a sucker for the grand gates you often see at the entrance to many Charente properties. And these gates certainly didn’t disappoint.

Can you imagine how lovely they’d be cleaned up, repainted, and brought back to their former glory?

As I drove into the village, I took a quick detour to see the sleepy train station, which for me was like something out of an Enid Blyton book.

I could almost see the Famous Five running out of the station with Timmy, the dog. I’m showing my age now!

This history of Luxé and an Ancient Burial Chamber

Luxé originally sat in the region of Montignac and was under the jurisdiction of the counts of Angoulême. 

During the early 11th century, Count Guillaume d’Angoulême granted a portion of Luxé to the abbey of Saint-Amant-de-Boixe. The same abbey featured in the first part of this blog post.

However, the abbey lost its ownership of Luxé by the middle of the 16th century, following the wars of the Middle Ages.

In 1467 the lord of Montignac, Jean de La Rochefoucauld, granted permission to Giraud de Barro to build and fortify a castle in Luxé. 

Today there is just one tower remaining which has been renovated and preserved with work still ongoing.

There were originally two churches in the village, one dedicated to St Aignan, the other to St Caprais. The latter was destroyed during the French Revolution like so many churches were.

But, Eglise Saint Aignan is still very much standing proud and is open every day for people to visit.

It’s quite a small church compared to many I’ve seen, but the painted ceiling is really quite stunning. There’s also a lovely stained glass window behind the altar, and it’s worth taking a look inside.

A stone well by a train station in a village in France

Just down from the church is the local school, and it’s here I found one of the many wells in Luxé. Originally, there were over 100 wells in and around the village.

A prehistoric cave and burial chamber in the French countryside

But it was the ancient Dolmens that I was keen to find. Just outside, to the North of the village, there are dolmens and tumuli, which are prehistoric necropolises.

The one I went in search of was the Motte de la Garde. It wasn’t easy to find, and I ended up using Google Maps to find it.

In 1874 around 20 skeletons were unearthed, along with pottery, arrowheads, jewellery and other artefacts from the Middle Neolithic period. 

What they had discovered was a prehistoric burial chamber. 

These discoveries are now exhibited at the Poitiers Museum.

I wasn’t able to actually go in, but I did at least find it hidden away on the top of a windy hill, but well preserved.

Horses being raced with traps and harnesses

The Chataîgneraie racecourse at the Hippodrome in Luxé

Originally, when I heard the word Hippodrome, the first thing that came to mind was a nightclub. Maybe something similar to Peter Stringfellow’s Hippodrome, as it was back in the 80s and 90s.

But no, the Hippodrome in Luxé is a race track. And not just any racetrack, they feature harness racing. It’s the strangest looking horserace I’ve ever seen.

It was such a fun event, even more so because there was an ABBA tribute band on first.

And being the world’s biggest ABBA fan, I just had to attend.

It was a lovely summer’s evening, and after singing at the top of my voice for an hour solid to all my favourite ABBA songs, it was time to watch the racing.

If you get a chance to visit, it’s a great evening out. There are all sorts of stalls selling food and drink, entertainment for the kids, and of course, a band for the adults.

Where to eat in Luxé

A gourmet dessert with strawberries nicely presented on a plate

This is where Luxé comes into its own as they play home to a gastronomic delight, Le Cheval Blanc.

Having eaten there a couple of times I can happily say that the food is absolutely superb. Everything about the experience, from the moment you arrive to the moment you leave, is thought about.

The restaurant is cosy but without feeling too small, intimate and beautifully decorated.

I think my favourite part of the whole evening was the cheese trolley. Spoilt for choice, I ended up trying five kinds of cheese with an obligatory glass of port to wash it down. 

Both hubby and I had steak. It was cooked to perfection literally melting in your mouth.

The price point reflects the quality, and it’s probably one more for special occasions than everyday eating.

Visit the Cheval Blanc website for reservations >>>

The fairytale village of Vertueil in the French countryside

A castle and old buildings by the Charente river in France

It’s impossible not to fall in love with Verteuil. It has that wonderful feeling of being untouched by time with its fairytale chateau silhouetted against the skyline, old winding streets and gorgeous village square.

The word Verteuill is derived from the Latin term Vertolium, meaning “Clearing of virtues”.

It feels rather apt, considering the village is flanked on either side by the Charente river. Apparently, its location was one of the reasons behind the La Rouchefoucald family building a chateau there in the 11th century.

Although the chateau belonged to the family for over a thousand years, it changed hands several times between the English and French during the Hundred Years’ War.

It’s also seen its fair share of royal guests, including King Francis 1 and King Louis XIII.

A Chateau set against the sunset in a French village

The Chateau you see today though was rebuilt in the 15th century, complete with its Rapunzelesque conical towers.

Declared a Historical Monument in 1966, it’s sadly no longer open to the public since its sale to an Austrian businessman in 2021. However, I have it on good authority it’s for sale once again. Fingers crossed that this means it will reopen to the public.

On Bastille Day, it’s a magical sight to see the chateau lit up by fireworks as they paint the night sky. No expense is spared by the village to celebrate and the fireworks are always spectacular. 

Watching from the bridge overlooking the Charente river, the beauty of it completely takes your breath away.

Other historical areas of interest in Verteuil

An aerial view of Verteuil

The Chateau isn’t the only building related to the Rochefoucald family. Le Couvent des Cordeliers now closed to the public, was built in 1471 by Jean de la Rochefoucald, Lord of Verteuil. 

A former Franciscan monastery, it was originally built to house the graves of the family of Jean de la Rochefoucald. The monks remained in the monastery until 1793 when the convent was sold during the French Revolution. 

