Local History: Near Aubeterre Stands Touvent The Manor Where Mitterrand Learned his Latin

Stand at the window in this more than a century-old kitchen (below), gaze across two hectares of gently sloping fields and listen…

Toutvent:  The Mitterrand kitchen (80 years later)

Toutvent: The Mitterrand kitchen (80 years later)

Listen for a faint echo. It could be that of a young male voice obediently reciting a page of Latin nouns intently absorbed during one of the Abbot Marcelin’s lessons covering such intricacies as the Ablative Absolute.

The cadence of these classic recitations was to travel far and wide. For they were part of the homework of a future French president, young François Mitterrand, who, along with brother Robert, spent their youthful summers here at Touvent, then the home of their grandfather, Papa Jules.

Toutvent, once owned by Papa Jules, the grandfather of François Mitterrand who spent the summers of his youth here — picture shows the main residence

In the 1930s the teen-aged François divided his time between Jarnac – on the Charente River, where he was born — and Touvent, 70km to the southeast where his well-loved grandparents lived and where he spent his days learning to know the real France.

According to Robert Schneider of Nouvel Observateur: “To construct a picture of Mitterrand’s character involves knowing more about the places and houses he frequented and the country traditions and family ties to which he was so closely attached”.

That indeed is what you find here at Touvent, standing as high as it does, silent and sentinel-like, dominating rolling fields and surrounded by endless vistas. Today Touvent is little changed from those earlier times when its rooms and hallways echoed to the bustle of the extended Mitterrand family gathered each year for the summers they enjoyed together here in the real France — la France Profonde.

President Ronald Reagan and President Francois Mitterrand at Omaha Beach commemoration of D-Day landings on  2 June 1984 (Credit Wikipedia SPC 5 James Cavalier, US Military)

President Ronald Reagan and President Francois Mitterrand at Omaha Beach commemoration of D-Day landings on 2 June 1984 (Credit Wikipedia SPC 5 James Cavalier, US Military)

A 1993 book “Tempéraments aquitains et nouveauté religieuse” by Marc Agostino includes several references to François Mitterrand and his family’s Touvent (or Toutvent) home, lying just a couple of kilometres up the D17 from the tiny hamlet of Nabinaud (83 souls all told).

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The Abbot Marcelin — also described as the “Cardinal of Nabinaud” — features in a chapter headed Le Domaine Enchanté which records the holidays of the Mitterrand boys at their grandparents’ home lying in the canton of Aubeterre-sur-Dronne to the south of the Charente department.

The book recalls that the Abbot – after failing to win a town hall election in the Aubeterre canton in 1908 — was despatched to take charge of the neighbouring Laprade. Here he became intimately acquainted with certain families and most notably with the Lorrain family, then residing at their Touvent property, in the heart of his parish.

He became close and would pay regular visits for he “enjoyed their company, playing cards and enthusing over politics including his own democratic beliefs”, this according to the published recollections of the Lorrain family’s grandson, the young François Mitterrand to whom the Abbot gave Latin lessons during these long and dreamy summer holidays.

In these same recollections François fondly recalled Papa Jules: “my grandfather on my mother’s side was an excellent raconteur of meaty tales about the Charante which, in impeccable patois, he would recount during family evenings spent together at Touvent.”

Picture the scene then as you stand in the former Mitterrand family kitchen and stroll through the ground floors or mount the main staircase to the private quarters. You can almost hear the chatter and banter in the ample ground floor reception and living areas.

Indeed it is not difficult to let the imagination roam a little too much in rooms which in those days would have had log fires, a piano, and perhaps even an early 1930s portable wind-up gramophone, a card table, an assortment of parlour games and a library of books including almost certainly a number of works in English.

Toutevent pool and views

Toutevent pool and views

For, you see, Jules Lorrain, Mitterrand’s grandfather – who died in 1937 aged 84, at Jarnac – had been sent to England to perfect his English after early schooling at Pons, some 40 kms west of Mitterrand’s Jarnac birthplace. Upon his return from England Papa Jules became a sales agent for cognac but the phylloxera plague in 1882 wiped out most of the region’s cognac makers.

As a result in 1883 he set up his own business producing and marketing vinegar. Business boomed and thanks to its success he was able to purchase the then 100ha Touvent estate. Papa Jules was also very active in political life and had been a town councillor in Jarnac between 1884 and 1904. He was a confirmed Republican, a philosophical and historical conviction that greatly influenced both his grandsons — François and Robert.

In 1929 after Joseph Mitterrand (President Mitterrand’s father) took over the running of the vinegar business from its aging founder, Papa Jules and his wife Eugenie Lorrain set about dividing their estate between their descendents as is customary under France’s Napoleonic Code. As part of this division Jules Lorrain disposed of the Touvent property in that same year.

