A little cloud cover here today with a welcome drop in temperature, so a perfect opportunity to take a short hop northwards across the border into the department of Deux Sèvres for a spot of shopping and lunch in Niort.
Dominated by its medieval castle, Le Donjon, and bordered by the river which bears its name (La Sèvre Niortaise), Niort is an eclectic mix of old and new architecture, with a partly-pedestrianised shopping area and a fabulous, glass-fronted market hall.
Four enormous brass dragons, undulate in pairs from the top of the cobbled streets of Rue Ricard and Rue du Temple, marking the gateway to the town centre. Originally erected in 1992 in homage to an ancient legend, they are an imposing focal point and much admired by visitors to this pretty town.
The river is criss-crossed by beautiful stone road bridges as well as a network of smaller, ironwork pedestrian ones, giving access to the modern médiathèque building in addition to some half-hidden shaded seating areas, fringed with fragrant climbing plants and situated right on the waterfront. Further along the river, a gurgling weir cascades beside a picturesque stone tower, begging to be captured by an enthusiastic artist (just out of shot) as well as our camera. What a splendid place for an al-fresco lunch!
A gentle stroll onwards along the far bank of the river reveals another hidden gem for those who have not purchased a sandwich or brought a picnic. The restaurant Les Planches, with its large and shady terrace is full to bursting even on a Monday late into August. It is easy to see why as platters of delicious lunchtime fare make their way to wooden tables of eager diners. Nothing for it but to join them!
After a sumptuous feast comprising salade de chèvre chaud, a mouthwatering signature burger-frïtes accompanied by a crisp glass of chilled rosé and rounded off with a delicious café gourmand, an afternoon browse around the town is not only a delight but a necessity in order to expend a few calories!
Plenty of independent retailers to visit as well as larger chains and Galéries Lafayette. A particular favourite is a chocolatérie; its windows filled with inviting displays of sugared almond favours and all manner of delights made from one of the town's famous delicacies: angelica. Regrettably, having eaten so well already, it will require a second visit to tempt us inside, but it has been a truly lovely day.
Merci Niort - à la prochaine!