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Arçais - Discover a market garden village - Audio tour on the mobile app

Discover the typical town of Arçais, which has been awarded the "Petite Cité de Caractère" label.



Culturel, Historique, Nature (faune, flore)

This short stroll will take you to the heart of the village of Arçais. Typical of the Marais Poitevin, it has many treasures to offer. Enjoy this walk at your own pace, guided by the audio commentary or simply strolling through the narrow streets.
It's a wonderful discovery, and don't forget that you're not alone on the paths you'll be taking. So please respect the environment and the local people, and leave no trace of your visit.
This trail was created by the Tourist Office in partnership with the elected representatives of the commune of Arçais and in collaboration with the mediation service of the Parc Naturel Régional du Marais Poitevin.
Photo credits: PNR Marais Poitevin
Script and texts : Lauriane Angibaud and Amandine Louveau, Niort Marais Poitevin Tourisme
Voice : Mathilde Cornuau, Niort Marais Poitevin Tourism

-> Unmarked route

Arçais - Discover a market garden village - Audio tour on the mobile app

Distance : 1.5 km

Step 1

Marais Poitevin: Human development began in the Middle Ages. 10,000 years ago, there was 1 maritime gulf: the Gulf of the Pictons, and 4500 years ago, the ocean was still advancing as far as Niort. Arçais was on the side of a cliff. Arçais: Appeared in the Middle Ages: The monks governed the land, which had become silted-up marshland, which they drained to make it healthier and gain in arable land. Here, the wet marsh: Numerous small navigation channels allow you to move from dry area to dry area. Label "Petite Cité de Caractère" (Small Town of Character): Obtained for its hydraulic network: almost 40 km of canals criss-cross the commune. Until the early 20th century: main route to the ocean. Church: 3rd church in the village (the others have disappeared). Construction: 1860, neo-Gothic style. East facade: the iron bars were used to dry the firemen's hoses. Below, 1 levelling marker.

Step 2

The building still bears its "Post - Telegraph - Telephone" inscription!
The building was returned by the postal services in 2012. At that point, the inscription should have been removed, but the mayor at the time, Joël Bourchenin, and the residents rallied to keep it in order to preserve the history of their village. The buildings on the square have now been renovated and are home to local designers and craftspeople.

Step 3

1 of the most typical crossroads. On the right, the water pump: Drinking water in every house is a fairly recent development, arriving in the late 19th and early 20th centuries.
Rouleau à mogettes (mogette roller) next to the pump: roller with holes pulled by 1 horse on 1 round earthen platform in order to thresh the cereals or the famous white beans without damaging them. Bouteroues: stone blocks at the corners of the streets to prevent the wheels of the carts cutting the trajectory drawn by the harnessed horse. A major film location, Arçais has hosted several film shoots: In 1968, "L'inspecteur Cadavre", 1 episode of the series "Commissaire Maigret" with Jean Richard. In 2019, 1 German series about the 2nd World War, "Das Boots". The house on the left bears the inscription "Café au bon coin". This building was used as a film location and the decorators painted the shop front for the occasion.

Step 4

Typical dwellings. Although they are organised in a similar way to the other communes in the marsh, in Arçais they have a distinctive feature.
In the past, buildings were constructed using stone from the surrounding area, and the houses have their very distinctive alignments of small rubble stones: these were collected from quarries on the plain. For the dressed stones (the large straight blocks around the windows), they had to be brought from Benet, 15km away. They were transported by "rouliers", large horse-drawn carts. And since humidity is everywhere here, the houses had to be well insulated... Contrary to the modern trend, they were systematically protected by plaster.

Step 5

Right-hand side of the building: Walls could be erected by wedging cow bones between rubble stones at the same height to hang climbing plants or trellises. This system could also be used to dry fishing nets when they were made of hemp, a more fragile material that damaged more quickly if attached to harder nails.

