Poitiers, sitting on a hilltop overlooking two rivers, is a charming country town whose comes from a long and sometimes influential history – as the seat of the dukes of Aquitaine, for instance – is discernible in the winding lines of the streets and the breadth of architectural fashions represented in its buildings. Its pedestrian precincts and wonderful central gardens make for comfortable sightseeing, while the large student population ensures a lively atmosphere in the restaurants and pavement cafés.
The town is home to one of the most famous churches in France, Notre-Dame-la-Grande, built in the twelfth-century during the reign of Eleanor. The most exceptional thing about the church is the west front. The facade is not conventionally beautiful, squat and loaded as it is with detail to a degree that the modern eye could regard as fussy. And yet it’s this detail which is enthralling, ranging from the domestic to the disturbingly anarchic. Such elaborate sculpted facades – and domes like pine cones on turret and belfry – are the hallmarks of the Poitou brand of Romanesque. Inside the church, the original Romanesque frescoes are gone, except in the apse vault above the choir, and the crypt. The columns and vaults were repainted by Joly-Leterme in 1851.Read More
Since it opened in 1987, the enormous film themepark Futuroscope (wfuturoscope.com), 8km north of the city, has attracted 40 million visitors. It houses ambitious virtual-reality rides, surrounded by lawns and green space, and a few play areas for kids to let off steam.
To see everything would take about nine hours, so some visitors come for more than a day. The films are in French, with English commentary via headphones. Get an early start to beat the queues. The Paris Montparnasse–Poitiers TGV stops at Futuroscope; there are also regular buses (line #9) from Poitiers’ Hôtel de Ville or gare SNCF. The park is open all year apart from January, from 10am until shortly after sunset, when the laser show finishes.
Tickets are valid for one or two days and to avoid queues at the park it’s best to purchase them in advance from the Maison du Tourisme in Poitiers. Once you’re inside go to the translation kiosk with your ID or passport to borrow an iPod for translation – it’s free, but bring your own earphones as there’s a charge for those. It’s a good idea to bring a picnic; there’s plenty of lawn space, and food sold on-site is expensive. The hotels around Futuroscope are overpriced or grim or both, so it’s best to stay in Poitiers and commute.