St Martin l’Ars, France

My family and I have spent a very pleasant couple of weeks staying at a friend’s house in a small French village, St Martin l’Ars, in the Poitou-Charentes region of western France. We were able to enjoy visiting numerous villages, churches, markets and restaurants in the area, appreciate the park and lake in the village, plus cycle along the local disused railway line.

We had a superb day in La Rochelle, where we bathed at Aytré Plage, visited the Aquarium and dined overlooking the picturesque harbour. We also stayed in Poitiers and Orleans for a couple of nights, before rounding off the trip with two marvellous nights in Paris, where we enjoyed visits to the Eiffel Tower, Notre Dame and Champs-Élysées.

Our diary:

Wednesday 6 August

Drove to Folkestone and onto Eurotunnel train, which was 30 minutes late leaving, then onto Calais, stopping at services. Went through centre of Rouen, terrible traffic! Stopped at Super U market and used grotty toilets. Found road to Le Mans. Lots of rain at another stop for coffee and hot chocolate. Arrived at Le Mans and stayed at Mercure Hotel which was super. Went to Le Globe tavern for dinner. Time for bed.

Thursday 7 August

Visited Le Mans racing circuit and walked around its museum. Stopped in Tours and visited Cathedral after lunch in pleasant square. Travelled through Poitiers and St Benoit before arriving at St Martin L’Ars and our house. Had some fun getting water heating to work, but ex-policeman Bob from next door helped sort that. Visited lake and played for a while. This place used to be called Sanctus Martinus Arsus, which was probably named after local Saint. Ars means “burnt” almost certainly originating from the presence of a lime kiln in the commune. It has a Norman church of the XI century at the heart of the village and a château of the XV century.

Friday 8 August

Spent morning at home, played football in the garden, played chess and had lunch. Drove around a little, visiting Abbey de la Réau on the banks of the Clain. It is an old royal abbey of the XII century built by the canons of St Augustin. It was sacked by the English during the Hundred Years’ War. Drove to L’Isle-Jourdain and had drink in sunny square. Onto Lussac, before returning home through extreme hail storm! Dad hears mice in bedroom for first time.

Saturday 9 August

Visited La Vallee des Singes, saw chimps, gorillas, lemurs and much more. Then onto Civray where we shopped for dinner on Sunday. Had beer at welcoming bar. Spent the hour waiting for pizza restaurant to open by visiting Charroux. Returned for pizza and swatted away many flies! Drove home and played Chiades. Mum and Dad then watched History Boys video.

Sunday 10 August

Played more chess then got bikes out of shed. Rode along disused railway track together. Had brief picnic in sun. We were muddy by then! Came home and had showers. Lots of rain around lunchtime. Watched World at War DVD and Casablanca classic. Plus Roadrunner cartoons! Had nice dinner of chicken, sausage, chirozo and rice.

Monday 11 August

Walked around village and lake. In afternoon drove to Confolens and saw folk festival staging and stalls being set up. Had ice cream in chocolatier cafe. Stopped at InterMarche. Ben and Lisa rode bikes around square. Dad found bracelet that Lisa had made him in square next to war monument. Quiche for dinner, followed by card games.

Tuesday 12 August

Slow morning. Played ball in garden. Lunch. Drove to Montmarillion and saw swimming pool. Ben played with French boys. Onto Chauvigny, walked around square, had cocktails. Drove up to Castle where the view from the top was great. Checked out large birds circling turrets. Had hot dogs then home.

Wednesday 13 August

Lisa slept in. Ben rode bike around square. Mum visited local shop. Played ball in garden. Visited park and lake in the afternoon. Lisa and Ben rode bikes. Ben swam in lake then played ball with a boy called Enzo. It rained and we got wet again! Drove to L’Isle-Jourdain for pizza in the evening. Home and watched Orchestra Seats DVD. Mice heard again.

Thursday 14 August

In the morning we drove to Montmarillion and swam in indoor and outdoor pool. On returning home Ben rode bike and visited shop with Mum. We then drove to Confolens for thee Festival. This was going on all week and featuring folk dance and music acts from around the world. Mum and Dad had lovely veggie meal (plus wine!). We walked around stalls and watched a couple of acts. Lisa particularly liked the drumming band in the street. Dad was struggling with his right foot which he had hurt just before the holiday.

