Is Saintes the Perfect French Town?

Saintes, Charente-Maritime, France

When we first moved to France, we rented a house in the Landes while we set about finding out where we wanted to settle long-term. We had a vague idea we wanted to live near Bordeaux, not too far from the beach, and preferably in a beautiful village or small town.

Not too hard you might think!

Then we added proximity to a great school to the wish list and suddenly everything got a lot more difficult. After our initial despair, we visited Saintes and everything just clicked. We immediately felt like this is where we were meant to be.

Let me fill you in on why this bucolic little town has stolen our hearts…


Stunning Saintes

My husband is used to my impassioned declarations about French towns/countryside/beaches by now, but I’m sure even he is tired of hearing  “it’s just so beautiful” every time we walk through the old town, or stroll along the river, or discover a new (to us) part of town that is perfect in its authentic shabby chic style.

Saintes, France
Saintes old town. Charente-Maritime, France

…and it Looks Great in Every Season

Ok, so we only got a glimpse of springtime in Saintes this year, but if the other three seasons are anything to go by, Saintes looks just as good under a dazzling sun as it does under an ominous winter sky.

In the summer months, the Charente gleams invitingly as it divides the town in two. When autumn approaches, the trees turn brilliant colours, perfectly complimenting the terracotta rooftops and grey Charentaise stone.

In winter, the morning fog creates a thick enveloping blanket around the town from which only the tallest of church towers protrude. And in spring, seasonal flowers take centre stage – tumbling out of window boxes, sprouting through cracks in the pavement – and don’t even get me started on the surrounding sunflower fields – sublime!

Sunflower fields near Saintes, France
Saintes, France. Trees through the seasons.

Incredible History

Saintes is a history lover’s dream destination. Coming from a country where the oldest building is not quite 200 years old, it blows my mind that my son now plays cache-cache (hide and seek) around the pillars of the 2000-year-old Arc de Germanicus.

Nearby, the Gallo-Roman amphitheatre conjures up images of the bloody battles that took place many centuries ago. A walk through the Saint Eutropius crypt is an intriguing experience, and take the time to look up as you wander around town – you’re sure to spot the distinctive bell towers of an ancient church or two.

Gallo-Roman Amphitheatre in Saintes, France
Saintes in Autumn, France

Cultural Cred

Saintes has much more to offer than a pretty face and some impressive historical sites. The town is also well-known as a centre for art and culture – a reputation they don’t take lightly.

Galleries displaying locally produced art are scattered around the old town, there are multiple museums revealing secrets of the town’s diverse history, and the Gallia Théâtre is the local hub for performing arts.

Throughout the year, Saintes hosts music festivals, art strolls and other captivating cultural events. The month-long Christmas markets were an enchanting experience also.

Saintes at night. French towns at Christmas time.
Saintes at night. Saintes Cultural events. France

Standout Shopping

In Saintes, it’s hard not to get drawn into the cosy looking boutiques selling everything from artisan tea, to handmade hats, to high-end fashion. Surprisingly devoid of the standard souvenir shops you’ll find in any town close to the tourist route, the old town centre’s stores are worthy of the most discerning shopping aficionados attention.

Being located just-far-enough from the nearest sizeable city (La Rochelle, Bordeaux), Saintes has to be fairly self-reliant. This means you have all the usual ‘mega’ stores (located conveniently away from the town centre in a purpose-made commercial centre), as well as some of the more famous French homewares and fashion stores such as Maisons du Monde, Sud Express and Galleries Lafayette.

There’s also a daily (except Monday) farmers market – the perfect place to sample local delicacies and stock up on fresh produce.

Shopping in Saintes, France
Shopping in Saintes, France

It’s Child-Friendly

While it’s easy to miss the variety of child-friendly activities we had on hand in Hamilton (it’s understandable that a town of roughly 30,000 inhabitants doesn’t match up), Saintes hosts some awesome family events and has an abundance of large natural spaces – and aren’t they the best playgrounds anyway!

We do love the large centrally located park, which has separate play areas for the different age groups. It’s a favourite with local families and is always bustling with activity.

Activities for kids in Saintes, France
Things to do with kids in Saintes, France

Nature and Parks

As much as I love the city, I need to be near nature. Even a town as petite as Saintes can get stifling without green pastures to breathe in, and leafy trees to shelter you on a hot day.

