So yes, we sneaked out of here for a week's vacation over in the Vendée region of France. We didn't want to broadcast the fact that the house here in Saint-Aignan would be sitting empty for a week. Natasha the Sheltie went with us, and Bertie the black cat stayed home. A neighbor made sure he was fed and watered — he has free access to the outdoors.
We almost didn't make it to the city of Niort (pop. 60,000). We decided at the last minute to drive over there on Friday morning. It was only about 30 miles southwest of the gîte rural near Fontenay-le-Comte where we were staying, and it had been on the list of places I wanted to see. Click here for a map of the Vendée; Niort is in the lower right corner. I thought it was beautiful, despite the gray, chilly weather that morning. Above is the donjon de Niort, near which we parked the car before walking around in the old town for an hour with Natasha.
My old Michelin guide (1986) to the region says that construction of the medieval donjon (the fortified tower) in Niort was begun by Henri II Plantagenêt in the late 1100s, and was completed by Richard the Lion-Hearted in the 1200s. (Both were later to become kings of England.) It's actually two towers and one of the most remarkable such structures in France. The 80- to 90-foot-tall twin towers were part of a gigantic fortress with walls that enclosed the whole town — houses, gardens, markets, and a big church. The city walls were dismantled in later centuries, and the church was left in ruins after the religious wars of the late 1500s.
If you look at the first photo above, you can see that Niort's central market hall, built in 1869, is located right next to the donjon. Here's a photo of it. I ducked in for a minute or two to look around, but dogs were not allowed inside so Walt had to wait outside with Natasha. It seemed to me that about half the market stalls were open, selling cheeses, vegetables, charcuterie and other meats — not to mention poultry and seafood. I just read on a web site that the outdoor market in Niort is held on Thursdays and Saturdays, so we missed it. Since we would be leaving for home in a few hours, we weren't buying anything.