Dynamic Poitiers perches on a hilltop in the heart of France’s Poitou region, with a university established in 1432 – one of the oldest in France – and pedestrianized cobbled streets flowing out from the central place Notre-Dame, all lined with student-filled bars and cafés as well as funky boutiques and sprawling produce markets. Its trio of great ecclesiastical treasures include the multi-sided Baptistère St-Jean, France’s oldest religious monument, filled with medieval frescoes and dating as far back as 360 AD; the Romanesque Eglise Notre-Dame-la-Grande with its intricate façade, three spires and an interior of cheerily patterned nave and columns; plus the Gothic Cathédrale St-Pierre, commissioned by Eleanor of Aquitaine in the late-12th century and studded with gargoyles and spectacular stained-glass windows. Eleanor also had a hand in the building of the soaring Gothic-inspired Palais des Comtes de Poitou, now the city’s law courts but once the splendid palace of the influential counts of Poitiers.
Local to Poitiers are two of the best family attractions in central France: the gleaming theme park of Futuroscope, which offers startlingly realistic 4D simulator adventures and adrenaline-spinning interactive rides as well as enchanting light shows in the evening; and Puy du Fou, which whisks visitors from Roman times to present day through awesome live shows with casts of thousands as well as falconry displays, chariot racing, mock sea battles and medieval jousting.
Poitiers Tourist Office: 45, place Charles de Gaulle. Open Sept 20¬¬–June 20 Mon–Sat 9.30am–6pm; June 21–Sept 19 Mon–Sat 10am–7pm, Sun 10am–6pm. Futuroscope: Avenue René Monory, 86360 Chasseneuil-du-Poitou. Open daily 10am–around 6.30pm. Family tickets start at €90. Puy du Fou: 85590 Les Epesses. Tickets from €30, open 10am–around 7pm.