15 things to do in Angoulême (France)

Situated on a rocky ridge above the Charente River, Angoulême is a stone city made more beautiful by its vertiginous slopes. The old ramparts that once blocked the upper town were demolished in the 1700s to create terraced paths and boulevards with far-reaching views of the Charente and Anguine valleys.

If you happen to be a fan of comics, this city is the place for you: in January you can attend the second largest comics festival in Europe, where international masters of art give speeches and accept awards. The rest of the time there’s a center with a museum of comics and graphic novels, as well as outdoor murals around Angoulême by some of France and Belgium’s most popular artists.

Let’s explore the best things to do in Angoulême:

1. Angoulême Cathedral

Angoulême Cathedral

Sitting high on a terrace with open views of the Anjian River Valley, the cathedral was built in the early 12th century, with the original work being completed less than 20 years later.

At the entrance, you’ll want to step back and see the richness of this west façade sculpture.

There are more than 70 sculptures and reliefs that catch your attention, but if you look from the central upper part above the window, you will see an unusual image of the Ascension of Christ, with Jesus appearing in the clouds.

2. Angoulême Museum

Angoulême Museum

In the episcopal palace next to the cathedral, there is a unique museum that tells the thousands of years of history of the Angoulême region.

So, on the first floor, you’ll peruse artifacts such as the terrifying but fascinating skulls of Bronze Age women or the awesome Agris helmet found in a cave in the Charente Basin and serving as a masterpiece of Gallo-Celtic art, its The history goes back 2,500 years.

On the first floor is the museum’s collection of marine and African primitive art, numbering over 3,000 pieces, donated by prominent anthropologists in the 1930s.

Then on the top floor you can study painting and sculpture from the French, Dutch and Flemish schools.

3. Uptown

Uptown

When exploring Angoulême’s tallest and oldest neighborhoods, it’s interesting to see the contrast between the northern and southern areas.

To the north is an intricate, narrow cobblestone street surrounded by fine stone mansions and more rustic houses with wooden shutters.

To the south, though, at locations such as Avenue Georges Clemenceau, you’ll notice the removal of the ramparts and compact street system, replaced by upright tree-lined roads, showcasing the 18th and 19th French urban design of brilliance.

Both areas are ideal for walking tours.

4. Angoulême International Comics Festival

Angoulême International Comics Festival

Every year at the end of January, the world’s third-largest comic book festival attracts hundreds of thousands of visitors to the city.

Shops around the city have opened their doors for the event, which has been going on since 1974, and established an awards ceremony with a list of prizes such as Comics of the Year and Lifetime Achievement Awards.

This was won by Mobius, Hergé and other luminaries.

If you’re a fan of comics or graphic novels, you can buy some new titles and take part in a Q&A with the art form’s international stars.

If you’re an artist yourself, you can come for some inspiration and some networking.

5. Musée de la Bande Dessinée

Design Bender Museum

Major events during the festival take place at the Cité Internationale de la Bande Dessinée et de l’Image, a large complex with a library, cinema and conference center.

But for the rest of the year, you can come to the Museum of Comics (Muséedela Bande Dessinée). There are retrospectives of many international artists, from Charles M. Schulz to Hergé, as well as some in-depth look at French pioneers like Goscinny and Uderzo who created Asterix and DC and Marvel.

The museum details the technical aspects of creating comics and graphic novels, different types of art and writing, and reveals the history and origins of the art form.

6. City Walls

city ​​wall

The upper city is surrounded by Roman Empire-era walls, which were expanded and remodeled over the next 1500 years.

The last changes were made in the 1600s, but once the defenses became obsolete in the 1700s, the walls and gates were demolished to allow Angoulême to expand along the boulevard.

What remains are scenic terraces with trails and gardens.

Rempart de Bieulieu was the first to be turned into a pavement, with cast-iron gas lights and stunning panoramic views of the Charente River every few steps.

7. Paper Museum

paper museum

Papermaking is big business in the Charente Valley because of the high purity of the water, and part of this history is preserved in an old factory on the island of the river.

The facility closed in the 1970s and has been operating since 1887. Nothing was dismantled when it was closed, so you can check out many old industrial machinery, including a working water wheel driven by the river.

The factory makes cigarette paper and even keeps the rollers that create the watermark on each sheet.

There are more exhibits on the story of industrial papermaking in the 19th and 20th centuries, including documents, first-hand accounts and black and white photographs.

