Saintes in the department of Charente-Maritime, Nouvelle Aquitaine (formerly Poitou-Charentes) is a surprising city. Not that well known to visitors or even to the French, it’s home to one of the best preserved Roman amphitheatres in France and is a musical town par excellence.
There’s plenty to see and do but here are some of my favourite things to do in Saintes…
What to do in Saintes
Cultural activities in Saintes
Visit the outstanding Roman remains – the Roman arena is a must-see. I’ve seen quite a few Roman ruins in my time but there’s something about this one. You can actually get up close and personal here, walk in the footsteps of the gladiators, enter the tunnels, climb the seats. It really is an astonishing sight. And the restored Roman arch of Germanicus gives you an idea of just how important this town was to the Romans. Immense and majestic, dominates the riverside.
Take a tour of the Abbaye aux Dames, a monumental and ancient abbey. There are two types of audio guide available from the reception office. You’ll discover its rich and illustrious past to the sound of music. Founded in the 11th century, turned into stables by Napoleon and now a major music venue. It’s very atmospheric.
Wander the old part of town to enjoy Renaissance houses, quirky shops and friendly cafés.
Stock up at the glorious market. Buy a delicious little tortisseaux or two, a local speciality doughnut! Beware, they’re irresistible…
Visit a museum – there are several in the town including the Museum of Echevinage with a fine collection of paintings, sculptures and regular temporary exhibitions.
Out and about in Saintes
See the city on two wheels. There’s a Velodie bike station just outside Saintes train station where you can hire bikes.
Enjoy a river cruise on the Charente. Pop into the tourist office for details – they have an office alongside the Roman Arch of Saintes, you can’t miss it.
Surprising things to do in Saintes
Ride on a unique carousel at the Abbey aux Dames. A cross between a spaceship and a mobile orchestra pit, the rides consist of state of the art electronic instruments and in a few minutes under the guidance of the conductor, riders can create seriously impressive musical pieces.
Take a break in the Prairie of La Palu. Seriously, in the middle of Saintes, just a few minutes’ walk from the central Place Bassompiere, you’ll find 120 hectares of meadow and protected nature zones alongside the river.
Visit the Romanesque crypt of the Saint-Eutrope Church on the route of Saint-Jacques-de-Compostelle near the Amphitheatre. It has an air of infinity, and looks just as it did 1000 years ago.
Stay at: Hotel Souvenirs de Families. Opposite the train station. Enjoy old school French hospitality with lovely, friendly hosts. Huge rooms, comfy and not expensive, it’s a perfect base to explore the city.