Bishops Visit – France and More – Dampierre and Ile de Re

Lying just off La Rochelle are the islands of Ile de Re and Ile d’Oleron. We only had time to visit Ile de Re this time.

An impressive new bridge and an expensive toll now give easy access to the island and its oyster farms. There are also many residents on the island with a number of villages dotting across it. We drove out to the most westerly point through fields of grapes (that is an interesting terroir for wine grapes) and ponds of oysters. As you might expect the western point was wind swept with large masses of mixed sea vegetation bundled up on the beach. A very interesting colour and contour across the beach. See the featured image at the beginning.

The island is popular as a tourist destination with pretty villages across the island. We called into Ars en Re. We were drawn by the unusual spire on its church and then by its picturesque setting. As we strolled through the streets to the marina it commenced to rain driving us into a local emporium of ales and brews. The ceiling was covered with memorabilia and there on the wall was a photo in sepia shades of three of the 19th century’s most powerful men – King George V of Great Britain, Tzar Nicholas of Russia and Kaiser Wilhelm. George and Nicholas were almost twins but Kaiser Bill had little family resemblance. Strange that with all three being cousins.

The sky was beginning to drain of colour and we did not want to be travelling in darkness back to Dampierre it being so rural that without the moon to show the way we would travel in pitch black darkness.

Bishops Visit – France and More – Dampierre and La Rochelle

Boxing Day started with a dense fog which overnight had settled over the Charente-Maritime and we were hoping to visit La Rochelle and Ile de Re. However Terri assured us that more than likely it would be clear on the coast. So we loaded up the esky with a Xmas leftover picnic and sailed off to La Rochelle. We chose to pass through Surgeres rather than the freeway into La Rochelle thus wetting the girls appetite to do shopping in the old village.

We parked on the waterfront under the old city walls, then walked through the old harbour entrance into this famous maritime city of France and at times England. The history and its influence are astounding for a city few people I know are even aware it exists.

The old city is very unique with its covered footpaths and the remains of medieval fortifications and modern submarine pens built by the Germans during WWII still visible. I have extracted from Wikipedia the history of the city and set it out below for those interested. For those not interested I have posted some photos which I hope give you some idea of the quaintness of this place and its seaward region of Ile de Re. More on the island in another blog.

La Rochelle was one of the centres for Huguenots and therefore involved in the Religious Wars in France and I found a Protestant Church which has survived those  Wars. The waterside quays remain and are frequently adorned with markets and the lighthouse located in one of the main streets also remains and is operating..


Potted history of La Rochelle

La Rochelle is a city in western France and a seaport on the Bay of Biscay, a part of the Atlantic Ocean. It is the capital of the Charente-Maritime department. The city is connected to the Île de Ré by a 2.9 kilometres (1.8 miles) bridge. Its harbour opens into a protected strait, the Pertuis d’Antioche.

The area of La Rochelle was occupied in antiquity by the Gallic tribe of the Santones, who gave their name to the nearby region of Saintonge and the city of Saintes. The Romans then occupied the area, Roman villas have been found at Saint-Éloi and at Les Minimes, as well as salt evaporation ponds dating from the same period. La Rochelle was founded during the 10th century and became an important harbour in the 12th century.

Plantagenet rule (1154–1224)

Eleanor married Henry Plantagenet in 1152, who became king of England as Henry II in 1154, thus putting La Rochelle under Plantagenet rule, until Louis VIII captured it in the 1224 Siege of La Rochelle. The Knights Templar had a strong presence in La Rochelle since before the time of Eleanor of Aquitaine.

During the Hundred Years’ War in 1360, La Rochelle again became English. La Rochelle however expelled the English in June 1372, following the naval Battle of La Rochelle. In 1402, the French adventurer Jean de Béthencourt left La Rochelle and sailed along the coast of Morocco to conquer the Canary Islands. Until the 15th century, La Rochelle was to be the largest French harbour on the Atlantic coast.

During the Renaissance, La Rochelle adopted Protestant ideas. An early result of this was the burning at the stake of two “heretics” in La Rochelle in 1552. Conversions to Calvinism however continued, due to a change of religious beliefs, but also to a desire for political independence on the part of the local elite, and a popular opposition to royal expenses and requisitions in the building projects to fortify the coast against England. La Rochelle was the first French city, with Rouen, to experience iconoclastic riots in 1560. Protestants pillaged churches, destroyed images and statues, and also assassinated 13 Catholic priests in the Tower of the Lantern. From 1568, La Rochelle became a centre for the Huguenots, and the city declared itself an independent Reformed Republic on the model of Geneva. This led to numerous conflicts with the Catholic central government. The city supported the Protestant movement of William of Orange in the Netherlands, and from La Rochelle the Dutch under Louis of Nassau and the Sea Beggars were able to raid Spanish shipping.

