Welcome to Montmorillon’s Cité de l’Écrit. This is a book lover’s paradise, but with its winding cobbled streets, medieval buildings and a painter’s view at every turn, the Cite de l’Ecrit has plenty to occupy even the least bookish for a morning or afternoon.
If it is books that you are after, you are spoilt for choice. The Cité de l’Écrit has specialists in children’s literature (great for picking up an educational present for anyone studying French), plus bookshops dedicated to French gastronomy and cookery in general, erotica and cinematography, well-being, all things Spanish, science-fiction and cartoons. Many of the bookshop owners speak English, so don’t hesitate to step in for a browse – a warm welcome awaits you.
Art galleries & pottery workshops attest to Montmorillon’s reputation for inspiring artists, as well as writers and writing (the novel the ‘The Blue Bicycle’ was written by Régine Desforges, one of Montmorillon’s most famous inhabitants.) In high season, short courses / initiations are available in everything from watercolour and oil painting to Chinese calligraphy. Details of the courses available can be found at the Preface (3, rue Bernard Harent), the Cité de l’Écrit’s main reception and welcome area, where English-speaking staff are also available.
1 Visit the Preface, at the top of the Cité de l’Écrit, for information about local exhibitions, events, opening times and for any other advice. As well as being the main reception and welcome area, it holds temporary literary-themed exhibitions throughout the year. Pick up a map at the entrance desk and get exploring!
2 Step into L’Aventure de la Machine à Écrire et à Calculer (next to La Preface), a permanent exhibition dedicated to the typewriter, which is open all year round. Admire the handiwork of makers such as Hermes, Oliver, Remington and Underwood and marvel at the sheer variety of mechanisms for printing letters onto paper. Note how Blackberry’s characteristic curved keyboards are strangely reminiscent of the Williams 1 or the Imperial A or B! Best of all, it’s FREE entry.
3 Searching for a gift for a Francophile? How about a wonderful poster with a French take on the essentials of life? If so, head for ‘Au Temps de Rossignol’ where the famous Rossignol educational posters, printed here in Montmorillon, can be found. Or, visit La Découverte for old engravings, maps etc.
Step into any of the Cité de l’Écrit’s bookshops for French books on subjects far and wide.
4 Antiques and fine French linen rub shoulders with English books at The Glass Key. Specialising in Crime Fiction, Literature & Poetry, you’ll find much sought after First Editions as well as holiday reading in Patsy and James Fraser’s shop.
5 Searching for a unique gift? Why not call in at L’ARTelier de la Gartempe for pretty watercolours of the Vienne and striking ceramics, or to L’Atelier du Potier for medieval-inspired pottery, including house number plates. Visit Utopiarts and Au Coeur du Papier for all things calligraphy-oriented, or pick up some beautiful hand-painted glass at Galerie Glassart, run by English artist Sharon Cox.
6 Wend your way up to Rue Saint Denis and you’ll find a hidden gem. Livres de Sancho is a little corner of Spain / Latin America. Filled mainly with books in Spanish or French books about Spain or Latin America, it’s also stocks some beautiful art books and Spanish olive oil – olé!
7 Thirsty? Visit the Cité de l’Écrit’s very own pub come bookshop. Offering over 100 types of beer, and plenty of alcoholic and non-alcoholic alternatives besides, Le Trappe aux Livres has a cosy atmosphere in the winter and a sunny terrace for people watching in summer.
8 Hungry? In the Cité de l’Écrit itself, there are three restaurants (Crêperie du Brouard at 1, rue Montebello and Le Roman des Saveurs just opposite, as well as Nota Bene, a pizzeria at 1, rue de la Poêlerie). Alternatively, cross the old bridge (Vieux Pont) in the direction of Place du Maréchal Leclerc and you’ll find La Terrasse, an English teashop selling snacks and cakes, as well as Brasserie du Marché. There are plenty more restaurants to choose from in Montmorillon town centre itself.
9 As you walk through the Cite, you may notice ceramic tiles showing a Jack of Hearts, the emblem of Etienne de Vignolles, a loyal knight who served Jeanne d’Arc and was named Lord of Montmorillon. Vignolles leads visitors on two routes through the town in a guidebook that can be bought (for 2 euros) at Montmorillon’s Tourist Office. It’s a great way of discovering Montmorillon’s heritage, from the 12th century Octogone to its 19th century Hotels Particuliers.
10 Looking for a picnic spot or a quiet place to read? At the top of the Cité de l’Écrit, near the Preface, is a pretty, vine-filled garden called Le Jardin Des Écrivains. Alternatively, turn down Rue du Puits Carnet, alongside the Roman des Saveurs, where you will stroll past lots of riverside vegetable plots. Keep going until you reach the end and you’ll find a large public park, Aire des Ilettes, which is on a bend in the Gartempe river.
Climbing the cobbled Rue Montebello up to the panoramic viewpoint [Place du Terrier] is a favourite Sunday afternoon pastime, as is rummaging through the bookshops on the way back for tea and scones at La Terrasse. — Rosie, Montmorillon
Our kids loved the typewriters, especially the ones outside that they could play with! And we found some great children’s encyclopaedias that will make it fun to learn French when we get home. — Michael, Sweden
Even though I don’t speak much French, I still find plenty to interest me in the Cité de l’Écrit. — Ruth, Scotland
Montmorillon’s Cite de L’Ecrit is a charming spot to spend a couple of hours browsing through the books, antiquities and original art shops. When you tired of bargain hunting there is also a choice of eateries and pleasant spots to sit with a glass of something cold, or cup of coffee, and watch the world go by. Try to incorporate a visit to the lovely 11th century Notre-Dame church while you are there. – Jane, La Trimouille