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Four reasons why you should visit France's 'ugly' town of Niort

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Four reasons why you should visit France's 'ugly' town of Niort
The Donjon de Niort is a medieval castle in the French town. Photo: dynamosquito/Flickr
17:35 CET+01:00
The little known French town of Niort in western France has hit the headlines after being described "one of the ugliest" in a new book by controversial French author Michel Houllebecq. But here are four reasons why Niort is really worth a visit.

The French city of Niort lies in the department of Deux-Sèvres in the western region of Nouvelle-Aquitaine. It sits on the River Sèvre Niortaise and is home to around 53,000 people. 

Niort is also one of France's main financial centres, ranked fourth ranked after Paris, Lyon and Lille. At least that's according to Wikipedia which explains that the town is "the French capital of mutual insurance and bank companies".

Nevertheless, Niort has taken a bashing by one of France's 'greatest living writers' Michel Houllebecq who, in his latest novel, has his protagonist describes it as "one of the ugliest" towns he has ever seen.

But here's a list reasons why Niort is actually well worth a visit. 

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'Ugly' French town hits back at literary rebel Houellebecq Photo: AFP

Old Niort 

Exploring Old Niort, which sits on two hills, can mean a bit of a workout but it's worth the effort. 
 
Get hold of a list of where to find the traditional timber-framed houses, such as Maison de la Vierge, and "hotels particuliers" (or mansion houses) from the tourist office to make sure you see the best architecture the city has to offer. 
 
Be sure to visit the old town's Rue du Pont, where you'll find the stunning l’Hôtel de Chaumont, which dates to the 1400s and was the birthplace of Françoise d’Aubigné, the second wife of Louis XIV.

On top of that, at the very heart of Old Niort, you'll find an impressive trapezoidal hall where the medieval pillory (stocks) used to be appropriately named Le Pilori.

Nowadays, it's a space for temporary art exhibitions.

Les Halles de Niort. Photo: Jfpnt/Wikicommons

Les Halles de Niort

For food lovers Les Halles de Niort is a must-visit.
 
This indoor market is beautiful to look at from the outside and fun and vibrant inside. 
 
More than 100 traders do business in Les Halles de Niort and anyone who loves French food and produce will be amazed by the quality and variety available, from meats and cheeses, to fish, fruit and honey and much more. 
 
The best time to visit is early on Saturday for market day.

Cultural highlights

The Donjon de Niort is a medieval castle located in the old town and was built by English kings Henry II and Richard the Lionheart and offers spectacular views over the city and river. 

Meanwhile the Musée Bernard d’Agesci is dedicated to the work of the 18th century painter who was born in Niort and established the city's first library and opened a museum and botanical garden.

Musée Bernard d’Agesci. Photo: Théo Henri/Flickr

The Église Notre-Dame is the oldest church in Niort and is in the Gothic style, with work on it beginning in the 1400s and ending in 1534. 

Angelica

Angelica is a herb made locally into a flavouring for liqueurs or for medicinal purposes in Niort and since 1602 this plant has been cultivated to cure a myriad of ailments.   
 
It is said to have many properties, including the power to "make people happy" and the mayor of the city Jerome Baloge wasted no time in saying he would send some to Houllebecq who is famously morose. 
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