In 1571 the city of La Rochelle suffered a naval blockade by the French Navy. The conflict ended with the 1573 Peace of La Rochelle, which restricted the Protestant worship to the three cities of Montauban, Nîmes and La Rochelle.

Louis XIII and his Chief Minister Cardinal Richelieu declared the suppression of the Huguenot revolt the first priority of the kingdom. The English came to the support of La Rochelle, starting an Anglo-French War (1627-1629), by sending a major expedition under the Duke of Buckingham. The expedition however ended in a fiasco for England and Cardinal Richelieu blockaded the city for 14 months, until the city surrendered and lost its mayor and its privileges. The remaining Protestants of La Rochelle suffered new persecutions, when 300 families were again expelled in November 1661, the year Louis XIV came to power.

The growing persecution of the Huguenots culminated with the Revocation of the Edict of Nantes by Louis XIV in 1685. Many Huguenots emigrated, founding such cities as New Rochelle in the vicinity of today’s New York in 1689. La Rochelle, and the siege of 1627 form much of the backdrop to the later chapters of Alexandre Dumas, père’s classic novel, The Three Musketeers.

In 1809, the Battle of the Basque Roads took place near La Rochelle, in which a British fleet defeated the French Atlantic Fleet. In 1864, the harbour of La Rochelle (area of the “Bassin à flot” behind the water locks), was the site for the maiden dive experiments of the first mechanically-powered submarine in the World, Plongeur, commanded by Marie-Joseph-Camille Doré, a native of La Rochelle.

During the Second World War, Germany established a submarine naval base at La Pallice (the main port of La Rochelle). A German stronghold, La Rochelle was the last French city to be liberated at the end of the war. The Allied siege of La Rochelle took place between 12 September 1944, and 7 May 1945; the stronghold, including the islands of Ré and Oléron, was held by 20,000 German troops under a German vice-admiral Ernst Schirlitz. Following negotiations by the French Navy frigate captain Meyer, and the general German capitulation on 7 May, French troops entered La Rochelle on 8 May. (source Wikipedia)

So, what do you think? It astounds me that this rural port  and nearby Rochefort have been so influential. One thing further if you visit La Rochelle and the boat trips to Fort Boyard are running don’t miss the opportunity to visit it. Here is a fort built on a bank in the ocean –surrounded by water and only accessible by boat. Again a Wikipedia extract on its history follows:

Fort Boyard is a fort located between the Île-d’Aix and the Île d’Oléron in the Pertuis d’Antioche straits, on the west coast of France. Building started in 1801 and was completed in 1857.

The fortifications were completed in 1857, with sufficient room for a garrison of 250 men. However, by the time of its completion, the range of cannons had significantly increased, making the fort unnecessary for national defence. After 1871, Fort Boyard was briefly used as a military prison, before being abandoned at the beginning of the 20th century. In 1950 it was made a listed building, and in 1961 was sold to Charente Maritime Regional Council.

Bishops Visit – France and More – Xmas in Dampierre


Xmas day arrives as fine and mild. It is just wonderful when the weather is clear and you can walk around without a scarf and coat. We exchanged gifts and then got down to the serious business of cooking the ham, two turkeys and all the veggies.


The Bishops supplied the oysters purchased locally and shucked by Mick. Even the little birds attracted by Micks bird feeders had a nice Xmas. After lunch about 3 o’clock we took a trip to the donkeys.

The Poitou donkey or Poitou ass, also called the Poitevin donkey or simply the Poitou, is a breed of donkey originating in the Poitou region of France. It is one of the largest donkey breeds, and was selected for size so that it could be used for the production of large working mules, in conjunction with the Poitevin horse breed. It is known for its distinctive coat, called a cadanette, which hangs in long, ungroomed cords. Breeders originally prized the coats highly, but today, many Poitou donkeys are shorn for hygienic reasons.