You used to be able to host events there and tour the convent allowing people to explore the past and step into a bygone era.

A cosy fireplace in an old restaurant in France

The Sénéchalerie, now a bar, was originally the entrance to the village in the Middle Ages. Home to the seneschal of the castle of Verteuil, they acted like a judge for the village. 

There is now a mural of the seneschal in the original doorway of the house. It always makes me jump when I walk past it.

The owners of Sénéchalerie have done a great job of restoring the building. There’s a lovely mezzanine area where you can dine, and downstairs with its log fire, the bar and more tables.

For me though, it’s the outside that really takes your breath away. You feel as though you could reach out and touch the chateau it’s so close. 

A wonderful spot to be on a summer afternoon enjoying a glass of rose and a charcuterie board.

However, before paved roads, mud was a real issue for the villagers of Verteuil. It was so bad that people had to wear clogs, to pass through certain streets. 

There is one street called ‘Impasse du Bocq’, which literally means ‘Clog alley’.

Another road, Chemin des Dames, was built for the ladies to use on their way to church. Accessed by a staircase on Rue de Temple, it allowed them to avoid their dresses dragging in the mud.

A road across the bridge in Verteuil leading to the village

Where to eat in Verteuil

You’re spoilt for choice with places to eat in this beautiful village. We’ve already mentioned Sénéchalerie, and I did a write-up here on the best places to eat in Verteuil.

But one of my favourites is Jeux de Pots, situated on the corner of the bridge overlooking the Charente river. It’s the perfect setting in the summer sitting outside in their courtyard. Or in the winter, their cosy interior is an eclectic mix of rustic French and shabby chic. The food is always good, and the service is faultless.

An outdoor terrace with tables and chairs by the river overlooking a castle

If you’re looking for something lighter, then you absolutely must visit Le Moulin de Verteuil. This fabulous old mill makes the most delicious brioche from flour milled on-site. 

They have two terraces and in the summer, the lower terrace is the best for seeing the Chateau and looking out over the river. It’s one of the most idyllic settings and perfect for a spot of people watching. 

You can also see the mill in action and buy some flour to take home.

An old stone building with red shutters and doors in a rural French village

Then there’s La Régie, just off the square, once the home of the steward of the Château. 

Now owned by Sébastien, it’s a cosy space in winter and a lovely place to sit outside in the summer. An advocate of locally sourced and grown produce, he even makes his own saffron.

Finally, you have Café Portebleue. They have a great Plat du Jour, and we’ve had many a lovely meal there in the evening with friends. Again you can eat inside or out, dependent on the weather.

Nestled in the French countryside, the village of Nanteuil en Vallée

Destroyed by the Normans at the end of the 9th century, it wasn’t till the 11th century that Aymard de La Rochefoucauld, lord of Ruffec, began rebuilding it.

Part of the rebuild included a square tower, now housing the Treasury, where Charlemagne’s corpse is said to be buried.

But once again, in the 15th century, it was destroyed, this time during the Hundred Years’ War, and again it was rebuilt.

Finally, Nanteuil was dissolved in 1770 by the bishop of Poitiers, and the abbey went to ruin during the Revolution.

Legend has it that the foreskin of Jesus is buried there deep within the ruins of the original Abbey. True or false, who knows, but it’s a great legend to tell.

It’s open during the summer months from the end of April to mid-September.

The village Lavoir in Nanteuil

Located in the car park as you drive into Nanteuil is an exhibit of the village lavoir, a public washing place. 

It was a communal area where women would come to do laundry and socialise with one another.

Historically, most households in rural France did not have running water or modern washing machines, so laundry had to be done by hand. 

The lavoir provided a central location for women to come and wash their clothes.

Typically, it was a stone or concrete basin filled with water from a nearby stream or well, and a raised platform with a pitched roof to provide some shelter from the weather.

Women would gather at the lavoir to wash clothes, chat with one another, and catch up on the latest news and gossip. 

The tradition of using lavoirs for washing clothes began to decline in the mid-twentieth century, as more households gained access to running water and washing machines.

Many lavoirs fell into disrepair and were eventually abandoned.

Things to look out for in Nanteuil

An old picture of Nanteuil in 1877

As you walk up into the village, you’ll come to a village square of sorts where the Church of St. Jean the Baptist stands. It’s quite an impressive building and is circa 15th century, with some impressive stained glass windows.

Old timbered building with a restaurant sign outside

Opposite is the aptly named Auberge Le Saint Jean, serving great food with a lovely outside area for the summer months. It was February when we visited, so we were inside in the warm, but the ambience and food were excellent.

Next door to the Auberge is the Fontaine Saint-Jean, which was originally the main source of water for the village. 

Starting up by the abbey it flows down under the street to the fountain. It was here that pilgrims on their way to Santiago de Compostela would stop to freshen up.

If you love afternoon tea another great find here is Lolly’s tea room. They offer a wide variety of homemade cakes, coffees and teas, with vegan and gluten-free alternatives.

Trust me when I say they’re yummy.

And finally, you can’t leave Nanteuil without visiting the Jardins de l’Argentor.

Designed by Charentais landscape architect Eugène Bureau, these historic gardens date back to the early 1900s. Complete with ponds, fountains, and waterfalls, it boasts over 60 species of trees, fauna and plants.

Conclusion: Villages in the French Countryside

If you love history, architecture and beautiful countryside then you’ll love the Charente in South West rural France.

With great weather, sunflower fields, vineyards, and rolling hills it’s the perfect getaway for those looking to enjoy a little slice of the French countryside.


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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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