Thursday, May 19, 2022

Fans of Film, Comics, Animation (& Architecture) Head to Angoulême, France

Angoulême (photo: Courtesy Charentes Tourisme)

By Jacquelin Carnegie
Angoulême, near Bordeaux, in the Charentes area of the Nouvelle Aquitaine region may not be on your travel radar, but it should be. First off, the town is beautiful and historic. Wandering around feels as if you’ve gone back in time, but the town is certainly not stuck in the past as it’s France’s comic book “capital.” And, Angoulême’s ambiance enticed American, indie film director Wes Anderson to shoot his latest film here, The French Dispatch.
It's a delight to spend time discovering all the town’s neighborhoods, nooks & crannies. Angoulême has various levels: an upper part, Ville Haute referred to as “the plateau,” surrounded by ramparts which you can stroll along to admire the lower section, Ville Basse, which runs along the Charente river. So, start your visit with a wonderful walk:

Angoulême ramparts (photo: J.Carnegie)

Before his accession to the throne in 1515, King François 1 was the Count of Angoulême. His sister, Marguerite d'Angoulême, was an outstanding figure of the French Renaissance. An accomplished author in her own right, she was a patron of the arts as well as of the poor and religious reformers.
Find out more about this fascinating history and the town’s historic buildings on an informative guided tour (there are several options offered in French, English, Spanish & Italian). Or, stroll around on your own with the help of this brochure.
Sites along the way: Hôtel de Ville (Château d’Angoulême) – The ancient castle has been transformed into the Town Hall. (The Angoulême Tourism Office is here.) Cathédrale Saint-Pierre - The Roman Catholic Cathedral is a domed Romanesque-Byzantine beauty. Église Saint-André – This church is a Romanesque masterpiece. 

In the past, Angoulême was a seat of royalty. Now, comics rule. In French, comic strips are called “bande dessinée” or “BD”:
Franquin's "Gaston" (photo: J.Carnegie)

La Cité Internationale de la Bande Dessinée et de l’Image
121 rue de Bordeaux;
Housed in three buildings along the Charente river, La Cité is devoted to what’s referred to as “the ninth art.” There’s the comic strip museum, a fabulous bookstore, a cinema, a restaurant, and lots of comics-related, cultural events, including the famous BD festival.
Musée de la Bande Dessinée (Comics Museum): 
The museum’s collection covers the history of the western world’s comics from the pioneers to the Franco-Belgian legends and the American golden-age classics on to the comics creators of today. Its unique collection of 12,000 items includes original comic strips, storyboards, and drawings. It’s a comics lover’s dream destination!

Murs Peints (Painted Walls)
Comics are part of the city, not just in the museum. Throughout the town, there are some 20+ walls painted with characters or trompe-l’oeil designs from famous comics creators, realized by the CitéCréation cooperative. You can download the “Murs bd Angoulême” App to follow the trail.
Cabanes' "La Fille des Remparts" (photo: J.Carnegie)

Creatives Work & Study in Angoulême: Called the "Ville de l'Image" (City of the Image) for bringing together the top creative and innovative cartoonists, graphic novelists, and animation artists in the field. There are 40+ studios that create half of France's animated productions, plus prestigious schools: École Nationale du Jeu et des Médias Interactifs Numériques (ENJMIN) - Videogame & interactive digital media; European School of Visual Arts (EESI) - Comic book art & digital art; École des Metiers du Cinema d'Animation (EMCA) - Film animation. 

Film director Wes Anderson chose Angoulême as the backdrop for his latest film, The French Dispatch, because of the town’s multi-levels, its ancient architecture, its narrow, winding, cobblestone streets, and its downright charm. The film’s creative team helped turn Angoulême into “Ennui-sur-Blasé” with unique, Anderson-esque touches such as specialty shops and Le Sans Blague café.
If you’re a film and/or a Wes Anderson fan, Pascal Lefort, a local film fan who was an extra in the movie, created an App that will guide you through the city to discover the places where The French Dispatch was shot and give you a good idea of how Angoulême was transformed for the filming.

