A Look Back: Mystery in Saintes, France

Taking a walk down memory lane, or, well, looking back through iPhoto, I came across a ton of material that I meant to blog about, but never got around to it.  So I thought I’d share some inspiration from our trip to Saintes, France.  My boyfriend and I stopped in this smallish town of about 26,000 people while on our road trip from Paris to Bordeaux and back up again.

We decided to make a pit-stop in Saintes because of its history – it was founded in 20 B.C.E. by the Romans, when it was known as Mediolanum Santonum.  The town boasts a Gothic Flamboyant cathedral, Cathédrale Saint-Pierre, built from the 12th to 13th centuries.  Saintes also has the gorgeous Basillica Saint-Eutrope, another Gothic Flamboyant structure, started in the year 1081, but not finished until the 17th century!

Saintes is located in the Charente-Maritime département, in Southwest France (marked “A”):


Without further ado, a peak at Saintes, France:

entering the town, we’re greeted by a Washington D.C.-style town hall

almost immediately, we come across a gorgeous château

a little church, tucked away in a narrow back street

and its lovely door

Heading up the hill (for a killer view!), we came across a medieval cloister…

…an incredibly modern library…

…and a tiny old church attached to a yucky, 1970s-style retirement home.  boo.  but the detailed doors and original stonework is wonderful.

the little church’s gothic cross

even “plain old” buildings in France are charming!

at the top of the hill, we were greeted by a gate

As we wandered through the gate, we weren’t sure what we were heading into.  But it seemed to be public space..


The building is lovely!  What a surprise!  It’s remarkable, but DESERTED!  (?!?!)

the side of the stunning complex

‘leaving one’s mark’ is not a modern concept!

the building is clearly pre-1930

It was obvious that this place has seen better days.  Look at the stunning, colorful stained glass covered up by the ugly metal sheeting.

a passage to the basement/cellar

a view from the top of the hill, from the grounds of the mysterious building, to the cathedral below

another foggy view of the cathedral

and around back, are ugly 1970s institutional buildings?  what??!

a cool graffiti site map (plan du site).  doesn’t really fit with the fancy “château”..

a ragin’ piece of outdoor art.  I wasn’t expecting it in this location, though.

So there was clearly a mystery looming here – this lovely, abandoned structure – was it a chateau? a hospital? an institution? a hotel? an army barracks?  It was truly an enigma because the building was obviously more than a hundred years old, but there had been recent (1970-80s) renovations.  Change of uses?  If so, when and why?

When we headed back down into central Saintes, we chatted with a local who confirmed that this building was, in fact, several of the things we had suspected.  If I am remembering correctly, it was likely built in the 1800s as a private home (i.e. château), later turned into an army barracks during World War II, and was a retirement home after that.  We weren’t able to find out too much about the church portion of the structure – when or why it was added to the rest of the building, or if it was part of the original structure.   At any rate, all of the buildings and the entire grounds have since been abandoned.   The massive size and age of the historic building make it extremely expensive to keep up.

Naturally, when my boyfriend and I learned that the entire area had been abandoned, and that it had been been used for housing many people (army officers, retirees), the wheels in our heads started turning – could we turn this into a b&b or hotel?!   Saintes is a tourist draw during the ‘in season’, between April-October, peaking in the summer.  But we haven’t acted on it yet…maybe when we have a few million dollars to properly restore it to its former glory…

That’s a partial tour of Saintes..I have many more photos, particularly of the Cathédrale Saint-Pierre, so there will be a Saintes, Part II next week.  Stay tuned!!

Bon weekend!


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  1. Dennis Aubrey on April 13, 2012 at 11:23 am

    Did you get a chance to see the marvelous crypt of Saint Eutrope?

    • katherine on April 13, 2012 at 5:08 pm

      Hi Dennis,

      No, unfortunately, we did not get to see the crypt of Saint Eutrope. Wish we had…but I guess that means we’ll have to go back ; )

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