The town of Melle is to the north of the Poitou-Charentes region, inland from La Rochelle and south-east from Niort, in the Deux-Sèvres department. It is a lively, bustling town on one of the more important pilgrimage routes to Santiago di Compostella. It has all facilities (supermarkets, banks, restaurants etc).
Melle is best known for having three fine examples of roman-style churches, constructed in the 11th-12th centuries. These are:
– the church of Saint-Hilaire, notable especially for the large amount of ornamentation and carvings in the facade, for example the sculpture of the horse and rider above one of the entry doors. Saint Hilaire is the highlight of the three churches, although all deserve to be visited
– the church of Saint-Savinien, which plays host to annual music festival each summer and is the oldest of the three churches
– the church of Saint-Pierre, with a chevet that is particularly decorative
Apart from this ‘triade romane’ of churches other sites to visit at melle include the old lavoir (washhouses), and the Hotel de Menoc is another interesting building, with 15th century towers and an interesting facade rebuilt in the 19th century in neo-gothic style.
There is also an arboretum to explore, with a six kilometre walk that introduces many different species of trees as it follows the route of an old railway track.
You can also see the remains of the silver mines that once made Melle the centre of the Mint for France – guided tours are available. These are located 1 kilometre outside town at Le Loubeau.
Be sure to try the local speciality, a goat’s cheese called chabichou, if you visit Melle – even better, buy some up at the Friday market if possible, the best and liveliest time to visit the town.