Treats for the Sweet: On the pedestrian-only shopping streets and all-around town, there are wonderful shops, several of them have been here for centuries:
Chocolaterie Duceau (18 Place de l'Hôtel de Ville; - Opened in 1876, and listed as an Historical Monument, this is one of the oldest shops in the city. The confections by Jean-Christophe Crosnier include the pièce-de-resistance: a chocolate that honors Marguerite d'Angoulême.
La Biscuiterie Lolmède (3 Rue des Arceaux; - Open since 1889, they’re famous for their macarons but don’t stop there…try the madeleines dipped in chocolate.

Museums To Check Out:
Cathédrale St-Pierre (photo: Courtesy Angoulême Tourisme)

Musée d’Angoulême (Square Girard II, rue Corneille; – Housed in a beautiful building, the museum has important archaeological, ethnographic, and painting & sculpture collections.
Musée du Papier (134 rue de Bordeaux; - During the 18th & 19th centuries, Angoulême was renowned for its paper-making mills which enriched the town. The museum illuminates this history.

Festival International de la Bande Dessinée (Jan) - One of the largest & best-known comic book gatherings. Musiques Métisses (May) – Jazz, world music & literature. Festival of Francophone Films (Aug) – Movies from French-speaking countries. Circuit des Remparts (Sept) – Once a Grand Prix, now more a showcase of classic cars such as vintage Bugattis, Ferraris & Jaguars.
Théâtre d’Angoulême (Avenue des Maréchaux; - Varied programming of top-notch theatrical productions. La Nef (Rue Louis Pergaud; - Concert venue for contemporary music.

The Charentes area is known for its incredible cornucopia of gastronomic
Place du Minage (photo: J.Carnegie)
 specialties: Le Beurre des Charentes (butter) & cheeses (Taupinère, Chabichou), truffles, Les Cagouilles (snails), Les Capons Barbezieux (black-feathered poultry), Le Veau de Chalais (veal). All manner of fruits such as Melon Charentais (yellow melons), wines, and chocolates! You can try them at the beautiful covered market, Les Halles, and at the many great eateries in Angoulême: 
Le St. André (6 rue Saint-André; - Bistro cuisine made from fresh, seasonal ingredients served in a lovely setting with very friendly service.
Cokotte (6 Rue des 3 Notre Dame); La Cour (22 Rue de la Cloche Verte); 
Au Jardin (5 rue Ludovic Trarieux); Le Terminus (3 Pl. de la Gare). 

Where To Stay:
From hotels to Chambres d’Hôtes (B&Bs), there are several nice places to stay:
Hotel Le Saint Gelais (12 Rue du Père Deval; - This lovely, boutique hotel is where Wes Anderson stayed, along with the cast & crew.
Hôtel de Ville (photo: Jack Ma, WikiCommons)
Mercure Hôtel de France (1 Place des Halles Centrales; – Centrally-located with a charming garden & excellent, in-house restaurant, Le Jardin des Arceaux.
Hôtel du Palais (4 Place Francis Louvel; - In an elegant 18th-century, former convent.

Outdoor Activities:
Cruise along the Charente River onboard the Reine Margot, maybe even do a lunch or dinner cruise. Or, try some more active aquatic activities such as a kayak or jet ski. Duffers can play 18-holes at the Hirondelle Golf Club (actor Bill Murray was spotted on the links during The French Dispatch filming).
Ville Haute (photo: flickr)

Getting There: Angoulême is on the fast train line (TGV) between Paris (2hrs) & Bordeaux (1/2hr). Of course, you can always rent a car or take a bus. 

Nearby Jaunts: About half hour away by train, visit the magnificent city of Bordeaux &/or head to Cognac for tastings tours at Hennessy, Martell, Rémy Martin, Courvoisier, etc.

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