|STUDENT LIFE – in Argenton-Chateau|
“The most sensible men I know (taken as a class) are painters; that is, they are the most lively observers of what passes in the world about them, and the closest observers of what passes in their own minds.”
– William Hazlitt, On the Pleasure of Painting (1822)
There is no meal plan in Argenton-Chateau. All student lodging comes with its own fully equipped kitchen.
Self-sufficiency is expected of every student.
We normally take a two-hour lunch break as part of our everyday schedule.
The town offers a small selection of shops and food services within walking distance: a full-size supermarket, bakery/patisserie, cafe/bar, pizzeria, lake-side family restaurant, and a weekly farmer’s market on Thursday morning (including fresh and/or organic produce and meats, fresh herbs, cheese, seafood, etc).
Many students also travel weekly by private shuttle to the much larger farmer’s market in Thouars each Friday. (10 euros per person, round-trip).
Student Life in Argenton-Chateau
Located as they are — in a very tranquil, small, completely self-sufficient town — courses in Argenton-Chateau are designed for minimal commuting expense and maximum concentration. The town is a great place to walk, jog, hike, bike — and to study drawing and painting.
Please see our Travel to France page for details on the best transport stations (trains and buses), and information on TGV train booking, group arrival, final exit, and the mid-summer vacation shuttle bus.
Be advised: there is no public transport in or out of Argenton-Chateau on Saturday or Sunday.
In light of this situation, the weekly studio schedule runs Sunday through Thursday, and takes its weekends on Friday and Saturday.
Links to public bus schedules, information on entry/final exit shuttlebuses, local taxis and rental cars, and details on the easiest day-trips and “studio weekend” getaway options are on the Public Transport page.
Argenton-Chateau is the central and largest of four small communities that now comprise the municipality of Argenton-les-Vallees (population ~3000). It is a modest and tranquil town in the bocage area of Poitou-Charentes.
Poitou-Charentes is a sunny region in southwestern France best known for its medieval art and architecture, and as the birthplace of cognac. It is the region directly north of Bordeaux, and directly south of the Loire Valley.
Argenton-Chateau and its surrounding villages have been continuously inhabited since at least the 8th century AD. The town sits atop a natural granite fortification, with rivers on three sides. The private chapel of the chateau is home to the largest and oldest medieval fresco in our area, a mid-10th century Christ in Majesty. Owing to our location on a contemporaneous pilgrim trail to Santiago de Compostela, the work shows the strong influence of Spanish Byzantine art.
Archaeological evidence indicates the town was inhabited as part of Roman Gaul (100 AD), and suggests it has been a human settlement since Upper Paleolithic times (30,000 BC), the so-called Magdalenian period that painted the caves of Lascaux, Roc aux Sorciers, Les Eyzies and Chauvet-Pont D’Arc.
Today, Argenton-Chateau is the educational center of a 500 km2, wildlife-protected and historically registered “Vallee de Caractere“, a verdant spot in the heart of France’s “Grande Ouest” economic corridor (Tours, Angers, Poitiers, Nantes).
Argenton-Chateau’s schools enroll around 600 students, from pre-school to age 14. The town features an 11th c. Romanesque church (still in service), the eponymous medieval chateau, a small music school, two primary and two middle schools, a public swimming pool with tennis courts, miles of scenic hiking and biking trails, and a small lake (lake-side restaurant, fishing and canoeing/kayaking). The local salle communale offers a varied schedule of after-school activities primarily for children.
All the services and businesses of small town life are within walking distance: supermarket with newsstand, bakery and butcher, Thursday farmer’s market (meats, fish, produce, cheese, flowers), bakery/patisserie, local and international banks (Caisse d’Epargne, Credit Agricole), insurance and government offices, post office, cabinetmaker, carpenters, masons and other contractors, coiffeurs, cafe-bar, tabac, lake-side restaurant, cinema, Peugeot dealer and automobile repair, taxi service, gas stations, pharmacy, physicians and dentist (English spoken).