However so implanted was the influence of Touvent and the local area on François Mitterrand (b:1916, d:1996) that between 1978 and 1995 and even as a busy head of state (he was the first Socialist president ever elected in the Vth Republic) he paid four or five visits to nearby Saint Aulaye. Among his close and lasting friends in the area was one Rémi Robin, a former mayor of the village, an artisan butcher and secretary of the local branch of the Socialist party.

The two men had met at Nabinaud near Aubeterre not far from Papa Jules home. Later his son Gilbert Mitterrand, who became President of the Greater Libourne area, was to sustain these long-standing family links to the area.

Mitterrand’s memories of Touvent accompanied him to the Elysée palace where a picture of the church at Touvent hung in his gilded presidential office. Indeed so deeply attached was he to this piece of terroir and its small community that after his grandparents sold the home, François Mitterrand unsuccessfully tried to buy it back. The former president, who used to horse ride there, also funded works in Aubeterre to improve access to the subterranean monolithic church.

On one of his unannounced visits he and Rémi Robin toured the Romanesque churches in Saint-Aulaye and Saint-Privat-des-Prés, to the great surprise of the inhabitants. During one such visit Mitterrand stayed in the apartment above Rémi Robin’s butchery and motored to the Trappist monastery at Échourgnac, the Abbaye Notre-Dame de Bonne-Espérance, to attend mass. It goes without saying the local nuns were greatly astonished and as a result almost forgot the words of their Latin liturgy!

Acquire this piece of contemporary French History: Touvent the manor where Mitterrand learned his Latin

For sale: Ample family residence and rental accommodation on 1.75 hectares of land near Aubeterre.

Description of the property

Price: 785,000 €
Type: Family House
Region: Poitou-Charentes
Department: Charente
Bathrooms: 9
Bedrooms: 12
Surface Area: 360m2
Land Surface Area: 12000m2

The property offers an ample residence comprising

Ground floor:
Entrance hall, two kitchens, two living rooms, a dining room, two laundries, a shower, and two toilets.

First floor:
Eight bedrooms, three bathrooms and five toilets.

Total area of this desirable property is 1.75 hectares.

A separate cottage with bread oven comprising ground floor toilet, office and garage. On the first floor there are four bedrooms and three bathrooms.

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The main house has eight bedrooms of which six are en-suite, two large kitchens one of which leads out onto an expansive covered outdoor entertainment area. The main home has a substantial dining room with a lovely Charentais open fire and a fresco on the wall painted by Francois Mitterrand’s sister. There is also a games room and a cosy sitting room. The main home has oil fired central heating on all floors and solar heated hot water.

On the property at a comfortable distance from the family home, a converted barn/gite complete with four bedrooms two of which are en-suite is used for holiday lets. This has two working bread ovens and an outside dining area that enjoys sweeping views.

The ensemble covers 1.75 hectares (about three acres), mostly laid to grass with a good selection of fruit trees. There is a south-facing 10m x 6m swimming pool with a solar cover and located in its own large walled garden which includes a tea pavilion and changing facilities.

There is a separate 10m x 8m workshop/garage with a south-facing roof which is comprised of photovoltaic panels. These generate electricity fed into the EDRF grid via a 20-year contract and this currently produces an income of 4000 euros/year. This panel roof is not visible from the property or the garden.

The property has its own artesian well and a swimming pool in its own walled garden.

Located in the Charente in an enviable position the property enjoys magnificent vistas over the Dordogne and Dronne valley. Just 3km from Aubeterre, which has its own Monolithic Church and is one of the prettiest villages in France

The approach to the property is via an idyllic wandering avenue of 100 lime trees and the main entrance is along a gravel drive leading into a 900sq.m walled courtyard.

The main family house is designed to be divided in two if required. Each half has its own kitchen and staircase to the upper floors.

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There are in fact several accommodation options open to a buyer: dividing the main house into two independent adjoined units (4 bedrooms on each side), thus making it suitable for two families or inhabiting the main house while renting out the other half as a gite or holiday accommodation. Alternatively a purchaser could choose to live in the cottage and rent out the main 8-roomed home and run a very profitable summer holiday business.

A well-appointed and popular golf course is located at two kilometres from Toutvent and the area offers a wealth of tourism attractions including hiking, walking cycling, horse riding, canoeing, river swimming, gliding and parapente etc. It is within easy distance of large towns such as Riberac, Angouleme and Perigueux.

Contact: Anthony Elliott by e-mail

Toutvent map

Toutvent map

More property for sale see French News Online home page – For Sale: Near Gramat (Lot) €249.995 reduced

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