Angouleme | Cartoons and fast cars

 angouleme circuit des ramparts

Discover two of Angoulême’s great attractions- cars and cartoons!

If, like me, you find modern Formula One racing to be boringly processional, don’t despair.

There’s a chance to recapture an altogether less anodyne, more heroic era of motor sport by hastening to the French city of Angoulême each September for car fun at the classic Angouleme Circuit des Ramparts.

angouleme circuit des rampartsIt’s a day-long series of races for various classes of historic cars, staged before massive crowds on a twisty circuit round the mediaeval city centre.

The smell of high octane petrol will fill your nostrils, the un-muffled sounds of veteran, vintage and classic racing cars will assail your ears and you’ll strain your eyes to catch the national colours as the cars whizz past – blue for the French, red for the Italians, silver for the Germans and green for the Brits.

Iconic marques like Bugatti, Bentley, Riley and Maserati will be on parade.

First run in 1939, this magical event lapsed during the war years, returned in 1947 then dropped out of the calendar again in 1955 due to strict new safety regulations introduced by motor sport’s international governing body. But in 1978, a group of enthusiasts brought the event back – with the great Juan Manuel Fangio in attendance – and in 1983 the circuit was re-homologated for classic cars.

Running beside the city walls and just under a mile in length, the spectacular circuit has two sweeping bends, two right-angle bends and three hairpins.

angouleme circuit des ramparts

Seven grids of 140 competing cars are expected to take part. In 2010 the event included a special celebration of the 100th anniversary of Bugatti and this year’s gathering will likely have some special features too.

The ambiance is magical and you’ll hear lots of British voices as the event attracts hordes of competitors and camp-followers from our side of the Channel – one of whom kindly gave me a thrilling spin round the circuit in a massive blown Bentley from the ‘30s.

I ogled at pre-war Alfas and MGs and later period Ferraris, Renault Alpines and Porsches – spending as much time in the pit area as watching the racing – and, at least for a day, turned my back on Angoulême’s other attractions.

But don’t get the idea this is a one-act town. Whatever time of year you choose to visit you’ll find plenty to do.

angouleme circuit des rampartsLong a haven for artists, the city today righteously claims to be ‘The World Capital of the Strip Cartoon’ and the big new attraction is the massive museum now dedicated to the art – the Centre Internationale de la Bande Dessinée et de L’Image (citebd.org). Here, housed in former wine cellars, a permanent collection spreads over 1,300 sq m of space, organised in four areas that trace the global development of strip cartoons from 1831 to the present.

A design workshop demonstrates the various techniques of cartoon production, with master classes by prominent cartoonists, while an exhibit of the masters of the drawn line investigates the aesthetics of the cartoon.

Held at the end of January each year, Angoulême’s International Comic Festival is now a huge event and, keeping the spirit going year-round, more than 30 of the city centre’s buildings feature massive strip cartoon murals while street name plates take the form of speech bubbles.

Set on a lofty bluff above the winding River Charente, Angoulême is surrounded by pristine green countryside deep in South West France and boasts an imposing castle, the magnificent Saint-Pierre Cathedral, a huge covered market and, of course, all those painted walls (visit patrimonie-charente.com for details of guided city tours).

Easy to reach thanks to low-cost flights, it’s a sunny, friendly city that’s just right for an enervating short break.

By Roger St. Pierre, travel writer and Francophile.

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