8. City Hall Hotel

Town Hall Hotel

As you explore Uptown on a rocky promontory, you get a sense of how difficult it is to conquer this place.

Making it even more difficult for the raiders was the castle of Angoulême, a formidable castle now incorporated into the city’s town hall.

The remaining buildings from the medieval period are the castles and polygonal towers of the 12th and 13th centuries.

The tower is said to be the birthplace of Marguerite de Navarre, sister of King Francis I. In the mid-19th century, Paul Abadie, known for his renovation of Notre Dame, helped turn it into a city hall.

9. Speedway

race track

In mid-September, the streets of Uptown were turned into racetracks in honor of the post-war saga.

In the 40s and early 50s, the Circuit des Remparts was a Grand Prix race through Angoulême, driven by the most famous figures of the time such as Juan Manuel Fangio, Raymond Sommer and Maurice Trintingant.

The track was very fast, with three hairpin turns, but it didn’t last long as an official race.

In 1983, the event returned to tradition, with vintage Bugattis, Ferraris and Jaguars taking part in the exact same route as the quiet post-war days.

Fans of vintage cars and motorsport won’t want to miss out on this weekend’s nostalgic racing events.

10. St Andrew’s Church

St Andrew's Church

In the 1860s, Paul Abadie was also involved in the renovation of the church, which was even more worn after centuries of turmoil devastated by the Hundred Years’ War, the French Wars of Religion and the Revolution.

This leaves San Andreas with an eclectic mix of styles, but many of the oldest parts can still be seen inside.

The arches in the narthex (near the entrance) are Romanesque, completed in the 1100s, and there is a lot of beautiful old furniture to visit.

The pulpit and altar date back to the 1600s, where there are numerous Renaissance and Baroque paintings.

11. Street Murals

street mural

Angoulême decided to use its reputation in comics and illustrations to commission 20 murals on the sides of buildings around the city.

Painted by artists such as François Walthéry and Florence Cestac, these images permeate each community and are marked on a special path that you can download.

The project has been in the works for nearly 20 years, and every addition is a big deal.

But the first frescoes appeared on Boulevard Jean Moulin as early as 1982.

The painting depicting everyone’s favorite comic book characters, from Batman to Tintin and Lucky Luke, inspired more commissions from the city.

12. River Activities

river activity

When the weather is nice, the Charente starts to look enticing, and there are several ways to enjoy the waterway as it winds below Cape Angoulême through spotless farmland.

Canoeing has always been a family favorite, and there are some hiring companies competing for your business in the city.

If you go upstream, you will soon reach the Baignade Vindelle, a regulated natural swimming pool in the river.

The place is particularly appealing, the banks are shaded by vegetation and there are some activities that the kids can get involved in.

If you want to stay dry, you can also rent your own jet ski for up to three hours and go anywhere you want.

13. Chapelle des Cordeliers

Chapelle des Cordeliers

Now attached to a nursing home, this chapel was once the church of the Abbey of Cordeliers.

The building took shape when the order settled in Angoulême in the 13th century and still has traces of the original cloister.

The nave is the tomb of Jean-Louis Guez de Balzac, the 17th century libertine and writer whose satire caused a stir in contemporary French society.

As for the interior, there are tapestries and paintings from the 1600s and 1700s, as well as very old chests of drawers and bronze bowls.

14. Cognac

centaurs

Not far west of Angoulême is the town of Cognac, which you don’t have to say is home to a wide range of high-quality brandies.

World-renowned brands such as Martell, Courvoisier, Rémy Martin and Hennessy are here, and we are happy to show you around and tell their stories.

For example, Martell has been distilling Cognac for over 30 years.

On a typical visit, you will visit the vineyards, enter the winery and peruse the memorabilia in the brand museum.

Let’s not forget the tasting session, which can include two or more varieties and usually comes with something to eat.

15. Food

boudin à la viande

Like many things in western France, the Charentais region is dotted with pig farms.

Many families used to have their own pigs that could provide food for several months.

Many recipes, such as boudin à la viande (blood pudding) and Grillon (pork pie), date back to this era.

The city’s covered markets are the place to discover and buy the best local food.

The building is a stunning late 19th century metal and glass structure that was once a castle converted prison.

If you’re looking for something to bring home as a gift, there’s an array of independent chocolate shops, while Biscuiterie Lolmede is beloved for its macarons, flavored with pistachios or cognac.

Where to Stay: Best Hotels in Angoulême, France
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