Family Travel, France, Nouvelle-Aquitaine

Is Saintes the Perfect French Town?

Saintes, Charente-Maritime, France

When we first moved to France, we rented a house in the Landes while we set about finding out where we wanted to settle long-term. We had a vague idea we wanted to live near Bordeaux, not too far from the beach, and preferably in a beautiful village or small town. Not too hard you might think! Then we added proximity to a great school to the wish list and suddenly everything got a lot more difficult.

After our initial despair, we visited Saintes and everything just clicked. We immediately felt like this is where we were meant to be. Let me fill you in on why this bucolic little town has stolen our hearts…

Saintes, Charente-Maritime Parks, France


Stunning Saintes

My husband is used to my impassioned declarations about French towns/countryside/beaches by now, but I’m sure even he is tired of hearing  “it’s just so beautiful” every time we walk through the old town, or stroll along the river, or discover a new (to us) part of town that is perfect in its authentic shabby chic style.

Saintes, France

Saintes old town. Charente-Maritime, France


…and it Looks Great in Every Season

Ok, so we only got a glimpse of springtime in Saintes this year, but if the other three seasons are anything to go by, Saintes looks just as good under a dazzling sun as it does under an ominous winter sky. In the summer months, the Charente gleams invitingly as it divides the town in two. When autumn approaches, the trees turn brilliant colours, perfectly complimenting the terracotta rooftops and grey Charentaise stone. In winter, the morning fog creates a thick enveloping blanket around the town from which only the tallest of church towers protrude. And in spring, seasonal flowers take centre stage – tumbling out of window boxes, sprouting through cracks in the pavement – and don’t even get me started on the surrounding sunflower fields – sublime!

Sunflower fields near Saintes, France

Saintes, France. Trees through the seasons.


Incredible History

Saintes is a history lover’s dream destination. Coming from a country where the oldest building is not quite 200 years old, it blows my mind that my son now plays cache-cache (hide and seek) around the pillars of the 2000-year-old Arc de Germanicus. Nearby, the Gallo-Roman amphitheatre conjures up images of the bloody battles that took place many centuries ago. A walk through the Saint Eutropius crypt is an intriguing experience, and take the time to look up as you wander around town – you’re sure to spot the distinctive bell towers of an ancient church or two.

Gallo-Roman Amphitheatre in Saintes, France

Saintes in Autumn, France


Cultural Cred

Saintes has much more to offer than a pretty face and some impressive historical sites. The town is also well-known as a centre for art and culture – a reputation they don’t take lightly. Galleries displaying locally produced art are scattered around the old town, there are multiple museums revealing secrets of the town’s diverse history, and the Gallia Théâtre is the local hub for performing arts.

Throughout the year, Saintes hosts music festivals, art strolls and other captivating cultural events. The month-long Christmas markets were an enchanting experience also.

Saintes at night. French towns at Christmas time.

Saintes at night. Saintes Cultural events. France


Standout Shopping

In Saintes, it’s hard not to get drawn into the cosy looking boutiques selling everything from artisan tea, to handmade hats, to high-end fashion. Surprisingly devoid of the standard souvenir shops you’ll find in any town close to the tourist route, the old town centre’s stores are worthy of the most discerning shopping aficionados attention.

Being located just-far-enough from the nearest sizeable city (La Rochelle, Bordeaux), Saintes has to be fairly self-reliant. This means you have all the usual ‘mega’ stores (located conveniently away from the town centre in a purpose made commercial centre), as well as some of the more famous French homewares and fashion stores such as Maisons du Monde, Sud Express and Galleries Lafayette.

There’s also a daily (except Monday) farmers market – the perfect place to sample local delicacies and stock up on fresh produce.

Shopping in Saintes, France

Shopping in Saintes, France


It’s Child-Friendly

While it’s easy to miss the variety of child-friendly activities we had on hand in Hamilton (it’s understandable that a town of roughly 30,000 inhabitants doesn’t match up), Saintes hosts some awesome family events and has an abundance of large natural spaces – and aren’t they the best playgrounds anyway!

We do love the large centrally located park, which has separate play areas for the different age groups. It’s a favourite with local families and is always bustling with activity.

Activities for kids in Saintes, France

Things to do with kids in Saintes, France


Nature and Parks

As much as I love the city, I need to be near nature. Even a town as petite as Saintes can get stifling without green pastures to breathe in, and leafy trees to shelter you on a hot day. But this is where Saintes stands out once more. Where else in the world would you find a historic, yet bustling little town with 120ha of protected prairie right in the heart of the town? You can literally walk off the main street and be knee-deep in uninterrupted wilderness within 10 minutes.

The public gardens are also a beautifully maintained gem in the town centre. We love strolling through the park-like setting at any time of the year. Stopping to feed the ducks, or give a friendly goat a scratch behind the ears.

Prairie in Saintes, France

Jardin Public Saintes, France


Eco-Friendliness

My most recent discovery about Saintes – and one that enforced my endearment – there has been no use of pesticides in public spaces since 2008. Instead, the council preserves biodiversity and decreases water consumption by selecting and planting low-maintenance, strong plants that need little in the way of human intervention.

As a family who vehemently opposes pesticides – this was music to our ears!

Eco-friendly Saintes, France

Saintes town centre. Charente-Maritime region, France


So for now, Saintes is our perfect French town. We’re not sure how long we’ll stay as we’re a semi-nomadic family who likes to take new opportunities as they arise! But wherever we may roam, we’re sure Saintes will always have a special place in our lives.

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Known as the cultural, historical and arts centre of Charente-Maritime, could Saintes be the perfect French town?

