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Directly west of Poitiers, and served by regular SNCF buses, the attractive small town of PARTHENAY was once an important stop on the pilgrim routes to Compostela and is now the site of a major cattle market every Wednesday. It's not a place to make a special detour for, but it's worth a stopover if you're heading north to Brittany or west to the sea.

Parthenay has nothing very remarkable to see, though its medieval heart is quite interesting. Rue Jean-Jaurès and rue de la Saunerie cut in through the largely pedestrian shopping precinct to the Gothic Porte de l'Horloge, the fortified gateway to the old Citadel on a steep-sided neck of land above a loop of the River Thouet.

Through the gateway, on rue de la Citadelle, the attractively simple Romanesque church of Ste-Croix faces the mairie across a small garden, which offers views over the ramparts and the gully of St-Jacques, with its medieval houses and vegetable plots climbing the opposite slope. Further along rue de la Citadelle is a house where Cardinal Richelieu used to visit his grandfather, and then a handsome but badly damaged Romanesque door, all that remains of the castle chapel of Notre-Dame-de-la-Couldre. Of the castle itself, practically nothing is left, but from the tip of the spur where it once stood you can look down on the twin-towered gateway and the Pont St-Jacques, a thirteenth-century bridge through which the nightly flocks of pilgrims poured into the town for shelter and security. To reach it, turn left under the Tour de l'Horloge and down the medieval lane known as Vaux St-Jacques. The lane is highly evocative of that period, with crooked half-timbered dwellings crowding up to the bridge.

Pages in section ‘Parthenay’: Practicalities, Around Parthenay.

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