Itineraries 
  

Cognac, Stone and Estuary


Among the various wine trails starting from Cognac, one of them is unusual in that it neither heads inland nor wends its way along the river bank down to the sea or upstream. The "Cognac, Architecture and the Estuary" Trail runs past the vineyards to the banks of the River Gironde, following quiet cross-country roads.



After leaving Cognac, follow the Pons road through Salignac-sur-Charente at the confluence of the Gironde and the River Né. In Pérignac, the superb West Front of the church is eye-catching, with its sculptures in the purest of Saintonge Romanesque styles. Nearby, the small village of Saint-Seurin-de-Palenne is as worth seeing for its heritage buildings as for its beautiful setting. Further on, the Charente-style Romanesque church in Bougneau boasts an outstanding choir and chancel.





Pons, a feudal town with a huge 12th-century keep high above the Seugne Valley, was a fervent Roman Catholic town with a pilgrims’ hostel where the faithful would stop on the long road to Santiago de Compostela. Yet after 1598, the town became a bastion of Protestantism. And the name of the town, which has an eel as its emblem, is linked to those of Agrippa d'Aubigné and Emile Combes**, one an out-and-out Humanist and Calvinist poet, the other a Doctor of Theology, Mayor of the town, and an experienced politician.






Pilgrimage town


The Tours Route, one of the four roads leading to Santiago de Compostela, used to run through Pons and on down to Bordeaux. The long vaulted passageway linking the pilgrims’ hostel to the old church made this a "safe, peaceful" stopover. On each side of the passageway, where the walls are engraved with age-old graffiti, are stone benches providing walkers with a momentary resting-place.


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Down by the riverside
 
The route crosses the River Seugne and turns west towards Givrezac, where the church has ornate carvings of beasts. In Romanesque iconography, the everyday life of the faithful was often shown in symbolic form such as barrels, vine shoots and bunches of grapes.
 
This, then, is a winegrowing trail to Saint-Germain-sur-Seudre where, after crossing a long narrow strip of forest, the landscape changes as you approach Saint-Fort-sur-Gironde*, a hilltop village given impact by the church bell tower topped by a dome. Romanesque imagery, full of carved fish, fishermen and mermaids, draws on the imagination and also reflects everyday life in the Middle Ages.

The road then runs along the crest of the rise, past vineyards and on to Saint-Dizant-du-Gua where the grounds of the Château de Beaulon, famous for their blue fountains, produce excellent pineau and cognac. The next towns on the Trail are Saint-Thomas-de-Conac, Saint-Sorlin-de-Conac and Saint-Bonnet-sur-Gironde. On the left, the view sweeps across the vine-clad slopes of Charente with the rolling Côtes de Blaye beyond; on the right stands the cliff lining the vast estuary with the vines of Médoc creating their own leafy ocean on the other bank.

 

From the hills of Saint-Fort-sur-Gironde, a country road runs down to Port-Maubert, a delightful harbour village where the yawls and flat-bottomed filadières of the fishermen tie up alongside. Another aspect of activity along the Estuary is the nature centre (Pôle nature) in Vitrezay, which is accessible from Saint-Bonnet-sur-Gironde. With its dipnets on posts, its footpaths from which to observe water fowl and migratory birds, its educational exhibitions and its opportunities for fun, this protected area gives an insight into the natural resources of a quite outstanding environment.


A festive estuary

In Charente-Maritime and Gironde (following the right bank from Blaye to Bourg), there are plenty of cultural, artistic, convivial and sports events to enjoy throughout the year, arranged to bring life to the places of interest along the estuary.




The port of Mortagne-sur-Gironde, downstream from Port-Maubert*,  a worthy competitor of Bordeaux and La Rochelle, was one of the main places at which cognac was loaded on ships bound for Ireland in particular but also for other ports in Europe and other continents.
 
 
Back on land
 
Beyond Saint-Bonnet-sur-Gironde, the Trail moves away from the estuary and heads inland, meandering across the hills and dales of Saint-Georges-des-Agouts and Semoussac. As to Saint-Martial-de-Mirambeau, it is the last stop on the “Cognac, Architecture and the Estuary” Trail.
 
Perched on a rise, the town with the evocative name of Mirambeau enjoys an uninterrupted view of the Gironde Estuary, the marshes, the vine-clad hillsides and the woodlands of the Saintonge district. Influenced equally by sea and land, it is discreetly attractive, a town that cultivates a lifestyle in which gourmet cuisine is one of the main features. 
 

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