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Discover Niort and its market-garden villages by car

Head off by car to discover the little treasures of the Marais Poitevin!



Culturel, Historique, Nature (faune, flore)

We've put together an itinerary for you to visit the cult towns and villages of the Niort - Marais Poitevin region. Stop off at each stage to discover the treasures and riches to be found in these key places. At each stage of the route, you can explore the town in question on foot or by bike.

Discover Niort and its market-garden villages by car

Distance : 64.0 km

Step 1: Niort

The capital of the Deux-Sèvres department, the centre of the Communauté d'Agglomération du Niortais and the capital of mutual insurance companies, this town of sixty thousand souls tells the story of nine centuries of history, large and small. From its historic heart, bathed by the Sèvre Niortaise river, to the new gardens of the Brèche, this perpetual trading town boasts a rich and eclectic heritage, including the imposing twin keeps built in the 12th century by Henry II Plantagenet, King of England. Today, its heart beats to the rhythm of the many festive events that enliven its town centre and village districts. For several centuries, from the top of its hills, Niort has dominated the astonishing landscape of the Marais Poitevin and opened its eastern gateway. Today, it is asserting its urban and natural character by reclaiming the banks of its river.

Step 2: Bessines, entre côteau et marais

Developed around the former estate of Bassinius, a wealthy Gallo-Roman landowner, Bessines lies at the crossroads of the Aunis and Poitou regions. Bordered by the Bief Jaron and the Vieille Sèvre, this rural commune nestles on a hillside overlooking the ancient Golfe des Pictons. Its Romanesque church of Saint-Caprais, a stopover on the Pilgrim's Way to Santiago de Compostela, and its three harbours are your gateway to the Marais Poitevin. The marsh is classified as a Biotope and a Natural Area of Ecological, Faunistic and Floristic Interest. In 2011, Bessines signed up to the Terre saine (healthy earth) charter of the Poitou-Charentes region, adopting alternative solutions to become a commune of environmental excellence (reduction in the use of pesticides, rational mowing to conserve copses and unique or protected species and the return of insects, etc.).

Step 3: Magné et son festival international de peinture

Magné, from the Latin Magnus meaning great, is the ancient name of a wealthy Roman family who settled on an island in the Gulf of the Pictons. Bordered by the Sèvre Niortaise and the Sevreau, the village has four bridges spanning the waterways, the most distinctive of which is the metal drawbridge that bears witness to the golden age of river trade in the 19th century. This traffic was used to export pottery, an old local industry fuelled by bri marin, the clay from the marshes. Today, the pots have given way to exhibitions at the Four Pontet on the towpath. On the third weekend in July, Magné organises the International Painting Festival, attended by 300 artists, making it the leading venue in France for this type of event!

Step 4: Le Vanneau-Irleau et son marché sur l’eau

Le Vanneau-Irleau, a market-garden and bocage commune located in the wild marshes, is known for its timber industry specialising in plywood. Vanneau derives from vana aqua, meaning empty and vague water that prevented any cultivation before drainage channels were dug in the 19th century. Irleau is a contraction of île Reau, where the piles of a prehistoric lakeside city or more recent fortifications have been unearthed. On the last Saturday in July, the "Marché sur l'eau" is held at the Grand Port du Vanneau, where products from private individuals and traders are sold to over 15,000 visitors! This festive event reflects one of the region's most unique traditions: the transport of people, animals and goods along the tangle of waterways that make up the Venise Verte (Green Venice), the authenticity of which is carefully preserved.

Step 5: Arçais et son grand port

From the Middle Ages to the early 20th century, the Grand Port d'Arçais was one of the main trading points between the plain and the valley of the Sèvre Niortaise. Its paved slipway is built into the bend of a conch and the two wooden cranes are a reminder of how poplar trunks were once hoisted onto the riverbank to be transported by water. On the edge of the river port stands a dwelling built and extended in the 19th century (private residence visible from the street). Its first owner was responsible for planting the first poplar trees in the Marais Poitevin. The eleven warehouses on the ground floor were used to store goods (wine, wood, fish) in transit to Niort and Marans, and were then rented out to farmers until around 1960, who used them to store the equipment they needed to farm the marsh.

Step 6: Saint-Hilaire-la-Palud, la capitale du marais sauvage

La Palud comes from the Latin palus meaning marsh. Stretching out in front of the Broue d'Arçais, the river villages of La Rivière (a name linked to its association with the world of water) and Montfaucon were described at the beginning of the 18th century as considerable by Claude Masse, the king's engineer and geographer, who also pointed to a major river trade. Their houses faced both the river leading to the marsh and the cultivated fields. The hamlets of La Névoire, with their large old buildings covering kilns and drying sheds, are a reminder of the town's long-standing brick-making and tile-making tradition. Once devoted to agriculture and crafts, with the wood, milk and tile trades, the capital of the Marais sauvage is now turned towards tourism, with the Birds of the Marais Poitevin ornithological park.

Step 7: Saint-Georges-de-Rex et son marais préservé

First mentioned in 989 in the cartulary of Saint-Hilaire de Poitiers, the village lies on the limestone plain overlooking a small, unspoilt marshland. Certainly one of the oldest market gardening settlements, the village developed between a Benedictine priory and a plain castle. At Le Prieuré, its seigniorial and curial church comes under the jurisdiction of the diocese of Saintes. A new building was constructed by the Niort architect Bergeron between 1881 and 1882, using part of the communal marshland sold by candlelight and the stones from the old sanctuary. Partly acquired by the Conservatoire régional des espaces naturels de Poitou-Charentes, the Saint-Georges-de-Rex and Amuré marshes feature two major ecosystems: 40 ha of ash-wooded islands to the west and 125 ha of wet meadows to the east.

Step 8: Amuré

Amuré has been celebrating nature since 1996. Every year, at the end of November, it organises the Fête du Frêne têtard. One of its deciduous trees is listed as a remarkable tree in the Deux-Sèvres region. In 2001, the French Ministry of Sustainable Development and Town and Country Planning awarded the commune a prize for its commitment to enhancing the landscape by planting thousands of pollarded ash trees and hedgerows, clearing ditches and ditches and installing tourist information signs. This commitment to environmental excellence also extends to eco-housing, as demonstrated by the 3-star Bébé confort-accredited communal gîte in a former wet marsh house, with its period furniture and wood-chip boiler.

Step 9: Sansais-La Garette et son village-rue

The commune comprises two villages that have been inhabited since prehistoric times: Sansais, perched on a hedged hillside, and La Garette, clinging to the side of a hillock (a 31 m high mound) in the heart of the Marais Poitevin. Henri III of Navarre, the future King Henri IV, stayed in Mursay in 1576, hunting and fishing at La Garette. Ten years later, on his return to the Marais Poitevin, he wrote that ... Among these deserts are a thousand gardens to which you can only go by boat... Fish are a monstrosity in terms of quantity, size and price... Listed at almost 90 %, La Garette, from the French guéret meaning fallow land, is a village built between hillside and marsh, between Port Jaguin and the Port de la Vieille Auberge known as Grand Port. Until the middle of the 19th century, the latter was an important port for the transit of goods between Bas-Poitou (north) and Saintonge (south).

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