But this is where Saintes stands out once more. Where else in the world would you find a historic, yet bustling little town with 120ha of protected prairie right in the heart of the town? You can literally walk off the main street and be knee-deep in uninterrupted wilderness within 10 minutes.

The public gardens are also a beautifully maintained gem in the town centre. We love strolling through the park-like setting at any time of the year. Stopping to feed the ducks, or give a friendly goat a scratch behind the ears.

Prairie in Saintes, France
Jardin Public Saintes, France

Eco-Friendliness

My most recent discovery about Saintes – and one that enforced my endearment – there has been no use of pesticides in public spaces since 2008. Instead, the council preserves biodiversity and decreases water consumption by selecting and planting low-maintenance, strong plants that need little in the way of human intervention.

As a family who vehemently opposes pesticides – this was music to our ears!

Eco-friendly Saintes, France
Saintes town centre. Charente-Maritime region, France

So for now, Saintes is our perfect French town. We’re not sure how long we’ll stay as we’re a semi-nomadic family who likes to take new opportunities as they arise! But wherever we may roam, we’re sure Saintes will always have a special place in our lives.

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Known as the cultural, historical and arts centre of Charente-Maritime, could Saintes be the perfect French town?
Known as the cultural, historical and arts centre of Charente-Maritime, could Saintes be the perfect French town?

54 thoughts on “Is Saintes the Perfect French Town?

  1. Gil says:

    Bonjour Nadine,

    Saintais depuis 4 ans, cet article me renvoie à notre toute première perception de Saintes : une ville moyenne charmante, bercée par la Charente et verdoyante. Avec le recul, elle est également vraiment parfaite pour y élever des enfants 🙂

    On pourra regretter que les jeunes actifs n’y soient pas plus nombreux, car la ville possède tous les atouts pour les séduire. Pour nous, “the perfect french town”, assurément.

    Thanks !

    Gil.

  2. Phoebe | Lou Messugo says:

    Saintes sounds so lovely the way you describe it and I reckon you’ll have wonderful memories of it long after you’ve left. Or maybe you’ll be like so many of us who came to France for a couple of years and find yourselves still here nearly 20 years later!!! Thanks for linking to #AllAboutFrance

  3. Julie Whitmarsh says:

    This post brings back lovely memories of staying near Saintes when the boys were much younger. we would regularly pop into the town & wander around, arriving on Fete day one year, which was wonderfully chaotic! It is such a lovely place with something for everyone. #AllAboutFrance

  4. Itinera magica says:

    J’adore les Landes, mais je ne connaissais pas Saintes ! La ville a l’air ravissante, merci pour cette découverte. J’epingle sur mon tableau collaboratif Pinterest France – si tu as envie d’en faire partie, n’hésite pas à m’écrire, ce serait avec plaisir !

  5. Tricia says:

    Bonjour Nadine! I enjoyed your introduction to Saintes, which sounds like the perfect blend of city and country living. The protected prairie area is fantastic and reminds me a bit of where we just came from (Split, Croatia), which has a forested park adjacent to the city. As we continue our hunt for a good French destination to settle in for a while, I’m off to peruse your France index. Merci!

    • Nadine Maffre says:

      Thanks Tricia. There are so many wonderful towns and villages in France, it’s very hard to choose if you don’t have constraints! But as you can see, we are happy where we ended up 🙂

  6. Jonny (daisythebus) says:

    Superb article!! We drive from Luxembourg to Portugal once every two or three years (we have family there), and often look for interesting places to visit along the way. Once we did stop overnight in Saintes but I don’t remember much about it. Your article has convinced me that we need to search it out again next time, and linger a little longer. Thanks! #AllAboutFrance

  7. Julie says:

    Hi! Thanks for the article and the beautiful pictures. I grew up in Saintes (and still live here) and it is nice to rediscover the town through someone else’s point of view! There are always things to do and it is hard to get bored of this place. There are also nice and quiet places to go nearby, especially in summer (Port d’Envaux for example).
    I wish you all the best.
    Au plaisir,

  8. Brenda says:

    Hi, we live in the Correze & want to move further West. We have done quite a bit of research & visited the area & have narrowed our ideal towns down to either Saintes or Niort (both very different). It has been very interesting reading peoples views on Saintes.

  9. Douglas says:

    Thank you for the article. Our Nareau ancestors and many others left Sainted to settle Quebec. In many ways Saintonge is the homeland of the Quebecois. I have visited Saintes and the nearby village of St. Georges des Coteaux and agree completely with your assessments. Merci!

