If you think of Montmorillon, you think of books. This modest town with its 6,500 souls is located on the River Gartemp in the east of La Vienne (86), and in fact calls itself the Ville d’Art et d’Histoire. But is better known as La Cité de l'écrit et des métiers du livre, or the City of Writing and Bookmaking or the Village of the Written Word.
The Cité referred to isn’t the whole town, but the medieval core, much of which was purchased and refurbished by the town, starting in 2000. It is here that the town comes alive to the sights, sounds and smells of the book and writing trade.
In this old town above the old (northern) bridge of Montmorillon, there is a fascinating selection of narrow streets bordered by small, often pokey but picturesque enterprises concerned with calligraphy, bookbinding, antique and used bookselling (and buying), illustration and other bookish pursuits. If you like books, it’s an exhilarating place to nose about in – fusty, almost Dickensian.
Exploring the old town
The Cité de l'écrit et des métiers du livre is a fascinating place to visit but it is up a bit of a hill so be prepared for a little gentle exercise before you can get into full bookshop browsing mode! The best place to head for is La Préface, the nicely-named welcome and information centre for this part of the town. It also houses some permament exhibiitons. La Préface is open at the weekends and bank holidays from 10am to 12.30pm and from 2.30pm to 6pm. Monday to Friday it is open from 9.30am to 12.30pm and from 1.30pm to 6pm.
Were it not for the determinedly modern dress of the townsfolk, you’d expect to bump into Scrooge or Mr Pickwick. But this isn’t a museum; it’s a working homage to bok-related trades so nearly lost. Those nostalgic, too, for the days of the old typewriter will find plenty to delight them at the typewriter museum – the Musée de la Machine à écrire - which is at the heart of the Cité. It has more than 150 old typewriters and calculators, many of them more than a hundred years old. Telephone 05.49.91.22.94 for more information.
Salon du Livre - Book fair
If you can be in town in June, get involved in the Salon du Livre – the book fair - which takes place every two years (in even numbered years). Eighty authors in residence, readings, exhibitions, teach-ins – you name it, if it’s books, it’ll be here. For more info, phone 05 49 91 06 08 or e-mail firstname.lastname@example.org This all explains why in recent years Montmorillon's Cité de l'écrit has featured among the top ten attractions in the whole of the Poitou-Charentes region, as people from across France and abroad travel to visit this atmospheric quartier.
La Préface is the main information centre for the Cité de l'écrit – it stands for le Point Accueil de la Cité de l’Ecrit.
3, rue Bernard Harent.
Tel: 05 49 83 03 03
Montmorillon Tourist Office
2, place du Maréchal Leclerc,
Tel: 05 49 91 11 96