The third weekend of September in Angouleme sees the race known as “Circuit des Ramparts’”, which has been held in Angoulême for more than 70 years.
The first ever Circuit des Ramparts was held in Angoulême in 1939.
The race takes place on the third Sunday in September at 2pm with practice in the morning, and after a good lunch the cars race around the town's narrow winding roads.
If you arrive early enough on Friday you could drive or sneak an illegal race around the circuit, as we did last year in the Morgan - some of those hairpins are a bit tight and scary.
You can expect to see vintage cars working their way round the famous hairpins, cars like 1929 Bugatti`s, Frazer Nash's 1930 jags and even old Bentleys but you may also see Touring and GT cars power sliding round this tight Angoulême street circuit.
Come Saturday morning and for around 300 Euros you could join in with the “touristic” rally through the prettiest parts of the Charente countryside.
This element of the event was restarted in 2008 and has been very well received with a new lunch stop, excellent routes and interesting checkpoints along the way.
On race day tickets are on sale for “access all areas” including the pits. This will cost you around 30 euros, and in the pits there are some fantastically turned out cars from all eras. To qualify for the race the cars must be registered pre-1975.
Whilst waiting for the race to start its worth having a walk around town where you are just as likely to find many modern sports cars like the Morgan Aero deck or even old Jags and Austin’s.
The local Morgan club lined up 12 cars which are selling for around £130,000 each!
After having an early but leisurely lunch it's race time and having already decided to sit in the cathedral grandstand to watch the cars come around the top hair pin and across the start finish line we settled in for the first race - the three wheelers, for me by far the best race of the day.
This was followed by the vintage Bugatti`s then by the pre-1939 cars.
After the event and to our surprise we passed a lot of the race cars being driven back to their Hotels, such cars a 1929 Buggati.
Getting to Angouleme
Angoulême is located N.N.E. of Bordeaux on the railway between Bordeaux and Poitiers and is serviced by airports at Bordeaux, Poitiers, Limoges and Angoulême from the UK.
If you fancy a nice drive down on some trouble free roads whilst looking at the beautiful French countryside then why not get the overnight ferry from Portsmouth on Friday to either Caen or St Malo.
You can have a nice meal on the boat and talk to other race goers and even some competitors followed by a good night’s sleep and be ready for a full English breakfast before disembarkation and a leisurely drive down through the Loire Valley.
En route you could stop off at Blois, Chambord, Tours or even Le Mans for lunch, or why not travel down the coast through southern Brittany via Carnac to see the Famous Monolithic Standing Stones, then down to La Rochelle.
You will arrive in Angoulême late in the afternoon after a long drive just in time to book into your hotel and enjoy a meal (in one of the many restaurants) prior to attending the “Concours d'Elegance” which is quite a night and free to stand and watch.
If you feel up to it and can afford to pay around 60 Euros each you could have an elegant dinner with the drivers at the Concours d'Etat, where some of the finest cars at the event are judged and the winner wins his weight in Cognac!
The "old town" has been preserved and is largely reserved for pedestrians. It has a cobbled restaurant quarter, with some very interesting and chic galleries and boutiques, appreciated by locals and visitors
In place of its ancient fortifications, Angoulême is encircled by boulevards above the old city walls, known as the Ramparts, from which fine views may be obtained in all directions and where the classic 'Circuit des ramparts' takes place each September. Within the town the streets are often quite narrow, although apart from the cathedral and the hôtel de ville, the architecture is of little interest to the purists.
There are a number of very nice restaurants set around the various squares in the town most of which have a view of the passing cars with a Chez Paul being a very popular restaurant and I can personally recommend it.
Angouleme cartoon festival
Angoulême is more famous for its cartoon festival, notable for awarding several prestigious prizes in cartooning.
The awards at Angoulême were originally called the Alfred awards, after the pet penguin from Zig et Puce by Alain Saint-Ogan. In 1989, the name changed to the Alph-art awards, honoring the final, unfinished Tintin album by Hergé. In 2003, the Alph-art name was dropped, and they are now simply called "The Official Awards of the International Comics Festival" staged every year in January. The area also hosts a celebrated Jazz week.
Other things to see and do around Angouleme
Angoulême is only about 20 / 25 miles from Cognac which incidentally is a very pretty small town. Famous for the house of Hennessy, it hosts a multitude of smaller Cognac distilleries most of which have tours and sampling a few different cognacs is of course a must if you are not driving !! Hic!!
You can take a boat trip across the river to the Hennessy warehouses which contain Cognac many hundreds of years old!
The beautiful French Atlantic coast and holiday resort of Royan (which is a little past its best) has a soft sandy beach with shallow sea perfect for a day trip.
While around the corner you have Saint Georges – de – Donne on the inlet of the Gironde estuary where 12 men of the royal marines made a raid on German shipping using mk11 Cockle canoes the operation called “Frankton” later became famous as a film “Cockleshell hero’s
A short drive up the coast and you enter the lovely old port of La Rochelle, within easy driving distance of Angouleme. The quayside at historic La Rochelle is full of restaurants and chic galleries and boutiques well worth a visit.
Only an hour and a quarters drive away is Île d'Oléron an island on the southern side of the Pertuis d'Antioche strait. It is the second largest French island after Corsica well within reach of Angoulême and is famous for its oysters and fresh sea food, around the quay there are a number of very nice restaurants brimming in seafood direct from the local fishing fleet.
We stayed in a really nice Gite about 10 minutes outside town in the middle of the countryside with fig trees bearing fruit in the garden which I picked to take home with me to make jam!!
Article kindly contributed to France This way by Gary Aldred