Home to one of France’s oldest universities, the city of Poitiers may not be the biggest city in France, but that certainly isn’t holding it back. In addition to a lively social scene, including regular musical festivals and even a traditional Scottish Highland Games, Poitiers will enchant visitors with its bags of charm, beautifully preserved Romanesque churches and range of quirk independent shopping boutiques that are par excellent.
This pint-sized city has more than its fair share of hotels and guesthouses. Housed in a former Jesuit chapel, four-star Mercure Poitiers Centre (14 rue Édouard Grimaux) retains all the grandeur of its 19th-century heyday. Nearby Best Western Poitiers Centre Le Grand Hôtel (28 rue Carnot) channels simple minimalism within a charming historic shell, while Les Appartements Notre-Dame (3 place Charles de Gaulle) is a small selection of self-catering apartments with a snug, homey feel and faint-making balcony views towards the bell tower of Notre-Dame la Grande. Hôtel de l'Europe (39 rue Carnot) offers mid-budget travellers huge beds and slick service in a central location, while no-frills Hôtel Central (35 place du Maréchal Leclerc) is a reliable value option.
The postcard-perfect Grand’Rue is packed with quirky little arts and crafts shops. If you’re travelling with kids, don’t miss a visit to La Maison de Poupée (151 Grand’Rue), a stylish child-centric boutique that stocks a huge range of antique toys. Nearby Ciergerie Guédon (113 Grand’Rue) is one of the few places in France where candles are still made by hand, and just up the road Fabrique de Parapluies (137 Grand’Rue) has been designing, selling and restoring umbrellas for four generations. Foodies should try traditional macarons, nougatine and melt-in-the-mouth chocolate at Maison Rannou-Métivier (Centre Commercial Leclerc and other locations).
Marannes-Oléron mussels, langoustines, crab, Barbezieux black chicken, goat’s cheese and cognac-infused snails are all delicacies of this ultra-foodie region. Local ingredients are showcased to perfection in Le Poitevin (76 rue Carnot), where warm décor and a crackling fire make for the perfect winter evening retreat. In the suburb of Saint-Benoît, Michelin-starred Passions et Gourmandises (6 rue du Square) delivers creative and unmistakably French dishes to a romantic terrace overlooking the water. After dark, head to the Relax Bar in central Poitiers (20 place Charles de Gaulle), where you can sip on homemade cocktails and sample 12 different varieties of rum.
The little town of Bressuire, just to the west of Poitiers, has been twinned with Fraserburgh in Aberdeenshire for more than 20 years. The result is an annual Highland Games, with all the traditional sports of Scottish hammer throw, caber toss, stone put and weight throw. Scottish bands and dancers entertain the watching crowds.
Notre-Dame la Grande Polychromy
During the summer months, Poitiers’ stunning church Notre-Dame la Grande hosts a nightly light show. The display aims to show how the church would have looked back in its 11th-century heyday.
Poitiers éclats d'été
Starting in July and running throughout the summer, this festival puts on a nightly programme of live music, open-air cinema screenings and concerts. There are shows for children too, making it a highlight for visiting families.
Saxophone en Mouvement
This funky jazz festival is run parallel to an international saxophone academy, which invites around 50 young saxophonists from around the world every year to perfect their craft under the tuition of experts. Concerts, lectures and light shows are all included in the programme.
One of the leading circus and street art festivals in Europe, Les Expressifs is a long weekend of colourful, costumed celebration to mark the start of autumn. The focus is on new talent and cultural diversity, and the philosophy behind the event is to make culture accessible to all.