First impressions in Angouleme are misleading, not least because it's a two-part town, and you have to pass through the lower, industrial part before reaching the more historic, walled upper town.
But then you discover that the city is encircled by boulevards above
the enclosing walls, from which there are fine views in virtually all directions.
Most of the town streets are narrow, and the Old Town has been preserved and
largely pedestrianised, with a cobbled, restaurant quarter, where there are
several galleries and boutiques.
The town is principally renowned for paper-making and the printing industry, with which the town has been associated since the 14th century, but today the economy is supplemented by annual tourist events and festivals. Angouleme has long been associated with animation, illustration and the graphic arts. The Centre internationale de la Bande Dessinée et de l'Image (Quai de la Charente, 16012 Angoulême. Tel: 05 17 17 31 00) includes an exhibition space and cinema in a converted brewery down by the river. Opened in 2009 in an old wine warehouse beside the Charente, its unique collection includes 8,000 original drawings.
Strip cartoons (Bande Dessinée) are an important entertainment here, whatever your age, and the town's Cartoon Festival owes its origins to an exhibition first staged in the 1970s.
As you wander the streets, you can explore four themed areas covering the history and technical complexities of the comic strip, with exhibits rotated three times annually. There are always temporary exhibitions and you can browse the extensive shop for your favourite characters.
The exhibition centre is a wacky kind of place, but you don't have to go there to see cartoon graffiti: you’ll find cartoon characters depicted in over 20 giant wall paintings on the sides of buildings all over town – pick up an annotated map from the Tourist Office. Even the street names are contained within speech bubbles!
Notable (former) residents are Jean-Louis Guez de Balzac, one of the original members of the Académie-Française, and Honoré de Balzac, a novelist and playwright.
And while you are here, discover the town’s fascinating heritage on themed walking tours. Stop off at the splendid Romanesque cathedral; enjoy the eclectic collections of the town museum, and don’t miss the panoramic views from the ramparts, scene for the annual Angouleme Rampart Race for historic cars.
Visit the Chateau de la Rochefoucauld, to the north-east of the city.