This historical town in western France is a monument to the country's past riches, but its cartoon museum and culinary prowess bring it right up to date. 1. Comic-strip city Housed in an avant-garde glasshouse high on a hill overlooking the weed-locked Charente River, Angouleme's comic-strip museum ( www.cnbdi.fr ; entry from Euro6/HK$60) was designed by architect Roland Castro, who stood as the 'Concrete Utopia' candidate in the recent French presidential elections. Opened in 1980 on the site of a Middle Ages abbey that became a beer brasserie in the 19th century, the Musee de la Bande Dessinee has an archive of 200,000 original comics and is the only museum in France dedicated to the subject. Comic-strip fanatics from all over the world flock here to pore over the pint-sized pictures of Tintin and Asterix or to learn more about the history of cartoons. But the characters created by the likes of Rene Goscinny (Asterix) and Moebius (Blueberry) aren't confined just to the city's hi-tech museum. Wander Angouleme's cobbled streets (below left) and you'll discover street names captioned in cartoon bubbles and giant murals of comic personages, such as musketeer D'Artagnan and spinach-munching Popeye. A fun way to discover the city is to pick up the circuit des murs peints (painted wall tour) brochure at the main tourist office ( www.tourisme.fr/angouleme ) and wander round town, seeking the 22 cartoon chef d'oeuvres. 2. Paper factory Until the 19th century, the slow-running Charente River (bottom left) pumped the wheels of more than 100 water-mills producing water-marked paper and spelling prosperity for the city. Furious competition followed and Angouleme's paper fortunes went into decline. Today, Le Nil paper museum ( www.alienor.org ; admission free), set in a dingy former mill opposite the comic-strip museum and overlooking a particularly sluggish branch of the Charente, is a relic from those financially happier times. Learn about the history of paper-making and pick up fascinating nuggets, including the little-known (and vaguely repugnant) fact that the first cigarette papers in France were sold under the name of papier hygienique, which now means toilet paper. 3. River cruise Flat-bottomed barges called gabariers once carried cognac and wine along the Charente, a waterway beloved by King Francis I, who was born downriver in Cognac in 1494. Nowadays, you can take a trip along the Charente on a river cruiser and drift downstream through countless locks still worked by hand. Or you can be more energetic and take the paper cruise, visiting mills en route. 4. The ramparts Perched high within the Charente region, Angouleme remains hemmed in by ramparts. Head for the Place de New York then follow the Desaix rampart past the cathedral and continue to the Place Beaulieu for extensive views over the red-roofed city, which was first settled by the Romans. 5. Chocolate Angouleme has a reputation for satisfying even the sweetest tooth with its range of chocolate delights, including guignettes (cherries in cognac) and the daisy-shaped, orange-flavoured, dark marguerites d'Angouleme, which you can sample, from Euro3 for 100 grams, at Le Chocolaterie Letuffe (tel: 33 5 45 95 00 54). 6. City hall (below centre) Huge and grim, Angouleme's city hall ( www.mairie-angouleme.fr ), built by Paul Abadie, the architect who designed the lovelier Sacre Coeur Basilica in Paris, stands on the site of the ancient castle of the counts of Angouleme, of which two towers remain. In one of these crennellated fortifications Marguerite d'Angouleme, sister of Francis I, was born Marguerite d'Orleans on April 11, 1492. Marguerite, whose statue can be seen in the garden surrounding the monstrous building, turned out to be as clever and well read as her enlightened brother and invited some of the most brilliant artists of the time to her court in Angouleme. 7. St Pierre Cathedral Built in the first half of the 12th century, partly destroyed by Calvinists then remodelled by Abadie in the 19th century, St Pierre Cathedral is famous for its richly carved facade. Step inside to discover 75 12th-century statues symbolising the last judgment, or climb to the top of the 50-metre bell tower for excellent views of the region's lush countryside. 8. Les Halles Influenced by the oeuvre of Gustav Eiffel, architect Edouard Warin, a contemporary of Abadie, built Angouleme's ornate glass and wrought-iron covered market in 1866 on the site of a medieval castle. The buzzing marche is open most mornings, so bring your wicker basket and shop for fresh cagouilles (snails), rilletes (rich pork pate), salmon-fleshed Charentais melons and the syrupy local fortified wine made with grape skins soaked in cognac, called pineau. Afterwards, head down to the river for a picnic. For the best bread and cakes in town to accompany your alfresco lunch, make a beeline for the boulangerie opposite Les Halles, next to the Blues Rock cafe, and choose from the wide range of homemade goodies (below right). 9. Le Goulebeneze (bottom right) Want to sample Charente specialities cooked with French passion? Head for Le Goulebeneze (tel: 33 5 45 22 71 85). The patois name of this restaurant, down a cobbled alley in Angouleme's old town, means 'happy mouth', but it's your stomach that will be pleased by dishes such as charentine (snail pate), medaillon de foie gras and house desserts such as the flognard (pear flan), all served in a convivial rustic setting. 10. Circuit des Remparts One of the most important vintage and classic-car events in Europe is the Circuit des Remparts, a carnival that takes over the town every September. Three days of rallies, rides and competitions finish with a wacky and perilous race of antique Bugattis and doddering old Deux Chevaux, all lovingly restored, driven around the city's ancient ramparts.