Poitiers is one of France’s oldest cities and has been the regional capital of Poitou Charente since Gallo-Roman times.
Nearby, in 732, Charles Martel stopped the Moorish invasion from Spain and the city belonged to England for many years - gifted as part of Eleanor of Aquitaine’s dowry.
The city’s modern suburbs give no hint of its pretty historic centre with its lively markets, outdoor café culture, timbered houses and beautiful central gardens.
Poitiers holds some of France’s greatest architectural riches, and art and history lovers will find plenty to enjoy including outstanding Romanesque churches.
Musts to see are unique St-Hilaire with its 7 naves; the amazing carvings on the west front of Notre-Dame-la-Grande (lit by multi-coloured lights on summer evenings) and the fine Romanesque stained glass in the Crucifixion window at the Cathedral of Saint-Pierre.
Other places to visit are the law courts in the old Palace of the Counts of Poitou and the Maubergeon Tower. If you enjoy museums, chose between those dedicated to science, furniture and painting and the museum of Sainte-Croix which gives the history of Poitou from pre-historic times to today.
To make sightseeing easier, follow ‘Les Chemins de Notre-Dame’ - red, yellow and blue lines along the ground - for your own tour of Poitiers’s most prestigious buildings or ask at the tourist office about guided tours.
For a complete change of mood, Poitiers is just 13km from Futuroscope offering its amazing adventure shows on land, sea and in space.
East of Poitiers the market town of Chauvigny is a town of architectural, artistic and historical interest and one of the most picturesque places in Poitou. Set on a rocky ridge, the ruins of 5 medieval castles grace the old town together with the Romanesque church of St-Pierre where carvings of monsters, human faces and biblical scenes decorate the chancel capitals.
Sightseeing should also include the church frescoes in the church of Notre-Dame; the museum of archaeology and traditions and industrial archaeology centre located in the keep. The latter (Donjon de Gouzon) offers great panoramic views over the town.
Of the medieval castles, thirteenth - fifteenth century Chateau d’Harcourt has the remains of a fortified gate and some ramparts; eleventh century Chateau Baronnial has a large keep and falconry displays; while the Chateau des Aigles is the backdrop for a fantastic free flight bird show involving vultures, eagles and parrots.
Towering romantic ruins of a twelfth century fortified castle on a rocky outcrop overlook the River Anglin and the village of Angles-sur-l’Anglin - one of the most beautiful in France.
Justly a magnet for painters, visitors will find feasts for the eyes at every turn along Angles-sur-l’Anglin’s medieval streets dressed with flowers, carrying evocative names such as ‘Englishmen’s Trenches.’ Jumbles of houses slope down to an old mill and ancient bridge over the river.
A must to see is the ‘Jour d’Angles’ embroidery workshop, specialising in drawn threadwork on silk and linen unique to the village and which once produced goods for royal families.
Take a journey through the village’s history on ‘La Pisto’Patrimoine’ walk, a cultural heritage game to be played in French or English all year round. Contact Angles-sur-l’Anglin tourist office for more information on this and summer events, tel: (00 33) 5 49 48 61 20 or go to www.anglessuranglin.com
For a glimpse into the Anglin Valley’s pre-historic past the Roc-aux-Sorciers centre, opened in Spring 2008, holds fascinating records of man’s life here including virtual reality scenarios and a copy of the 20m 14,000 year old Magdalenian sculpted frieze. Open daily April – beginning November (except Mon and Tues) and every day July and August. See www.roc-aux-sorciers.com for times and more.
Civray on the River Charente grew up around the twelfth century Romanesque church of St-Nicholas - well known for its exterior carvings of the Wise and Foolish Virgins together with signs of the zodiac and the farming year. Enjoy panoramic views of the church and town from the castle ruins and take time to stroll in the park along the banks of the Charente where there are fishing and picnic areas. Buy local produce at the Tuesday and Friday markets.
This little town of ancient houses with Romanesque churches and keep overlooking vineyards and the surrounding plain makes an ideal base for walkers to explore the area’s many hiking paths. See La Porte du Mantray a thirteenth century city gate and eleventh century tower; twelfth and thirteenth century murals at L’Espace Sainte-Croix and Romanesque chapels at La Maison de l’Art Roman.
Loudun’s Charbonnau-Lassay Museum holds a famous collection of arms and the Theophraste Renaudot Museum tells the story of this father of French journalism who was born in Loudun. The town also has an aquarium of exotic fish and flowered walk around the area where a fortified castle once stood. The tourist office can organise guided walks if required.
The main reason to visit St Savin-sur-Gartempe is for its abbey church, built in the eleventh century, which contains the finest set of Romanesque murals in France, if not the western world, and is a UNESCO World Heritage Site.
The walls are covered with life-sized paintings depicting biblical scenes. Guided tours are available. Find a good view of the abbey church from the River Gartempe’s medieval bridge and take time to visit the abbey’s museum of Romanesque art history with depictions of medieval monastic life which is open at various times during the year and daily in July and August. St-Savin also makes an ideal touring base for the ‘Valley of Frescoes’.