On a recent trip to France, I stayed near the picturesque town of Nanteuil-en-Vallée in the Charente Department. If any BBS readers are passing through the Charente, or staying in the nearby centres of Cognac, La Rochelle or Angoulême, then Nanteuil-en-Vallée is a brilliant day trip destination. Part of the area’s appeal is that it’s off the beaten track; the towns are peaceful, the locals are friendly and welcoming (though you’ll need to brush up on your French), and the food and wine is excellent and unpretentious. It offers a welcome break from the hustle and bustle of the tourist centres.
In 2016, Nanteuil-en-Vallée was officially recognised by the French government as a “petite cité de caractère” – a small town of character, due to its picturesque setting and rich heritage. The abbey was founded by Charlemagne in the 8th Century, and is open for the public to explore. The town is much more accessible than I anticipated, considering its listed status; there are some lovely step-free walks along the river, and the medieval streets are surprisingly smooth, even and wide. Some streets are quite steep, but you can drive anywhere and parking is very relaxed, so this shouldn’t prevent you from exploring.
There are two popular restaurants with varying levels of accessibility. Auberge Le Saint Jean is nestled at the top of the hill, opposite the Church of Saint-Jean Baptiste. The menu focuses on seasonal French fare. There are a variety of set menus and a long wine list. The food can be hit and miss; I had a delicious goat’s cheese salad and the fish of the day was very good, but the fish terrine and apple tart were sad looking and didn’t taste of much. The menus are available to view on the website. Service was very slow on our recent visit; the restaurant’s owner served our table, but didn’t bring us the menus for half an hour, and returned twice to confirm our orders because he couldn’t remember – write them down!
The website states that Auberge Le Saint Jean is wheelchair accessible, but doesn’t go into any further detail. Upon further inspection, the outdoor dining area has step free access from the street, and plenty of space for wheelchair users. Unfortunately, the disabled loo only has one grab rail! The interior dining area is quite dark, which isn’t ideal for guests with impaired vision, so make sure you call up and book an outdoor table before your visit. We’ve awarded them 1.5 BBS Ticks for quaint style but variable service and access.
Nanteuil-en-Vallée’s other restaurant is consistently excellent and always busy. Auberge L’Argentor is owned by Sebastien, who you’ll see serving tables alongside his staff. Service is attentive yet relaxed. The restaurant is divided into a smart restaurant and a more casual indoor bar area, which is popular with locals.
The menu features French classics such as confit duck, moules frites, and creme brulee, and is also available to view online.
There is a disabled loo with two grab rails, tucked away in the back of the restaurant. You’ll need to ask a member of staff to point it out, because it’s quite a long way from the outdoor dining area. There is step-free access throughout, and plenty of room both inside and out for wheelchair users. The inside dining area is well lit and cosy. We’ve awarded them 2.5 BBS Ticks for style and accessibility.
Unfortunately, there are no hotels in the immediate area with disabled access. I found a gîte (Gite Villodier) with excellent disabled bathroom facilities on Airbnb, but it’s a 40 minute drive away in Le Vigeant. Nevertheless it gets 2 BBS Ticks.
Nanteuil-en-Vallée is lovely to visit for a day out, but wheelchair users especially are better off staying in an area more equipped to host a diversity of tourists, such as Angoulême.
Finally, it’s worth noting other things to do in the area. In mid-August every year, the nearby town of Confolens hosts an International Folklore Festival.
If you’re interested in antiques and furniture shopping, this website provides a calendar of flea markets in the Charente. There are also regular markets listed here. If you’ve visited Charente and would like to comment please get in contact?