What a busy schedule it has been this month for us and for our visitors here at Rue Vincent, with lots of great days out for everyone. Familiar local gems such as the Château de la Roche Courbon and the amphitheatre in Saintes are always a pleasure, especially when we get to share them with somebody new. La Rochelle never fails to please: the aquarium, the waterfront and the three imposing towers flanking the harbour are a must, while lunch or dinner at one of the little eateries dotted along the quayside allows customers to sample the local wine and seafood while taking in the wonderful view.
A trip to Zoodyssée near Chizé (just 40 minutes from Rue Vincent) proved very popular with one of our young guests and was also a first visit for us. Birds of prey (including a beautiful Snowy Owl to delight Harry Potter fans!), wolves, bison, ancient cattle breeds, wild cats, magnificent deer, Poitou donkeys and playful Capucin monkeys among other species, all make their home here and feeding time is a particular joy for the youngest visitors. Go early to avoid missing out!
A visit to the old silver mines in Melle (35 minutes north of Rue Vincent) is an excellent choice on a scorching summer's day. However hot it is outside, the temperature in the underground galleries is a cool 14 degrees, so don't forget to pack jumpers!
Discover and wonder at the subterranean caves with their wealth of minerals and crystals; galleries excavated centuries ago using ancient methods and presentations celebrating the proud history of Melle as one of the very few places in France where early silver and gold coins were minted.
Paléosite at St Césaire (another super attraction under 45 minutes' drive away) is built on the site of an exciting archeological discovery and promises a great day out for adults and children with an interest in history. A prehistoric village, its people and creatures, together with crafts and skills such as tool-making and painting are brought to life on screen, through virtual reality and by computer imaging as well as in real life on the site where the skeleton of a Neanderthal woman was unearthed just decades ago.
21st-century technology juxtaposed with ancient wisdom will fascinate children and adults alike. Step onto the body scanner to compare your skeleton to that of a Neanderthal and discover what you might have looked like via a computer program with some clever facial mapping. Try your hand at launching a flint-headed spear, join in an archaeological dig or paint your face warrior-style. Learn how those famed stone tools were fashioned and the ways in which our ancestors made fire through regular demonstration sessions.
A selection of activities runs at various times throughout the day and there is plenty to see and do around the site in between, so allow at least three hours for your visit. There are picnic benches if you choose to take your own lunch, but also a restaurant serving snacks, meals and ice creams. Full details of tariffs and opening hours here.
A little further afield, but a fabulous day trip for wine-lovers, is the pretty village of St Émilion, nestled among the vines from which this world-famous wine is produced. There is limited parking in the heart of the village, but it can be difficult to wind your way up and down again through narrow streets, so using the car parking facilities at the bottom of the hill is a better option. Once safely installed it's up to you to decide whether to climb the cobbled streets on foot or ascend via the tourist train or a little red tuc-tuc.
Browse and taste the wares of independent producers and larger merchants, all eager to share the story of this fine wine region. Choose your favourites to take away. You will need very deep pockets for the most prestigious houses and vintages! Happily there are plenty of delicious alternatives (reds, whites and rosés) to taste at all price points.
Lunch in one of the bistros and restaurants is highly recommended, together with a stroll afterwards to walk off your meal and admire the scenery. The views from the top of the 13th-century Tour du Roy are stunning!
With the 14 juillet celebrations in our village added to the mix this month, it has been a most enjoyable few weeks for us all, but as the sun sets on July we are looking forward to August and a whole new itinerary. What will we be getting up to? Watch this space!