Leaves - Cendrine Marrouat Photography
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Surgères, France

Surgères is a town near La Rochelle and the Atlantic Ocean. It has been occupied since Neolithic times. However, the earliest recorded history dates back to the 10th century. At the time, the Duke of Aquitaine wanted to protect his lands against Norman invasion. So, he had a fortress (Castrum Surgeriacum) built on the marshes. Two centuries later, the fortress had become a small city. A castle and a church had also also been erected on the ramparts.

Surgères became "English" when Eleanor of Aquitaine married Henry II of England in 1152. It was then "liberated" four centuries later. The ramparts were knocked down following the fall of La Rochelle (1628).

After phylloxera (1878) had destroyed the winemaking industry that had brought prosperity to the town, farmers turned to dairy and created cooperatives. The École nationale d'industrie laitière et d'industries agroalimentaires (National College of Dairy and Agricultural Food Industries) was instrumental in reviving Surgères.

The town is now famous for two things: butter and Hélène de Fonsèque. Also known as Hélène de Surgères (1546–1618), she was the daughter of the local baron and one of Catherine de Medici's protégées. Poet Pierre de Ronsard (1524–1585) fell in love with her and celebrated her beauty in his Sonnets for Hélène. While the queen encouraged the affair, the young woman ended up marrying Philippe de Barbezières...