Cognac and stone
Romanesque, historical and rural from Cognac to Segonzac and beyond; romantic and Romanesque to Blanzac and the surrounding area. The "Cognac and stone" trail follows the geological strata of Charenteâ€™s limestone for it is on these chalky hillsides reflecting the warm sunlight that the vines develop all the aromatic and mouthwatering qualities that give cognac its bouquet.
|Detail of sculpture in aspe|
The series of excavations carried out by the Marpen association at Merpins aim to restore one of the strongholds of Isabelle Taillefer destroyed during the Hundred Years War.
Within musket shot the nearby marshes in the Né valley hide a wealth of flora and fauna peculiar to wet environments but difficult to observe. The neighbouring village of Ars, with its feet in the water, and Gimeux high and dry on the slopes above, possess a selection of churches, presbyteries, chapels and old remains worthy of a visit. On watch above Genté the orientation table offers a panorama of unimpeded beauty to the eye.
Scattered throughout typical villages and small hamlets the important houses proclaim their wealth. At Salles-dâ€™Angles, Angeac-Champagne, Juillac-le-Coq, Verrières, Ambleville, and as far as Roissac and even to Criteuil-la-Magdeleine, you see only beautiful farms with proud archways, manors and family mansions standing royally amongst the vines. A visitor led by curiosity will find here or there a roman bridge, an aqueduct served by a spring, a gatehouse crowned by machicolation.
At Roissac the Francis I fountain was given its name after the young king nearly drowned there. For a long time afterwards animals came there to drink and washerwomen to beat out their clothes.
The archways of the grand Charentais winegrowing houses are proof of the importance of the properties. The oldest go back to the 17th century but most of them date from the 19th century before the phylloxera crisis put a brake on building enthusiasm. The tall carriage entrance created in the walls surrounding the courtyard is accompanied by a pedestrian gate, or two in the case or particularly prosperous owners. Sleuths closely following our trails may spot a date cut above the main gate accompanied by the initials of the owner, even his full name.
Dolmen at Saint-Fort-sur-le-né
Between Salles-dâ€™Angles and Verrières stands the dolmen of Saint-Fort-sur-le-Né which overlooks the vineyards and valley of the Né. It is the most imposing of all the megaliths in the Charente, a region also rich in standing stones such as that at Saint-Même-les-Carrières.
From Merpins to the village of Viville, situated south of Châteauneuf, numerous sections of the old roman road, which linked Saintes to Périgueux, still serve as a country road or a ramblers footpath. This is the Chemin Boisné. Without doubt the Romans, who were skilled builders, passed their knowledge on to the Charentais gauls, thus inculcating in them the love of beautiful stone.
Chateau at Lignières-Sonneville
Although surrounded by vines the town of Lignières-Sonneville owes its name to the cultivation of flax which, in times past, grew on the banks of the Né. The water, which flows around the beautiful ensemble of the chateau with its moats and the Romanesque church, creates a romantic backcloth for the displays of courting swans.
The legend of the double distillation
Segonzac, capital of the Grande Champagne, is at the heart of the Cognac legend, the legend of the chevalier de la Croix Maron who put into practice the principale of the double distillation at the beginning of the 17th century. Inspired by a dream the Chevalier repassed his already partially-distilled wine a second time, thus revealing the true soul of his wine.
Inheritor of ancient traditions, Segonzac is also the home of the University of Eaux-de-vie. Outside the town an orientation table crowning one of the sunniest slopes, looks watch-fully out over the vines.
“Sleepless nights in a golden land” are to be found in the fascinating guided walks in summer; warm nights come with “The Night of Cognac” in the heart of winter: the Grande Champagne does not rest on its laurels. On the contrary, it listens to its own heartbeat and burns with its own ardour.
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A stoneâ€™s throw from Segonzac, the opencast quarries at Saint-Même, exploited since the Middle Ages, consist of an impressive maze of galleries. Cut stone was taken from them up to the middle of the 20th century.
The stone from Saint-Même, present in most of the churches and monuments in the region from the 12th century onwards, is found also in Paris in Rudeâ€™s wild depiction of the Marseillaise which decorates the Arc de Triomphe. The lighthouse at Cordouan, Biarritz, Capetown in South Africa and many other transatlantic cities owe part of their glory to this Charentais stone.
The view of the Romanesque church of Saint-Preuil set like a jewel in its casket of vines is one of the symbolic “picture postcard” images of the Cognac countryside. Another symbol, that of a simple stone hidden in the depths of the Bois de la Combe des Loges outside the village, recalls the “desert” where the protestants met at night to bear witness to their faith in a time of religious persecution.
From the church at Bouteville with its back to the vines - another photo for the album - up to the ruined chateau the trail follows a road lined with ancient walls.
The chateau, a stronghold of the Counts Taillefer in the Middle Ages, was rebuilt in the Renaissance. Deprived since of its treasure of stone, it still offers to the visitor its towers, its facade, and its terraced belvedere. At its feet the noble vines stand in serried ranks like faithful.
Eraville, Malaville... The trail follows the white stone villages leading to Nonaville, nestling in a vine-clad corrie.
If you want to continue the “Cognac and Stone” trail into Southern Charente without crossing the RN10 road, go through the tunnel under the flow of traffic on the Bordeaux-Angoulême road. The access road comes out on the other side of the valley, near Ladiville.
The Blanzac district is the southern gateway to the cognac-producing area. Its white soil and climate play a part in the finesse and quality of the local production, once known as "Petite Champagne du Blanzacais".
From roads cutting across country to roads following the hilltops, every bend, twist and turn provides an enchanting view - of a wonderful house or, further on, over a wide valley. As to the vineyards, they seem to be holding back time itself behind their ornate wrought-iron gates.
Alfred de Vigny lived in his manor house called Le Maine Giraud where his refuge, his "ivory tower" inspired his finest poetry e.g. "La Mort du Loup", "La Maison du Berger" and "La Bouteille à la Mer", all of them considered as some of the finest examples of Romantic poetry.
However, the poet was also a knowledgeable winegrower who paid great attention to the distillation of his brandy which was then bought by cognac merchants at top prices.
Located within the boundaries of Champagne-Vigny, Le Maine Giraud now belongs to a family of winegrowers who have opened the estateâ€™s distillery to the public, with the museum dedicated to the man of letters.
In the area around Blanzac there are several Romanesque churches, some of which contain outstanding wall paintings. The superb frescoes in the Knights Templar chapel in Saint-Genis de Cressac are like a strip cartoon, illustrating the story of the Crusadersâ€™ victory over the Saracen.
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