The Poitou-Charentes region of France is dotted with great little towns and villages, even the cities have a small town feel. Exploring is enjoyable, there often seems a surprise on every corner and Angoulême is not an exception.
Built on a plateau the medieval city has some impressive Romanesque architecture including the Ville d’Angoulême provides panoramic views of the city from top of the keep. It also hosts the annual presentation of the Grand Prix de la ville d’Angoulême. Awarded to the artist judged to have done the most to further comic book evolution .
The winding streets seem to hold their secrets until the very last moment, before rounding a corner a beautiful church or fantastic mural being revealed. The observant will notice that even the traditional door knockers are of interest, gloved or bejewelled hands and strange faces which would not be out-of-place in a Dickens novel are relatively common.
There is a modern area with fashionable shops, cool little bars or brasseries, sophisticated restaurants and of course a thriving café culture. A stroll through this area and the Rue Hergé will be stumbled upon, named after the creator of TinTin. Part way down the street and his huge head appears, another quirky attraction which adds to the appeal of this pleasant city.
A small market with a handful of stalls in located near the city centre, leather goods, books and other bric-à-brac is available for those that enjoy browsing.
It is the comic murals for which the city has gained a reputation that grab the attention most. I have always enjoyed talented street artists and some of the creative work they produce, the scale and obvious risk that they have taken is breath-taking.
Angoulême has taken street art to another dimension however, there are impressive, beautiful murals all over the city, some of which have a message or tell a story. A number of cities have murals which cover the complete side of a building but here they even have some that cover entire tower blocks from base to top.
Even the utility companies get in on the act, colourful postboxes ably depict their practical use and the electrical junction boxes must be the most decorative in the world!
Quite of a few of the street corners have yet more creative street art and it pays to look upwards too as not all the murals are at eye level or instantly visible. Although many look almost like new others are a little faded and the paint is beginning to crack, many are humourous and will have even the most cynical tourist smiling.
The whole project known as Les Murs Peints, or The Painted Walls and murals designed by some of the most talented comic artists, which CitéCréation invited . The locations have all been carefully selected by a committee and there is a reason for this scattering of street art in this city. Celebrating the French history of la bande dessinée, or comic books and the American comics which were banned during the Nazi occupation. These books often brought attention to sensitive subjects in a humourous way which sometimes helped the healing process of those that had suffered.
As host of the largest annual comic book festival in the World, the ‘Festival international de la Bande Dessinée’ Angoulême welcomes some of the most famous comic book artists as well as thousands of industry workers and visitors. In 2013 the city will celebrate hosting the festival for 40 years.
This is not the only event the city plays host to; the ‘Circuit des Remparts d’Angouleme’ is a classic car race which takes place around the ramparts of the city. Held over three days it is open to all cars which pre-date 1975. It is all very civilised with a pre-race parade, the ‘Concourse d’elegance’ and even includes a stop for lunch. The main race takes place on the last Sunday, the first such event was held in 1939.
Tomorrow will include a visit to the Comic Strips Museum and hopefully will provide a fitting climax to this post. Don’t forget to come back.
Although a grateful guest of the Poitou-Charentes Tourism Board all opinions are my own formed late at night, with the help of plenty of caffeine.