The biggest farmer’s market nearby is held every Friday in Thouars (20 minutes by bus, 10 euros round-trip, Friday mornings only).
The nearest big hardware store and organic food co-op are in Bressuire (20 minutes by car, 30 minutes by Ligne 43 bus).
Activities and Festivities
Argenton-Chateau is a very humble town, and is deeply conducive to our daily studio work. Bound by two small rivers, protected as a wild bird sanctuary and nature reserve, and surrounded by small orchards and other farms, the town sits in a quiet green corridor. It is not locally considered an important tourist destination in itself.
Our celebrations of the summer solstice (June 21) have included Baroque chamber ensembles, Renaissance singing through the streets, bonfires, live Cuban dance music, and/or fireworks on the main square. Every year is different.
Other musical events on the cultural calendar include an annual Women’s Choir Congress, attracting groups from all over France, and regular meetings of Cerflodanse, our departmental traditional dance association.
Annually, there is a town fair in Argenton-Chateau in early August. It centers on a convivial day-long celebration of local wines, artisanal cheese, meats, and other produce taken as a meal — enjoyed by up to 1000 people — under the pavilion on the main square. Studio Escalier students are warmly welcomed at this event.
The Office de Tourisme in town is open five days a week, and offers information on current events in the entire department (Deux-Sevres, 79).
Many other small cities and chateaux nearby invite daytrips of all descriptions, and for all tastes. For example, the city of Saumur, one of the most visited sites of the Loire Valley, and well-known for its excellent wines, is found 45 minutes northeast.
The towns of Bressuire, Mauleon, Maulevrier, Cholet, Les Epesses, Thouars, Parthenay, Montreuil-Bellay, and Doue-la-Fontaine are all a similar or shorter distance away, and merit a visit, each for their own reason. (Annual outdoor sculpture competition, Puy du Fou summer spectacles, nationally ranked contemporary art museum, traditional markets, castles and caves, jazz fests, largest Oriental garden in Europe, marvelous zoos and animal parks, fine Michelin-ranked restaurants, etc)
For those who rent cars for the weekend, we are also close to the heart of French chateau country (Angers, Oiron, Chinon, Villandry, Tours, Chenonceau, Amboise, etc) and the wines of Anjou and the Touraine.
On paper, our region in France — Poitou-Charentes — is second only to the Cote d’Azur in average annual number of sunny days. But average temperatures are very mild.
Argenton-Chateau enjoys a generally temperate micro-climate similar to that of the Saumur-Champigny and Chinon wine regions (situated less than one hour directly east-northeast – ENE.)
Peak summer daylight on June 21 sees sunrise at 5:30 AM, and sundown at 10:45 PM.
Summers and winters in Argenton-Chateau are historically very mild on average. Extreme heat is rare, and almost never lasts more than a couple days. Winter snow is very rare, and extreme cold temperatures (below 25°F/-4°C) are very infrequent, and never occur during the period when classes are held.
That being said, the Spring months in Argenton-Chateau (March, April, May, June) are the most difficult to predict, and the most variable. About Spring and early Summer, the locals have started saying,“The extremes are the new normal.”
Very warm, dry summer temperatures have been known to start in mid-March and last until September. Or a warm March and April can precede very cold wet weather for the whole of May and June. But the opposite has happened too — a cold wet March and April might lead to a warm June, but a chilly Summer.
One April may see mild temperatures and no rain at all — droughts are increasingly announced in Spring — while the next April will feature nothing but cold wintry rain.
The Summer in Argenton-Chateau may be anything from cool to occasionally hot in temperature (50° – 90° F/ 10° – 32° C), with variable conditions. (pleasant and sunny, brief thunderstorms and heat spells, or breezy and chilly with rain).
Autumn in Argenton-Chateau is anything from chilly to perfect in temperature (45 – 80° F), with generally predictable conditions. (early morning mist, strong winds, bright sunny afternoons, rain overnight)
The month of November trends increasingly toward blustery rain, and our Autumn painting program typically ends before we change our clocks for daylight savings time, and long before the annual November rains start.