  10. Corinna says:

    Dear Nadine,
    as we are packing our boxes to move from Brussels to Corme-Royal, I came across this article of yours and the first lines read almost as if you were describing our search for the perfect place in France! We also fell in love with this little town, it clicked for us from day one. We chose to live in the “périphérie”, just 10 minutes from the city centre. I am now very much looking forward to moving there. We have no children and in fact we are retiring to the warmer weather, so our life will be slightly different, but Saintes, it seems, has something to offer for everybody!

    • Nadine Maffre says:

      Hi Corinna, I do hope you’re settling into Saintes well! We also lived about 10 minutes from the city centre and loved the mix of country living with city conveniences. It’s a lovely place for sure.

  11. Alice Nguyen says:

    Dear Nadine,

    We have been staying in Saintes for 6 months already and my daughter started to study French in a primary school. She speaks English as a second language. There’s no English taught in school and I hope there is an English speaking community here so she can speak English and make more new friends. If there are some clubs or family activities that would be great for us.

    Some more little things to add in your article, that you can visit the beautiful old castles and forests within 10-20 km from Saintes, meadows and lovely farms at Saintes George de Couteaux that is only 5 -10 km away, and the beautiful jardinieres for garden lovers at Comme Royal and inside Saintes. The big and modern hospital in Saintes is a plus. There is only a trouble that there is no taxi, no uber, limited bus and the hygiene level at public area is not good. People seems not to respect the environment while they are walking with dogs. Sometimes it ruins the beautiful walking paths near the river with uncomfortable smell. It’s so different to compare with people in UK while I lived there, they always bring the nylon bag along and handle own their own. Hope Saintes will set the rule and improve this.

    Thanks for the great article and photos that I enjoy so much.

    • Nadine Maffre says:

      Hi Alice,
      I’m surprised English isn’t being taught at your daughter’s school. I thought it was the norm for all schools! Our son’s school in Saintes taught English daily.
      Thanks for your suggestions. I wanted to keep this article solely on Saintes, but you’re right – there are so many great things to see in the wider region. Perhaps another article in the making 😉
      That’s interesting what you’ve said about the public transport. I actually never needed to call a taxi, so I wasn’t aware! I know there are buses, but again I’m not a frequent user.
      Oh yes, the dog ‘deposits’ seem to be an issue throughout France. The village where I’m now living give out free bags and there is still a problem with it here. I do think it’s improving though – we’ll have to wait and see!
      Thanks again for your comments and I hope you continue to enjoy Saintes 🙂
      Nadine

      • Alison says:

        Nadine, I know.this was written a long time ago, but I am hoping to come and live in saintes for one year and would love it if you could.tell.me. the name of your child’s.school, where English was taught so frequently. Thank you!

    • Veronica says:

      What do you mean ? The bus service is one of the best things about Saintes. It’s excellent within town, including the out of town commercial centres up to the periphery. Allobus is like a restricted Dialabus service for the countryside. And you can take the train in four different directions.

    • Veronica DURKIN says:

      Hi I recommend Les Lynx Roller Club. Its a roller skating club for families and all ages, it takes place at Gymnase Agrippa d’Aubigny, Sunday mornings 10h – 12h term time. Marjorie Reaud is la présidente. She has a chocolate shop too. The problem for me was that the club doesn’t give reductions to jobseekers so I didn’t join.
      I also wanted to join Nature17 to take part in voluntary conservation activities, but it seemed the activities were a long distance from Saintes.
      They have a forum of associations, once a year ? at the espace Mendes France, where you can meet all the clubs in Saintes.
      There’s creches and garderies at Les Boiffiers. Ask at the Mairie, they are helpful.

  12. Alice Nguyen says:

    Dear Nadine,

    I hope you had a great Christmas and New Year with your family. I would love to know the name of the school in Saintes that taught English. My daughter is at CE1 level and she is studying at a school in centre ville near Theatre. As far as I understand, many other primary schools in Saintes don’t teach English too.

    Many thanks for your reply.