There is no doubt that the town of Saintes in the Charente-Maritime department of France is filled with beauty, history, and culture. Could it be the perfect French town?
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Lou Messugo

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24 Comment

  1. Reply
    Diane
    January 3, 2017 at 8:39 am

    Looks so nice! Gorgeous pics too. I love French towns that have a little bit of everything. Sharing!

    1. Reply
      Nadine Maffre
      January 3, 2017 at 9:19 am

      Thanks so much Diane! 🙂

  2. Reply
    Gil
    January 3, 2017 at 2:53 pm

    Bonjour Nadine,

    Saintais depuis 4 ans, cet article me renvoie à notre toute première perception de Saintes : une ville moyenne charmante, bercée par la Charente et verdoyante. Avec le recul, elle est également vraiment parfaite pour y élever des enfants 🙂

    On pourra regretter que les jeunes actifs n’y soient pas plus nombreux, car la ville possède tous les atouts pour les séduire. Pour nous, “the perfect french town”, assurément.

    Thanks !

    Gil.

    1. Reply
      Nadine Maffre
      January 4, 2017 at 8:04 pm

      Bonjour Gil,
      Merci beaucoup pour votre feedback! Contente que vous ayez apprecie l’article.

  3. Reply
    Clare (Suitcases and Sandcastles)
    January 5, 2017 at 3:27 pm

    What a fabulous post! You’re right, Saintes does sound like the perfect French town. I love how you’ve captured it so beautifully with your photographs. Great reading this on #AllAboutFrance

    1. Reply
      Nadine Maffre
      January 15, 2017 at 6:27 pm

      Thanks Clare!

  4. Reply
    Margo Lestz
    January 5, 2017 at 3:50 pm

    Sounds like a wonderful place. I hope you’ll make many happy memories there.

    1. Reply
      Nadine Maffre
      January 15, 2017 at 6:28 pm

      Thanks Margo – I’m sure we will 🙂

  5. Reply
    Phoebe | Lou Messugo
    January 6, 2017 at 5:36 pm

    Saintes sounds so lovely the way you describe it and I reckon you’ll have wonderful memories of it long after you’ve left. Or maybe you’ll be like so many of us who came to France for a couple of years and find yourselves still here nearly 20 years later!!! Thanks for linking to #AllAboutFrance

    1. Reply
      Nadine Maffre
      January 15, 2017 at 6:30 pm

      We plan on keeping our house here, no matter where life takes us. So it’ll always be a part of our family story 🙂

  6. Reply
    Julie Whitmarsh
    January 6, 2017 at 8:46 pm

    This post brings back lovely memories of staying near Saintes when the boys were much younger. we would regularly pop into the town & wander around, arriving on Fete day one year, which was wonderfully chaotic! It is such a lovely place with something for everyone. #AllAboutFrance

    1. Reply
      Nadine Maffre
      January 15, 2017 at 6:31 pm

      I’m glad the post brought back some lovely memories for you Julie 🙂

  7. Reply
    Lolo
    January 6, 2017 at 9:28 pm

    This town certainly looks like a beautiful town! I’ve never heard of it before! #AllAboutFrance

    1. Reply
      Nadine Maffre
      January 15, 2017 at 6:32 pm

      You have now 😉 Thanks for your comment!

  8. Reply
    Itinera magica
    January 7, 2017 at 2:56 pm

    J’adore les Landes, mais je ne connaissais pas Saintes ! La ville a l’air ravissante, merci pour cette découverte. J’epingle sur mon tableau collaboratif Pinterest France – si tu as envie d’en faire partie, n’hésite pas à m’écrire, ce serait avec plaisir !

    1. Reply
      Nadine Maffre
      January 16, 2017 at 12:41 am

      Merci beaucoup! Ca serait super! Je vous contacterai 🙂

  9. Reply
    Tricia
    January 8, 2017 at 9:55 am

    Bonjour Nadine! I enjoyed your introduction to Saintes, which sounds like the perfect blend of city and country living. The protected prairie area is fantastic and reminds me a bit of where we just came from (Split, Croatia), which has a forested park adjacent to the city. As we continue our hunt for a good French destination to settle in for a while, I’m off to peruse your France index. Merci!

    1. Reply
      Nadine Maffre
      January 15, 2017 at 6:36 pm

      Thanks Tricia. There are so many wonderful towns and villages in France, it’s very hard to choose if you don’t have constraints! But as you can see, we are happy where we ended up 🙂

  10. Reply
    Jonny (daisythebus)
    January 14, 2017 at 10:09 am

    Superb article!! We drive from Luxembourg to Portugal once every two or three years (we have family there), and often look for interesting places to visit along the way. Once we did stop overnight in Saintes but I don’t remember much about it. Your article has convinced me that we need to search it out again next time, and linger a little longer. Thanks! #AllAboutFrance

    1. Reply
      Nadine Maffre
      January 15, 2017 at 6:37 pm

      That’s great Jonny! It’s well worth lingering for 🙂

  11. Reply
    Anita
    January 15, 2017 at 2:43 am

    Wow! Beautiful pix!

    1. Reply
      Nadine Maffre
      January 15, 2017 at 6:37 pm

      Thanks Anita 🙂

  12. Reply
    Julie
    January 25, 2017 at 9:27 pm

    Hi! Thanks for the article and the beautiful pictures. I grew up in Saintes (and still live here) and it is nice to rediscover the town through someone else’s point of view! There are always things to do and it is hard to get bored of this place. There are also nice and quiet places to go nearby, especially in summer (Port d’Envaux for example).
    I wish you all the best.
    Au plaisir,

    1. Reply
      Nadine Maffre
      January 26, 2017 at 7:34 pm

      Merci Julie!
      And thanks also for telling me about Port d’Envaux – I hadn’t yet discovered that. You’re quite right – there is so much to do and see in the area 🙂

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