Angoulême in Poitou-Charentes is an attractive city famous for its International Comic Book Festival and the classic car race, the Circuit des Ramparts.
Known as the 'balcony of the south-west', Angoulême is built on a plateau of rock that overlooks a meander of the Charente river. The city has had an eventful history, especially since the Middle Ages when the marriage of Isabella of Angoulême to King John of England (Richard the Lionheart's brother) made Angoulême the property of the English.
Wars have played a large part in Angoulême's history with the Hundred Years War, the Wars of Religion and WW2 all having their effect. Under German occupation, Angoulême had a strong Resistance and a statue at the train station commemorates those who were deported to the concentration camps.
Since the 14th century, Angoulême has been a centre for the paper-making and printing industry, reaching its peak in the 18th and 19th centuries, but this is now in decline with many of the paper mills closed down and converted.
Much of the traditional architecture of the Old Town dates from the 19th century including the Theatre, the Palais de Justice, parts of the Town Hall (although the towers date from the Middle Ages and belonged to a château that once stood here) and the market hall of Les Halles, a covered market of steel and glass built on top of the old prison.
Other buildings worth a look are the Romanesque cathedral which has a beautiful facade that was restored in the 19th century and the Hôtel St Simon is a wonderful example of Renaissance architecture.
The Le Nil paper mill formerly owned by the Lacroix family and then by Joseph Bardou has been converted into a Museum of Paper (the Musée du Papier) that showcases the manufacturing processes and products of the paper-milling industry in Angoulême including cigarette paper, advertising prints and some examples of machinery.
Other museums in Angoulême are the Musée d'Angoulême which houses 3 collections - the archaeology and genealogy of the Charente region, a Fine Arts exhibition and a collection of arts from Africa and Oceania. At the Musée de la Societe Archeologique et Historique de la Charente you'll discover exhibits from both prehistory and protohistory including sculptures and mosiacs from the Gallo-Roman period.
There is also a Contemporary Arts Museum but the biggest museum in town is La Cité Internationale de la Bande Dessinée et de l'Image (the International City of Comic Books and the Image), perfect for children and adults alike. 3 buildings contain a museum of comics, heritage library, specialist public library, bookshop, arts cinema and a panoramic restaurant.
Every January, Angoulême plays host to the Festival International de la Bande Dessinée, the International Festival of Comic Books, with lots of exhibitions and competitions for comics published in French. The Circuit des Ramparts classic cars race happens every September and the city plays hosts to many other festivals including a Jazz Festival in January.
Angoulême also has much to offer those who like to get outdoors - hire a river boat, go cycling along the Coulée Verte and other trails, follow a heritage walk around the city or why not take a hot air balloon ride and discover this beautiful region from above?
Great views of the city can also be had from its ramparts and don't forget to explore Angoulême's cartoon murals dotted on walls all over the city. The street signs here are even in speech bubbles! As well as the covered market of Les Halles, there is also the Marché de Brocanteurs, a flea market where you can pick up an antiques bargain. Wine, macaroons and goat's cheese are all regional specialities but don't miss out on Angoulême's hand-made chocolates!
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