Just 1¼ hours by train from Paris, Poitiers awaits for a weekend of exciting experiences that reach back to the past and forward into the future. The ‘City of 100 Bell Towers’ (your mission, should you choose to accept it: count them!) is a great place to visit on foot, but be prepared for some exercise, because you’ll be going uphill and downhill.
The journey through time begins on pedestrian-only streets with the Middle Ages and onwards to the Renaissance. The carved white limestone facades and half-timbered houses near the Church of Notre-Dame-la-Grande, one of the city’s many gems of Romanesque art, are testament to its rich history. After dusk, the illumination of the West Front in its original colours tells stories from the old and new Testaments with scenes announcing the coming of Jesus.
In the former dining room of the Palace of the Counts of Poitou and Dukes of Aquitaine, now the public lobby of the law courts, I suddenly have a vision of my heroine Eleanor of Aquitaine listening to her favourite troubadour Bernard of Ventadour from the Limousin…. From the Cathedral to the Church of Sainte-Radegonde is just a very short walk. The Choir, raised to provide access to the crypt where the sanctified Princess Radegonde is laid to rest, attracts the eye with its frescoes; a foretaste of those in the Church of Saint-Hilaire-le-Grand, a UNESCO world heritage site.
In this rewinding of time, the fourth-century Baptistère Saint-Jean, reputed to be the oldest existing Christian building in France, is essential.
Tomorrow, it's off to Futuroscope and the machine that will propel you through time with the Raving Rabbids. Put on an animal costume and join Sid and his Ice Age friends, explore an extraordinary world as a mouse, scorpion or a chipmunk, and take a fast drive with Sébastien Loeb. Basically, immerse yourself in an entire world of unique and sensational experiences.
Tested specially for you: Hôtel de l’Europe
In the pedestrian-only streets of the city, just a 10-minute walk from the rail station, this hotel is ideally located for walking the city. Everything is easily accessible from here. Standard rooms have pleasant views over the small internal courtyard. The plus points are the excellent quality bed and bed linen, and the absolute peace and quiet. The delightful breakfast room opens onto a covered terrace overlooking the garden. The buffet breakfast is very generous, with homemade cake, fresh fruit, an excellent selection of teas, jams and Limousin cheeses!
Les Archives (restaurant, wine bar and tea room)
The restaurant of the Mercure Hotel occupies one of the most improbable locations: an ancient chapel. The tables are laid out in the nave flanked by immaculate white stone walls. The decorative style is restrained, but welcoming. Vegetarian menu from €26. Delicious and original. Tasting menu €27, full menu €39, very full menu €48
The room you should book: the one in the former chapel - it’s unique. Book well ahead for a very special experience.
Le Rooftop: for a drink to music or a dinner with your head in the stars. The plus point for me (I have to say I just love rum babas) is the ‘Baba au Diplo” made with Diplomatico rum!
Le bonheur est dans le thé... I can vouch for it personally. The tea room is open every Saturday afternoon. I can’t resist the scones... obviously! Good to Know: outdoor terrace and lunchtime set menu with vegetarian option and vegan dessert available.
Souvenir ideas: The Vienne Tourist Office Shop near Notre Dame La Grande. An excellent choice of local specialities: flavoured vinegars, local wines, Broyé de Poitou cakes in very pretty boxes, soaps, Montmorillon macaroons, handmade umbrellas, etc.