Fontenay-le-Comte is a three-hour drive southwest of Paris, or a two-hour ride on the TGV fast train from Paris (traveling 120 miles per hour). It is about 25 miles east of the Atlantic Coast, although 1000 years ago it was a sea coast village at the mouth of the Vendée River. At that time the land in the region was very swampy.
Fontenay consists of three concentric cities:
- the old walled town dating from the Middle Ages
- surrounded by the Renaissance growth around the walls where commerce and culture thrived in the 15th and l6th centuries.
- Encircling that is the modern industrial and high tech area developed since 1960.
Scenes of Fontenay poster (March 2011)
Photographs of Fontenay can be viewed at Palatine’s Village Hall in the Administration Department.
Business & Industry
Industrial growth in Fontenay over the last forty years is impressive, producing everything from French bread by the Albatross company to high tech electronics.
The French yacht sailing in the America’s Cup race was built under high security in a specialized marine company in Fontenay.
Fashion has become a mainstay in Fontenay. Often when a label reads, “Made in France” it could easily have read, “Made in Fontenay-le-Comte”. Marie Pirsch is highly regarded throughout France for her precise manufacturing in high fashion. She regularly produces fashion items and clothing for Chanel in Paris.
Another business in Fontenay is Torpedo, which manufactures hats and headgear.
Artists & Writers
Jean Chevolleau is an artist from Fontenay who has gained an international reputation. A sample of his artwork can be found in the Palatine Village Hall offices and the Palatine Library.
The writer, Georges Simenon, creator of the character Maigret had lived in Fontenay.
Raymond Queneau, one of the most original surrealist writers wrote the novel, “A Rude Winter.”
In “My Mother’s Accent”, writer and art historian Michel Ragon depicts in words a colorful portrait of Fontenay, his birthplace, and the Vendée through his childhood memories and the traditions of the land.
La Biennale (Biannual Celebration)
Every two years, at the end of May, Fontenay hosts a biennial celebration, and invites all five of its sister cities to participate:
- Gaoua in Burkina Faso, West Africa
- Krotoszyn in Poland
- Diosig in Romania
- Crevillent in Spain
- and Palatine in the United States.
The highlight of the event is two parades; one in the morning and one at night, in which the floats are beautifully lit. Fireworks close the event after midnight. This celebration draws thousands of French people from the surrounding communities.
During the 2002 celebration, Palatine presented a gift of several trees to replace those that had been lost in a winter storm with hurricane-like winds. The three trees were generously donated by the Rotary Club of Palatine, the Salt Creek Park District and the Village of Palatine. The trees were planted in Fontenay’s Sister City Garden, a park-like setting behind their Village Hall.
This biennial celebration is held in Fontenay-le-Comte on even years; the next celebration will be in late May – early June 2014. If you are interested in attending, please contact us.