Living in the Charente in rural France I’m not very far from the town of Ruffec on the Lien river. It’s a bustling hive of activity with lots of great cafes and restaurants, markets, events and things to do. I love sitting in the sun in the market square with a coffee and croissant watching the world go by.
There’s so much history here in Ruffec, which I love as a history geek, from the Romans to the Second World War. And, of course, it has everything you’d expect from an old market town.
There are numerous little streets to wander up and down, and along the river is the lavoir (communal laundry washing place), built in the 19th century. But one thing really caught my eye, the unique way Ruffec hides their waste bins.
Rather than having them on display they put boxes over the top and then paint them with murals. I’ve spotted several dotted around and they’re really rather lovely and add yet more character to this thriving market town.
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The history of Ruffec town
Ruffec has a long and chequered past. Originally established in 963 by King Lothaire, the town was given to Guillaume IV Taillefer, Count of Angoulême by the Duke of Aquitaine, William the Great, for services rendered against the Normans. According to legend, he had killed the enemy leader, despite the armour he was wearing so fierce was his attack.
There wasn’t much there other than a farm which belonged to a man called Rufus or Ruffiacus, which could be where the name Ruffec came from.
In the 10th century the Medieval castle was built upon a large hilly area which still remains today, but is now a private residence. The town was home to several religious orders, including the Benedictines and the Cistercians. These orders built several churches and monasteries in the area, including the beautiful Romanesque church of Saint-André.
The fortification of Ruffec
Charles VII and his son, Louis XI was still a dauphine, visited the town in 1442 on Good Friday and nearly drowned in the Charente river when taking a boat trip. In 1463, when he was king, he authorised the inhabitants to fortify the city and defend themselves against the enemy.
It was when the salt tax was implemented around 1548 that things started to take a turn for the worse. Protests against the tax led by Boisménier and his soldiers saw the salt granary destroyed with fighting and looting.
In January 1588, the lord of Volvire was given permission to develop his land in Ruffec. It became a territory of 36 parishes and 200 noble houses,one of the largest in France at the time.
The French Revolution brought more significant changes to Ruffec. In 1790, the town became the capital of a new canton, and it was renamed Ruffec-sur-Touvre. The revolutionaries also abolished the town’s religious orders, seizing their property and expelling their members. Many of the town’s churches and monasteries were converted to secular use, including the Saint-André church, which became a grain warehouse.
Marie de Ruffec
The town hall in Ruffec (Place d’Armes) was built between 1837-1842 and is one of the oldest in the Charente region. The town experienced huge growth during this period under the mayor at the time, Monsieur Demondion. He condemned many of the old buildings as being unsanitary, and set about creating new ones, including the town hall.
The first stone was laid in July 1837, and during the ceremony, the major placed underneath it a commemorative plaque and coins bearing the effigy of Louis-Philippe to mark the occasion.
Legendary tales of Ruffec
The story of the “White Lady” is a tale of a young girl who drowned herself in the Charente river after her lover jilted her. Her ghost now haunts the river and she’s been spotted many times by both visitors and locals.
And somewhere hidden deep beneath the town is a secret tunnel. This tunnel was used by the Knights Templar, who were well known in the area, to transport their treasure. Does it still exist? Who knows but the story has certainly come from somewhere.
Finally, there’s the legend of the Ruffec dragon. Apparently, the dragon terrorised the town and lived in a cave nearby. He regularly attacked, carrying off locals and livestock who were never seen again. Eventually the town people defeated the dragon leaving everyone safe once again.
Eglise Saint-André de Ruffec
As you walk down the hill from the main square past a lovely little boulangerie towards the river, you’ll see the church of Saint-André. It originally belonged to the Benedictine abbey at Nanteuil and dates back to the 12th century. It was more or less destroyed in a fire in 1415 but was rebuilt in the 15th century.
The facade was the only thing not destroyed and has 12 statues of the apostles built into it. Interestingly, many of them have been decapitated, which often happened to religious monuments during the French revolution. Its Romanesque design is reminiscent of the cathedral of Angoulême and of Notre-Dame-la-Grande in Poitiers.
In 1903 it was listed as a historical building and if you get the chance it’s worth a look inside. The stained glass windows are stunning and said to have been added by Vivian Oël, a student of Salvador Dali.
Market day in Ruffec
As a market town it’s not surprising that Ruffec has not one but two weekly markets. Held every Wednesday and Saturday there’s something for everyone. There is local produce in abundance and every so often you can even find livestock there.
So if the idea of having chickens appeals to you then you’re in luck. The other stall I always visit is Boucherie Calluaud, an English French butcher. They usually come in their van and a couple of weeks ago they had the most gorgeous lamb and mint sausages rolls. Impossible to resist and their pate selection is to die for.
I also discovered that there is often a little British stall tucked away amongst all the other traders, which of course I love. I get to stock up English mustard, bisto gravy and cadburys chocolate.