Step 6

Be careful, the descent of this alleyway is very steep.
Before you go down, around you you see 1 building with 1 section of wooden cladding, it's 1 barn. Among the materials commonly used in the marshes for roofing were reeds: a good insulator, they are also a highly flammable material, although fires were rare in the end. The barns were around 9 to 10 m high and were used to store crops of mogettes, broad beans or hay.
Alleys are everywhere, and they inevitably lead to the water. They were about 1m30 wide and less steep than today. They allowed people who had 1 house that didn't touch the water to access the conch. Once public, many of them have now been privatised by the adjoining houses, making access from the street to the water more complicated and rare.
Turn left.

Step 7

When boating was at its height, there was no vegetation on the towpaths as there is today. There had to be no obstacles on the side to allow the boats to be pulled by cows or horses. Right from the start, the ash trees were pruned, the ditches cleared and the meadows mowed: no room for nature. As you walk along, listen out for the muffled sounds of the surrounding countryside. Look across to the other bank, too, and you'll see vegetable gardens. It was common for every farmer to have a vegetable garden accessible by boat. Mogettes were an important staple diet. It was a disgrace not to have a well-kept plot. It had to be clean!

Step 8

On the other bank, 1 former market-garden farm accessible only by boat.
Today's marshes date back to 1860, when Napoleon III commissioned drainage campaigns to complete the medieval layout. Water was at the heart of life: transporting animals, postmen, milkmen... Everyone travelled by boat. Traditional fishing, mainly for eels, provided food for the household and the surplus was sold. Today, eel and glass eel fishing is highly regulated.
The boats could be made of different materials: wood, iron or cement (less expensive). Working the marshland was difficult and many farmers tended to leave it to cultivate easier and safer areas. Around 1960, footbridges were built to improve access to plots and make work easier.

Step 9

If you look at the properties on the left, you can better understand how the village and farms were organised. Buildings were located close to the water to provide quick access to the conches and to the fields. The dwellings were at the very top of the plots, then further down were the barns near the water and the stables. Each house had its own access to the water and the landing stage.
The wooden posts at the water's edge with numbers written on them correspond to the moorings of the houses that owned them. People who lived higher up in the village used to go down the alleyways. The whole organisation of the village was based on the water. In the gardens, cow cots with rings date back to the original houses. Today, the houses have changed a lot, but these cots are used as flower pots or to support the walls.

Step 10

Behind the surrounding wall, on the left, is the former parkland of the dwelling. This imposing residence was built in 2 phases: In 1820, General Philippe Auguste Ducrocq, who owned the land, had most of the dwelling and its outbuildings built. In 1875, he extended the building to create an independent pavilion. If you look at the façade, you can see the separation by the windows, which are not all at the same distance. Underneath, the storerooms form the foundations of the building.
Most were used by farmers to store their equipment and goods.
The others belonged to the dwelling and had direct access to it via an internal staircase. The gate without a door underneath housed a water pump used by farmers. Originally manual, an electric motor was installed at the beginning of the 20th century.

Step 11

The port was a central part of the village.
Farmers would come here to store their produce. From here, the marsh was quickly accessible by boat. The metal plots at the top of the harbour were more numerous and all bore a number that corresponded to a particular property. There are far fewer plots today, because as the owners have changed, the notarial registers have gradually lost track of the correspondence between properties and pier locations. The cranes in the port are reproductions. The timber trade was important. Once it arrived at the port, the wood was pulled behind the boats from the marsh and hoisted up using these cranes. Hanging on a chain, the logs were hauled up by hand. The crane then had to be turned so that the wood could be loaded onto the vehicle that took it to the sawmill.

Step 12

Before crossing the road, check for traffic and take care. A castle is said to have been built in the 13th century below the church and sold in 1873. Today, there is no trace of the castle itself. Some of the dwellings on the right, after the intersection with the church square, are the former outbuildings of the vanished castle.

Step 13

The building that now houses the Tourist Office was originally a bakery. Transformed into a dilapidated cinema that was no longer in use, it lost its roof. Renovated, it was transformed into a tourist reception area following the visit of President François Mitterrand in 1992. This marked the start of "major works" to begin the "renaissance of the Marais Poitevin". Indeed, since the floods of 1983, the population had gradually left and abandoned the area, which was falling into neglect and oblivion.
Don't hesitate to drop in at the Tourist Office, where you'll find more old pictures, traditional objects and a team of advisers who are always on hand to help you explore the marshes in greater depth!

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