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Talmont-sur-Gironde : one of France’s most beautiful villages
As we settled down for the night near Cognac, having indulged ourselves with some of the finest Rémy Martin and completing a tour of their premises, we put our minds towards our plans for the next day. Where would we go? We had all of this French countryside between us and Bordeaux, where we wished to arrive in the next day or so. Suddenly, there it was!
The words of Les Plus Beaux Villages de France lifted off the page. More simply, the most beautiful villages in France. Personally, I think most villages in France could be classified as this, but, according to this long-standing institution, only the very special ones get given this prestigious label.
To be considered a village must at least have a population smaller than 2,000 people. It must also have at least two protected sites or monuments and must have the majority support of the locals.
It seemed that we had turned into stalkers of such places, eagerly looking for these villages in the areas we travel in. It’s rare that we’ve been disappointed.
Talmont-sur-Gironde was indeed a beautiful village, and worthy of its place in such esteemed company.
Our arrival into Talmont-sur-Gironde was less than spectacular. We had driven through agricultural and wine producing areas en route from Cognac, but as we headed towards the ocean, I had expectations that the scenery would change.
Access to the village of Talmont-sur-Gironde
The signage along the roads close to the village certainly indicated that we were in the right place, and showed signs of this being an area where the tourist swell in summer would be substantial. A massive car park on the extremity of the area supported this view. The village is small and walled in, the telling sign of its role once as a citadel in the Middle Ages. Apart from locals’ vehicles, this is a no-go zone for cars and a motorhome simply wouldn’t fit.
How wonderful to see then that the local authorities, whilst not wanting to turn this sleepy village into a theme park, had provided adequate facilities for those who want to visit. I can’t tell you the number of times we’ve turned away from cities and towns we’ve wanted to visit, simply because access is difficult.
We walked from the carport towards the village, through a grass paddock, long wispy grass blowing in the cool sea-breeze in front of us, but nary a sign of what was to come. Hidden, almost completely by a stone wall, lies the mini-village of Talmont-sur-Gironde.
Founded back in the 13th century, it lies on the northern side of the Gironde Estuary, the largest estuary in Western Europe, formed from the meeting of the rivers Garonne and Dordogne.
As the walls are intact, there are only several spots where you can access the village. As we entered the cobbled streets of a town whose visitors would ebb and flow depending on the season, I felt like I was walking through a land of fairytales. Everything seemed unusually small, or I, unusually large. Low set buildings, some of them so low that I felt I could almost peek over the top of them, lined the narrow streets.
Local residents occupy small shops and sell their unique art pieces. Pastry chefs tempt passersby with all manner of French delights and “maison a vendre” signs in the windows of cute houses entice me to stay a little longer.
The residents here are proud of their town. It’s visible at every turn from the beautifully kept streets and buildings to their gardens, complete with signs asking for the flowers not to be picked. Vines grow over the buildings in a way that creates character, not mess, and there is just a vibe that makes you want to stay here forever.
The other main drawcard to this village and one of the reasons for its inclusion in this famous list of villages is the enormous Romanesque church. In a village so small, this church stands out atop the cliffs.
The Church of St Radegonde was built in the 11th century and later rebuilt in the 15th after the original facade tumbled into the sea below. At this time, more Gothic architecture was added.
It’s impressive that it is still in such good condition, especially given the impact of its location which bears the full brunt of strong ocean breezes. Even more impressive is the view from up here and it’s one not to be missed.
A working fishing village
The wooden fishing huts, perched precariously on thick wooden stilts and the fishing trawlers docked alongside the village walls are all that remain of a once thriving fishing industry here. Still, it’s great to be able to see such traditional methods still being used today, and that people are still able to earn a living from their craft. Many of these were washed away in a large storm that hit the area in 1999.
Where to eat
Don’t go looking for anything you recognise here. Talmont-sur-Gironde has several casual places to eat, like those pictured below. You’ll find these up near the main entrance to the village.
In a sweet town like this, full of such character, I’d be more inclined to find places such as these, tucked away in the laneways. Unfortunately, we arrived here too early for lunch. How I would have loved to eat in either of these.
How to get to Talmont-sur-Gironde
It’s best to have a car when visiting this village, although it is possible to catch a bus/train combination from Bordeaux.
Talmont-sur-Gironde is 57 kilometres south-south-west of Cognac and 115 kilometres north of Bordeaux. If you are taking the scenic route along the D roads, this will take at least two hours, depending on what time you leave or arrive in Bordeaux.
Parking for any vehicle is only possible at the large car park outside the city. It only takes a few minutes to walk to the village from here. Charges apply during peak season but they are reasonable at €2 for a vehicle and €8 for a motorhome. Motorhomes can also stay here overnight.
Best time to visit Talmont-sur-Gironde
Like many of these really small villages that rely on tourism, the best times to see them are usually in the peak season. We came here at the end of September and it was perfect. No crowds, but everything was still open. Coming in the winter time would see most of the shops and restaurants closed or operating at minimal hours.
Places to visit near Talmont-sur-Gironde
If you find yourself in Talmont-sur-Gironde on your way to Bordeaux, be sure to stop at a similarly named town, Montagne-sur-Gironde. Only 20 minutes further south, it’s a pretty village built around a small harbour.
With lovely parks and a great overnight place for motorhomes to stop (full access to paid electricity and water), it’s perfect for a quick stopover.