In all honesty though, it’s the freshness of the fruit and veg that I enjoy about the weekly French markets. And there’s no shortage of that here. You’ll love the vibrancy of this traditional French market that you just can’t seem to replicate anywhere else.
Buying property in Ruffec
Whether you’re looking to move to rural France or just want a holiday home, Ruffec is a great option. It’s perfectly located with access to both Poitiers and Limoges airport, and also has good rail networks, with its own TGV station. And bonus, the N10, which is the nearest motorway, is easy to access and toll free.
You’ll find lots of great property bargains here too as Ruffec is located in the Charente, where property is 30% cheaper than neighbouring Dordogne. We all love a good bargain and Ruffec is full of them.
Whether you’re looking to buy a plot of land to build your own, renovate an old barn, or purchase an old yellow brick Charentais house, there’s lots of choice. We’ve even had the odd watermill come onto the market if you fancy something a bit quirkier.
I asked Christophe Guay, a real estate agent in Ruffec for TIC Immobilier, why people chose Ruffec. “Good weather and 4 distinct seasons. Poitou-Charentes has the second most hours of sunshine per annum after la Côte D’Azur. Prices are attractive compared to some other regions. Limousin is cheaper, but then much wetter and depressing!”
With everyone worried about the Cost of Living you could do a lot worse than moving to Ruffec and living the good life in rural France.
Fun activities in Ruffec
Yes I did say walking football. Now this might not appeal to everyone, and I can imagine a few of you sniggering right now. But, walking football is big in France, especially with the over 50s. When we first arrived here in the Charente my hubby, who played regular football a lot back in the UK, was looking for a team to play on.
All the French teams had players in their 30s and 40s, and although he was only 45 at the time, he didn’t feel confident about joining. And that’s when he stumbled across the walking version of the game.
Unfortunately for him, the nearest club was at Aulnay, over an hour’s drive from us. But he was undeterred and made the trip twice a week. He loved it and built up a great social network through going. But when a couple of years later a friend of ours suggested that together they should start their own club somewhere nearer, he jumped at the chance.
After approaching the Stade Ruffecois Football club things progressed quickly. The club were willing to help them get started with their backing including use of their pitch, a kit and more.
I’m proud to say that three years later the Stade Ruffecois Walking Football club is going strong with around 45 members. And not all of them are male.
It’s been a fantastic experience for my hubby both from a health and social perspective. The club hosts quite a few fun events each year including BBQs, tournaments, dinners and more.
Line Dancing in La Faye
Not to be outdone by hubby I’ve also found my own activity to take part in, and it’s so much fun. Who knew that line dancing was so popular in rural France.
I originally started line dancing to learn French. I know that sounds ridiculous but I figured it was a fun way to learn. And although the teacher is English the whole class is conducted in French. Plus, nearly everyone who goes is French too.
I’ve enjoyed it so much that I now go not once but twice a week. It’s run by the ADANC and on a Tuesday it’s held in La Faye from 7.30pm-8.30pm about 3 kms outside of Ruffec. I also go to the Wednesday class in Fouqueure but that’s a bit further out from Ruffec.
Kayaking in the Charente
If you’ve never tried it you’re missing out. Being right on the Charente river kayaking is really popular, and it’s a lovely thing to do on a summer’s day. Hubby and I have been a few times, and our kids have enjoyed it when they’ve come over as well.
But be warned, it looks more idyllic than it actually is. I found it quite hard work, especially in the places where the water was shallow. However, it was a lot of fun and we even stopped off a few times for a glass of wine and some snacks.
You can choose how long you want to be out and what route you want to take. A couple of things I would say would be to wear some water shoes, not flip flops. And denim shorts are a nightmare if you end up getting wet, which you inevitably will.
If you want to give it a try I can highly recommend www.canoeruffec.fr/ who are open from May through to September.
Restaurants and eating out in Ruffec
Ruffec has some great restaurants and it really depends on what you want as to where you go. However, I have of course tried most places and three of my favourites are:
- Les Caprices du Marché – just off the square it’s perfect for watching any entertainment happening. In fact, I watched a friend of mine do a line dancing exhibition whilst eating there a couple of years ago. They also hosted the annual walking football Christmas dinner in 2022, and the food was excellent.
- Chez Paco – if you want great pizza then this is the place to go. Not far from the football ground we ended up going there for dinner after a walking football match. Hubby bribed me with pizza. If I watched him play he’d take me for dinner. It worked and we’ve been many times since. They have a really lovely garden area out the back which is nice to sit in during the summer.
- Le Bistro Central – the first time I went there was when my family were visiting from the UK. We sat outside and had lunch enjoying seeing everything going on around us. Their paella is really good and it inspired me so much that I ended up going and buying my own pan so I could make it at home.
I hope now I’ve given you a good idea of just what you can do in the town of Ruffec and why I love living in the Charente. Other places nearby that are worth visiting include, Mansle, Verteuil and La Rochefoucauld.
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