Ceramics and Châteaus: Discover Genteel Gien
There’s little doubt that an essential element of all barge holidays in France is being able to dock at the myriad towns and villages that line the waterways and entice visitors in with their charms. As part of the itinerary of the hotel barge Renaissance, guests will be able to see the sights of Gien, renowned for its pottery and royal château.
Finding your Bearings
Prior to diving into the town, it is well worth disembarking on the south bank to take in the attractions of Gien all at once: from this vantage point, you can savour the spectacle of the river as it passes below the eighteenth-century bridge, under the watchful gaze of the sixteenth-century château.
Not even the loss of much of Gien’s historic buildings during World War II can detract from the pleasant view. Indeed, the painstaking and very convincing post-war reconstruction has done much to bury these ghosts of the past.
Marvel at Gien’s Pottery
Cultural exploration is an integral part of our barge holidays. In France, there are always abundant opportunities for the discerning traveller to discover regional produce, and Gien is no exception. The town has crafted a fine reputation for the calibre of its pottery, in particular for its Faïence pottery. Production began when Thomas Hall, an Englishman from Stoke-on-Trent who was intent on bringing high-quality English earthenware to France, established a factory in 1821.
In deciding to base his enterprise in Gien, Hall chose wisely, capitalising on the town’s physical amenities. The Sologne forest, which is in close proximity to Gien, provided a ready source of wood for the kilns. What’s more, the Loire granted access to markets throughout France (until water travel was superseded by the railways), in addition to providing sand and water for making clay.
While production continues to this day, the factory has also taken on a new guise as a museum dedicated to telling the story of the industry and shedding light on the making of these exquisite ceramics.
A Château Fit for Kings and Queens
There’s one more attraction that certainly merits a visit before you return to the hotel barge. Holidays in France are rarely complete without sojourning for a while at a château, and Gien’s has certainly welcomed its fair share of royal visitors. This elegant edifice was constructed for the use of Anne de Beaujeu, the daughter of Louis XI, in the final years of the fifteenth century. Future guests included Henri II and his wife Catherine de Médici, as well as Louis XIV, the famous ‘Sun King’.
Despite being bombed during World War II, the château was successfully restored. Since 1952, it’s housed a museum, which is dedicated to the most royal of pastimes: hunting. Through paintings, sculptures and an array of weapons and trophies from successful forays, the museum details how hunting and its depiction has developed through the centuries.
Paul Newman is the Marketing and E-Systems Executive for European Waterways, the UK’s most respected provider of all-inclusive, luxury barge holidays in France. Part of a team of experienced barging aficionados, Paul is first in line to endorse the perks of a slow-paced barge cruise to anyone looking for a unique holiday experience.