Aubeterre: classed as ‘One of the most beautiful villages in France’, is named from the white stone (alba terra) on which it perches, and which has built its houses and churches. A fascinating network of narrow pedestrian pathways weave up and down through the village, originally linking the three different religious orders of Aubeterre with their churches. The monasteries of the Minimes and the Cordeliers, as well as the convent of the Clarisses, may no longer serve their original purpose, but are fascinating to visit. I can almost see the cloaked figures dashing around the web of pathways at twilight.
Built on a limestone cliff, it’s a steep village, and standing at one of the highest view-points, the honey coloured roof-tops spanning out below really is a spectacular sight – it is like stepping back in time. Or maybe it sparks ideas of a car-less future, where humans will glide across rooftops in solar-powered bodysuits (am I getting a little carried away?).
As if the pathways and roof-tops weren’t inspirational enough, the village is also home to the tallest underground church in the world – its nave is 20 metres high and its necropolis holds more than 80 sarcophagi. Eighty! Who were the people buried here? How had they lived? And died? Let your imagination run wild. And then climb the stairs onto the viewing gallery, 15 metres above the congregation. Who were the nobles standing here, looking down? Were they plotting acts of kindness, or cruelty for their village residents? Were they choosing their wives from the women below them?
Inspiration can come from so many places, and lead us in so many different directions. I connect easily with my thoughts and imagination when I’m walking - and where better to do that than around the historic narrow, cobbled pathways of Aubeterre.
L’atelier des écrivains - The Writers’ Workshop, France takes place in a stunning 18th century country manor house, situated on the edge of Aubeterre-sur-Dronne in the Charente. Why not join us so that you too can be inspired by the history and charm of this pretty French village?