Divided in two by the Vienne River, Châtellerault is a quiet town full of activity. The Right Bank is a historic district of Renaissance townhouses where philosopher Rene Descartes studied as a child. Across from the stately 16th century Pont Henri-IV bridge is the old industrial area of Chartreuse.
For 150 years, this has been an arms factory with thousands of employees and has only recently been refurbished. There is now a great car and motorcycle museum, and restored 19th century factories and warehouses have found a new role. Then, you can plan trips to ancient battlefields, deep forests with lakes, Gallo-Roman amphitheaters, and a network of underground medieval tunnels, all within easy reach of town.
Let’s explore the best things to do in Châtello:
1. Musée Auto, Moto, Vélo
In a huge old weapons factory on the Left Bank, there is a fleet of about 200 vintage cars and motorcycles.
These show you the evolution of transportation over the past 200 years, from 19th-century innovations in horse-drawn carriages to ultra-modern prototypes.
The motorcycle range is excellent, with an authentic Bugatti and four iconic Citroën 2CVs that work flawlessly.
The Arms Factory is also dedicated to the Arms Factory, which was at the heart of France’s World War I efforts, along with interesting artifacts from Châteleau’s defunct historical museum.
2. Henry IV Bridge
The only way to enter Old Châteleau from the west, this sturdy bridge was built in the last decades of the 16th century.
On Vienna’s Left Bank, you must pass through two circular towers with mullioned windows and slate roofs.
Despite their tough appearance, they were never built to fend off the military. Instead, they are used to collect tolls, or to restrict access to Chartrero in times of epidemics.
Those towers and nine arches are very photogenic on the town’s pier, especially against the foliage on Cognet River Island.
3. Descartes House
While the town isn’t overwhelmed by major monuments, there are plenty of small, dramatic sights to see in the medieval core and upscale 19th century.
One photo opportunity is Maison Descartes, the 16th-century home of René Descartes’ grandparents on Bourbon Street.
The famous philosopher stayed here often and studied for a few years at the former old academy (marked with a plaque). Sadly, the house is closed to visitors except for Heritage Days in September, but you can add it to your walking tour and study the fine Renaissance architecture with carved gables above the windows and portals .
4. Suri Hotel
The interesting thing about this 17th century house is that, in addition to its lavish architecture, it was built with leftover stone from the Henry IV Bridge. The designer is Charles Androuet du Cerceau, one of the prominent families of architects engaged in their trade in the 16th and 17th centuries.
Check out the doors of this gorgeous Renaissance hotel with a large courtyard in front.
It served as the town’s museum until 2004, and has since become a bone of contention: it’s owned by the city government, but stands vacant until a decision is made on its future.
Meanwhile, the town’s precious textile collection is being stored, while a small number of local handicrafts are on display at Musée Auto, Moto, Vélo.
5. Boulevard de Blossac
On the east side of the old center, Châteleau’s fortifications were demolished in the 1700s to make way for bold new developments.
The Boulevard de Blossac is the result, which follows the same path as the old wall.
You’ll feel the ebb and flow of small-town life, strolling the tree-lined avenues and stopping by the wrought-iron bandstand.
The square in front of the city hall is a plaza with lawns, fountains and benches under stone pine for noon breaks.
Also take a picture of the Italianate Blossac theatre and 19th-century bourgeois townhouses along the boulevard.
The buildings of Musée Auto, Moto, Vélo are just one of the entire factory complexes built in the early 19th century.
Beginning in 1819, thousands of people made swords here, then turned to cannons and small firearms, and into the 20th century began making carbines, automatic rifles, and pistols.
It all ended in 1968, but the facility has been restored.
In addition to the museum, there are the military archives and the French National Circus School.
Huge warehouses, chimneys and the Envigne canal add up to a very evocative walk, especially at night when the lights are on.
7. St Jacques Church
The church underwent a neo-Romanesque restoration in the 19th century, when the façade was changed and two towers were added.
But the rest of Église Saint-Jacques is much older, dating back to the 11th century.
The church is a landmark of the pilgrimage to Santiago de Compostela, Spain, and the painted statue of St. James in pilgrim’s garb reminds travelers that it has long stopped and prayed.
In the north tower there is a carillon consisting of 52 bells, the only carillon that exists in the Poitou-Charentes region.