Friday 15 August

Dad had a day at home to rest foot. Julie and Lisa went to Chivray market in the morning. Ben and Dad watched DVDs. Went to park in the afternoon and played football for a while with two French guys, one of whom supported Arsenal! Spanish omelette for dinner.

Saturday 16 August

Drove to lovely La Rochelle. Had fun in car on way as it was a sunny day and we played party music with the windows down. Went to Tourisme office and found where nearest beaches were to be found. Headed for Chantillion Plage (Mum, Dad and Lisa had visited this in 1998), but instead we stopped at Antrie Plage. Played ball on sand – plenty of room as the tide meant the sea was a very, very long way out! Drove back to town and walked around harbour. Had drinks to celebrate Mum and Dad’s 12th wedding anniversary. They had married in Florida Keys in 2002. Mum, Dad and Lisa visited the Aquarium while Dad checked out the football results! Home after midnight. More mice…

Sunday 17 August

Decided to leave house and let Chris and Jane, the owners, know by email. Had last ride and play at lake. Checked around, packed car and locked up house. Drove to Poitiers. Checked into Kyriad Hotel before visiting Poitiers town centre. Watched terrible ageing skateboarder embarrassing himself. Made a brief visit to Futuroscope to check on possible hotels for the following night. Returned to hotel and Dad had a beer. Booked Kyriad for following night as we were happy with rooms.

Monday 18 August

Had breakfast at local boulangerie. Drove to Parc de Blossac I. Town and played games. Visited Eglise Saint-Hilaire-le-Grand, the church in Poitiers named after Hilary of Poitiers. It dates back to the 11th century and was consecrated in 1049. Damaged during the French Revolution, it was restored in the second half of the 19th century. The church received a new portal, and the nave was partly reconstructed. It was listed as Monument historique in 1840. It was also listed as World Heritage Site by UNESCO in 1998. Had drinks at Cafe Gourmand, walked around quaint streets before returning to hotel. Went out to find somewhere to eat, ended up in Quick takeaway! Booked Kyriad again for Tuesday night.

Tuesday 19 August

Day at Futuroscope. Had great fun on rides, seeing fascinating wildlife films, some in 4D! Learnt about ancient history and animals from the dinosaur era. Ben loved the Time Machine attraction. Recorded video which placed us in cartoon! Rode up tower to 150 feet off ground. Dynamic Vienne was brilliant and scary! Cosmic Collisions took us on a trip into deep space. Stayed on for fabulous light show on the water at night. Great day.

Wednesday 20 August

Left Poitiers and drove to Orleans. Stayed in Ibis Gare next to rail station. Walked around centre in the afternoon. Saw Place de Matroi, Joan of Arc statue, merry-go-round in main square, trams. Visited Cathedral de la Croix which was impressive. Had drinks in square next to Cathedral. Dinner in amazing American diner.

Thursday 21 August

Left Orleans. Drove to Paris. Parked and found Le Lumieres Hotel near Montmartre district. Small rooms but very smart and designer style. Walked down Rue de Ordinaire. Had drinks then caught Metro from Jules Joffrin to Concorde. Saw the Place, the Seine, Champs Élysées, the Arc de Triomphe, fountains. Visited fun fair in the gardens. Then onto the Louvre. Had dinner in nearby restaurant caught Metro home.

Friday 22 August

Left hotel at 10.45am. Bought breakfast at busy bakery. Arrived on Metro platform to find Dad had lost wallet. Or had it stolen. Returned to hotel while he spent next four hours stopping cards and arranging for emergency cash via Visa in Miami and London! Left again via La Banque Postale. Travelled to Cite stop and visited Notre Dame cathedral. Caught Big Bus tour to Trocadero. Saw many Parisian sights on way. Had lovely dinner, just missing rain but snapped rainbow next to Eiffel Tower! Caught Big Bus again to the Tower. Walked up two levels as night fell. Wonderful view. Saw great film on construction of Tower. Walked across Seine and caught Metro home, arriving back after midnight.

Saturday 23 August

Travelled into centre once more, getting out of Metro at the Opera House. Listened to great busker on steps. Caught Big Bus and drove through the Louvre, around Notre Dame and onto Champs Élysées. Walked past stunning shops. Had quick lunch and returned to hotel. Packed car and headed off at 4pm, sad to say goodbye to Paris. Drove past Moulin Rouge and other interesting spots in Montmartre. Found A1 and reached Calais right on time for Eurotunnel. Dark once we reached Kent. Checked times as clocks had to go back an hour. Home and unpacked car. What a holiday…


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