Due to the changes in transport and farm production, the Poitou almost died out as a breed, but the work of the Dampierre Assinerre farm, the breed has been saved. So a visit to see these delightful beasts was very relaxing after our big lunch. To learn more I suggest a visit to

Bishops Visit – France and More – Dampierre

It is nearly Xmas so we leave Palaeolithic Lascaux and head for Dampierre sur Boutonne and my cousin’s gites where we will celebrate Xmas. The drive was long and tiresome. As planned we arrived at Dampierre on December 23 to a warm welcome and hot cuppa tea.

We had been driving for most of the day so a stretch of the legs was in order. A brief walk to Chateau Dampierre then around to the church before having dinner did the trick. The chateau has a history dating back to the 10th century and if you want to read more go toâteau_de_Dampierre-sur-Boutonne. The chateau was partly destroyed by fire in 2002 and has recently been restored but is only open for visitors in the warmer months.

The village church is an interesting relic. It appears there was a church on this site from roman times and that it was later in the 12th century replaced by a Romanesque church which over the centuries has had many alterations and additions. It is standard in its layout (the cross running east west with a nave, transept and altar) and includes the town clock in its bell tower which appears to be added on to the main church building. Further you will see that some of the windows are gothic in shape and that a section of wall on the southern side has been replaced but the new wall does not exactly line up with the original.

It has never included a graveyard but the earth wall supporting the church grounds overlooking my cousin’s house has given up a skull, leg bones and other bits of human remain. When reported to the Marie of the town some explanation about many people being killed in the religious wars and these remains probably belong to that era was offered.

Wikipedia records the following about The French Wars of Religion (1562–98). “….. is the name of a period of civil infighting and military operations, primarily fought between French Catholics and Protestants (Huguenots). The conflict involved the factional disputes between the aristocratic houses of France, such as the House of Bourbon and House of Guise (Lorraine), and both sides received assistance from foreign sources.”

Seriously, these bones are sitting in dirt and now exposed to the weather – I don’t think these are left over from the 16th century, but the authorities were unconcerned so now it is up to Mick to cover them up again.

The next day we had to buy some provisions (including mistletoe and holly) so we travelled to St Jean D’Angeley as there are no grocery stores in Dampierre (500 people) and then back to our village and a walk down to the local pub (cafe restaurant and hotel of sorts) for a quick drink.

Then we had to lay in some provisions for Xmas day and Mick had to buy his lotto ticket, so we went to the Supermarche at Aulnay (another town nearby) and bought two 5 litre cartons of the local red and white plonk, two bottles of Mercier champagne and one bottle of the local “champagne style” sparkling wine. Whist there Mick showed us what was left of the Chateau at Aulnay.


Bishops Visit – France and More – Lascaux II

Our next port of call was Lascaux Caves II. This was one of the coldest day we had experienced so far. After scraping the ice off the windows of the car we loaded up and set off. “Lascaux (Lascaux Caves) is the setting of a complex of caves in south western France famous for its Palaeolithic cave paintings. The original caves are located near the village of Montignac, in the department of Dordogne. They contain some of the best-known Upper Palaeolithic art. These paintings are estimated to be 17,300 years old. They primarily consist of images of large animals, most of which are known from fossil evidence to have lived in the area at the time. In 1979, Lascaux was added to the UNESCO World Heritage Sites list along with other prehistoric sites in the Vézère valley.” (Wikipedia)

The caves were sealed by a land slip and rediscovered by a small dog falling into an opening of the caves and its school boy owner climbing in to rescue the dog. The caves were open to the public until it was found that even the breath of the visitors was causing damage to the paintings so they were closed and now can only be visited by scientists a maximum of 300 hours per annum. The French have exactly recreated part of the caves in a tourist attraction nearby and are presently recreating all of the caves in a new exhibit closer to the township of Montingac. Even though these are only replicas it is extraordinary.

The caves themselves are extraordinary evidence of the intelligence of Palaeolithic people. For instance they have found evidence that the artists used scaffolding to enable them to paint on the ceiling, used reindeer fat with birch wicks (birch does not smoke) to provide light to paint by and used the surface of the rock wall to emphasise the shapes of the animals they painted. there are pictures of horses, lots of horses and deer painted on the walls but not all the walls but mainly the upper part to the ceiling due to the rock structure and the fact that water had probably run through the caves at various times.  No photos allowed sorry due to copyright issues. So just a few pictures of the visitors centre, the entrance and a frozen bush and the link to the website. See;

There is no problem with access. The visitors centre and caves are both on an even surface but there are steps down into the exhibit. There is a further museum displaying other prehistoric discoveries of the area and the remaining caves in replica at the village of Les Eyzies de Tayac-Sireuill.