    Nguyen

      • Veronica DURKIN says:

        Hi Nadine, I tried contacting all the secondary schools via their ac-poitier email adresses, offering my services as a science technician or an english language assistant. Like most employers and agencies, nobody replies. I’ve reached the point where I am going to have to return to my last low paid job in Wales, as a paid job is better than no job. I would be grateful if you could offer a ray of light in my last chance saloon…

        • Nadine Maffre says:

          Hi Veronica, we moved away from Saintes some time ago now, so I wouldn’t know where to start. I assume you’ve been into the Pôle-Emploi already? That’s probably your best bet. Good luck!

  13. Emma Siddons says:

    Yes, Saintes is lovely any time of the year. Have you seen the view from the back of the old hospital down over the town well worth it. On the walls of the church there, there is graffiti of soldiers from the first world war who were housed there.
    There is so much to add, as you say a new find each explore. I live in Ecoyeux not far away and just love to wander the streets.

    • Nadine Maffre says:

      Hi Emma! Thanks so much for sharing that little tidbit with me – I didn’t know about it, but will be sure to visit now! Yes, it’s a charming place for sure, I don’t tire of visiting the city centre and all of its delights 🙂

  14. Anne says:

    We had a house in the Var/Provence which we sadly sold as we were supposed to retire there. My husband wants to fish in competitions on the rivers, and I wanted to be near the sea and in an active, attractive town. We have been thrown in to a whirl wind, searching different regions of France. Now that we have come across Saintes and read your articles, it does seem to be the answer and we shall therefore be over soon, to test the waters! I hope and pray Saintes is for us (as it does sound from the descriptions) and thank you for your lovely article.

    • Nadine Maffre says:

      Hi Anne. Yes, it can be so hard deciding where to settle when there are so many lovely towns about! Saintes does have something special about it though I think. I hope you’ll love it as much as I did!

  15. Philippe degeorges says:

    D accord avec vous sur l’essenciel,une ville pleine d intérêt s .une qualité de vie.Apres un peu de nuances ne nuit pas..:0) Philippe..( Parisiens ayant choisi de vivre a Saintes il y a quatre ans pour le ensemble des raisons que vous formulez )

  16. Katya says:

    Thank you for this lovely summary of Saintes. We are intrigued! I am delighted to hear the pesticide-free public spaces and biodiversity plans. It got me wondering – how easy did you find it to buy/eat ‘bio’ products in Saintes and the area?

  17. Tricia Fetter says:

    Hi Nadine. Read what you have to say about Saintes and decided we are going to visit. Can you suggest the best area to stay hat is close to shopping. We will be arriving by train and will not have a car. Thx

    • Nadine Maffre says:

      Hi Tricia, how fabulous! Stay central if you can. Near the old town. It’s on the other side of the bridge than the railway station, so a little walk (around 15 mins). But you’ll be closer to all the main attractions there. Have a wonderful time – it’s a lovely place. Best, Nadine

    • Veronica DURKIN says:

      If you are on a budget, it’s Hotel le Parisien, a friendly welcome awaits you, à deux pas de la gare, and not far to walk to Avenue Gambetta, one of the main shopping streets and not far from Netto where you can buy local dairy products and all your shopping needs.

      • Veronica DURKIN says:

        Next nearest for those on a budget is the Auberge de Jeunesse, right next to the Abbaye aux Dames, and more central, not too far from the train station. There are hotels next to the train station, Souvenirs de Familles, but its a bit pricey. Try the TéGéVé bar near the station for hearty bar snacks, american sandwiches, a friendly drink and a game of pool

  18. Katherine says:

    We’ve been living 45 minutes from Saintes for 8 years and we have just sold our house so are now looking to possibly move to Saintes, which we have always loved. We may have found our house – not sure – but perhaps we’ll be joining you soon. Thanks for the lovely article.

  19. lilou_78 says:

    Hi Nadine,
    what a wonderful article! We are moving to Saintes in July 2020 from the US and our kids speak French and English. I read you were happy with the L’ile Aux Enfants school and I’ll try to sign up my kids there. I would love to know if you would recommend living near it (was it your case?) or if there are better neighborhoods for kids in your opinion? I know, it’s pretty specific but any info is welcome :-)))

    • Nadine Maffre says:

      Hi there! Oh, you’re in for a great adventure 🙂 Yes we were happy with the school, but our son was there 3 years ago now. We actually lived in a little village called Varzay which was a 7-minute drive from the school. It depends on whether you want a house with garden or a townhouse, but there are some lovely properties alongside the river in town. Sorry I don’t have any more specific information than that.

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