Poitiers in Poitou-Charentes is a beautiful city built on a rocky promontory that is full of Romanesque heritage and over 80 listed monuments.
The regional capital of Poitou-Charentes, Poitiers has had a long and varied history since its founding during the Roman conquest in the 1st century BC with baths and an ampitheatre known to have existed before a huge city wall was built in the 4th century. Religion has played an important part in the city's history with Renaissance reconstructions of the churches and, during the 17th century, 15 religious orders arrived.
In the Middle Ages the Counts of Poitou and the Dukes of Aquitaine set themselves up at the stunning Palace of Poitiers. The palace began construction in 1000 and was finished in 1100 as the home of the Counts of Poitou and Dukes of Aquitaine but since the 13th century it has been primarily used an administrative building. It became the law court after the Revolution and is still used for this purpose today although visitors are allowed into this wonderful Flamboyant Gothic structure.
Poitiers has several churches and the St Pierre cathedral is a masterpiece of Angevin Gothic architecture, filled with rich furniture and a Romanesque style window of the crucifixion. Other churches worth a look are the abbey church of St Jean de Montierneuf that is entirely constructed from freestone chiselled by hand and the Church of Notre Dame de la Grande, a Romanesque church with its famous western facade and a splendid frieze of the events in the Old Testament above the main portal.
Restored in the mid-1990s, the western front of the church is illuminated with coloured lights at night, recalling how it would have looked when it was painted in colours in the past. The baptistery, built in the 5th century has had its octagonal pool, used for full body baptisms, conserved and has some wonderful Romanesque and Gothic wall paintings.
Explore the city by the following the 3 visitors' paths (the Chemins de Notre Dame) - one in red, one in blue and one in yellow which take you around all the great monuments that Poitiers has to offer. Trace the city's history through its residential architecture, from the excellently preserved medieval half-timber houses to the glorious 17th and 18th century mansions with their Renaissance facades and Gothic gables.
The city's parks and gardens are great for relaxing and each have their own identity and atmosphere such as the environmental preservation of the Garden of the Senses, the 400 rose varieties that colour the Rose Garden and the medieval castle ruins of La Petite Villette Garden.
For some extra insight into the history of Poitiers and the Poitou-Charentes region visit the Musée St Croix that contains an historical museum of the history of Poitou from prehistory to the Middle Ages as well as a Fine Arts museum and a collection of artworks from Poitiers. Or if you prefer your exhibitions to be more scientific why not visit the Espace Mendès France, a contemporary building housing a science and technology centre with lots of temporary exhibitions on subjects such as biodiversity, classic math and nanotechnology?
Poitiers has many shopping opportunities with lots of traditional local shops, especially in arts and crafts, as well as some small boutiques and weekly markets selling fresh produce and bric-a-brac.
Local specialities to try in the city's restaurant include farci poitevin, a terrine of cabbage , bacon and breadcrumbs that is baked and served warm or cold in slices, broyé, a butter cake traditionally shared by breaking it with a single short sharp punch to the centre and grimolée, a dessert dish of finely sliced apples baked in crêpe batter.
A tasting of the local goat's cheese chabichou is a must and other local favourites are eels, mojettes (white beans) and snails. Just outside of Poitiers you'll discover the Grottes de la Norée, a set of caves full of stalagmites and petrified waterfalls. Only 20 minutes away is the Futuroscope, an enormous fun-filled multimedia theme park with IMAX 3D and 4D cinemas, interactive games, giant dancing robots, outdoor games and much more.
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