8. Pont Camille-de-Hogues
Upstream of Pont Henri-IV is a bridge that does not look like it at first glance.
It was built at the turn of the 20th century to connect the manufacturing area on the left bank with the new suburbs on the right.
But what may be of interest to architects and engineers is that this is the first reinforced concrete road bridge in France.
The bridge was designed by the great innovator François Hennebick and was built in just four months.
In 2002, it received the “Historic Monument” label, earning some recognition.
9. Old Poitiers Gallo-Roman Theatre
Not to be mistaken for modern Poitiers, Old Poitiers is the Roman city of Vetus Pictavis, 10 minutes from the Châtellerault in the village of Naintré, a charming site of over 80 hectares dating back to the reign of Emperor Augustus period.
The city is located on the road connecting Poitiers and Tours, at the confluence of the Klein and Vienne rivers.
The amphitheater is the center, more than 116 meters wide, and formerly held 10,000 people. Vaulted foundations and large chunks allude to what stood here before.
If you want more background, book a guided tour to learn about the city’s amphitheaters and pottery kilns, villas and temples.
10. Souterrain Refuge de Prinçay
10 meters below the village of Prinçay, is an exciting heritage discovered only recently: there is a system of man-made caves spread over two levels below.
These date back to the 1100s and were used as a refuge for marauders travelling along Vienne during times of conflict.
In winter, it was a good place for hemp spinning against the cold, and later during the Revolution, when the bloodiest conflict occurred in the area, it became a hiding place.
It’s not an attraction you can just visit, but Châteleau’s tourist office will give you a tour schedule.
Just 10 kilometers south of Châteleau, the 8th century saw a huge battle that changed the course of European history.
In 732, the invading Umayyad caliph fought the Battle of Tours (or Poitiers) here with a combined Frankish and Burgundian army led by Charles Martel (the grandfather of Charlemagne). The Franks were victorious: the Moors retreated to the Iberian Peninsula, the Carolingian Empire was founded, and it was all behind this battle.
The site is commemorated with a large chessboard and direction table explaining the establishment, actions and consequences of the battle.
12. La Forêt Domaniale de Châtellerault
In the absence of a park, Châtellerault has a large woodland area at the town’s south entrance.
The forest covers more than 530 hectares and is full of cycling and walking paths.
If the weather is nice, you can grab a baguette, some cheese and charcuterie from the town market, and head to the forest for a picnic.
You can also take the smaller family members for a dip in the lake during summer, and July and August are safe for swimming and patrolled by lifeguards.
13. Future Mirror
Celebrating its 30th anniversary in 2017, this high-tech theme park is all about multimedia and special effects.
The shows take place in futuristic pavilions with 3D or 4D IMAX cinemas, or mix reality shows with special effects like the production of Cirque du Soleil’s new Forge aux étoiles.
Even after 30 years, the park is still on the cutting edge, with new shows and auditoriums being introduced almost every season.
The most recent one is the Danse avec les Robots “robocoaster” which underwent a major overhaul in 2013. It’s a “robocoaster,” an industrial-line robot that lifts your seat into the air and dances with you to Punk and Martin Solweiger to Daft’s soundtrack.
14. Abbaye de l’Étoile
The Cistercian Abbaye de l’Étoile was founded in 1117 as an almost complete monastic complex.
Hada Monastery had its heyday in the 13th century, when many surviving structures were built.
The site was subsequently damaged in the 100 Years War, the French Wars of Religion, and the Revolution of the 1790s, ultimately losing its religious function.
The most majestic building is the Gothic Chapter House, with its ribbed vaults and restrained, austere decorations.
There’s a stubborn monk’s dungeon with 1700s graffiti on the walls, and an agricultural building with a bakery that still has its original oven.
15. Local Food
The Vienne department is home to melons, with more melons grown than anywhere else in France.
Haut-Poitou melon is an IGP with strict guidelines governing everything from crop rotation to soil, size storage, transportation and size.
It is a cantaloupe with orange flesh that ripens between June and September.
If you want to dine like a local then be sure to try the farci poitevin, it’s usually an appetizer and can’t be compared to anything else.
It’s a cold vegetable patty filled with cabbage, chives, and various other vegetables that are chopped, tied in nets, and boiled in soup for hours.
Where to Stay: The Best Hotels in Chartlero, France
Lowest price guaranteed.