Last year I had a great chance to explore France, something I am ashamed to say I had never done. Ashamed because Paris is my favorite city in the world and I’ve spent a lot of time there; I even lived there briefly. But until last year I never really ventured beyond the confines of the City of Lights. All of that changed as I meandered down the western part of the country to the south, stopping at towns and cities along the way. One of my favorite stops was a city I knew nothing about before visiting, Angoulême.
My hotel was funky, it smelled of old pot and colorful were pillows strewn about. It’s as if some hippies said, “Let’s start a hotel,” and my accommodation for the evening was born. But it was in the center of town thankfully, a saving grace that made me instantly forgive the tchotchkes lining the dresser in my room. It was an inauspicious start to a city of great history, beauty and as I learned determination.
Like so many towns in France and Europe it’s old, has seen it all and today enjoys combining the past with the present. Stunning architecture, old churches and open squares, it’s the quintessential French town, but with a twist.
Angoulême is also famous for its comic strips and hosts the annual International Comics Festival. Artists specializing in the funny arts call Angoulême home and the local university is a base for not just comic instruction, but courses in all manner of arts. This has in turn created a hip, somewhat liberal and definitely quirky community.
Walking down impossibly old streets and alleyways, one suddenly finds themselves standing in front of massive comics drawn with meticulous care on the sides of buildings, walls and even bridges. My favorite part of Angoulême wasn’t learning about its impressive history, it was this comic crash course and seeing how many of the graffiti works of art I could find on my own that made the visit memorable.
That’s not to say the city doesn’t enjoy the normal tourist delights, it definitely does and the Museum of Angoulême is one of the best history museums I’ve ever been to. It was also in Angoulême where I enjoyed my favorite meal in France at a quiet bistro on a quiet street near the center of town, the Restaurant le Passe-Muraille. The food was homey, classic, well executed and delicious. My favorite item on the menu was the Oeuf Cocotte, eggs baked in a small dish with cheese, ham and other tasty morsels of Francophone deliciousness.
Like any great destination though, there’s not one sight or restaurant I can point to that defines the experience, that makes it great. Rather the whole is truly greater than the sum of its parts and I can’t recommend more strongly Angoulême as a great stop on your next French adventure.
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