I was about to start my final exams in secondary school, had won some money and was tired after a long year of study and stress when my Mom found really cheap flights to the little town of Poitiers in the West of France through Ryanair (If you’re ever looking for cheap flights in Europe this airline is going to be your new best friend and it happens to be Irish, just like me!). After a little searching we managed to come across rooms in the Ibis Hotel for €45 a night. With France in mind I struggled through the exams and we jetted off on Monday the 22nd of June. Landing in the afternoon sun we took a taxi from the airport to our hotel just down the road from the train station and after freshening up we explored the town centre. We ate dinner in the square where the Mairie de Poitiers (town hall in English) is situated. Food is reasonably priced in this area and there is a great selection of fresh, local produce.
Mom in front of Mairie de Poitiers
After our late dinner we called it a night and decided to enquire about train times and prices. The following morning we got the train for Paris. The train station is located a two minute walk from the Ibis hotel so you don’t have to worry about getting there in the morning! The day after our trip to Paris we spent exploring Poitiers and for a small town it really has a lot to offer. Our first stop was Elgise Saint Hilaire, named after Hilary of Poitiers was consecrated in 1049 and listed as a World Heritage Site by UNESCO in 1998. There is a total of 6 churches altogether in Poitiers, this is not unusual as many towns in France have several churches. My advise is if you see a church go in, some people argue that once you’ve seen a church you’ve seen them all but if you’re reading my blog I’m sure you’ll be the type to have a look anyways! Some of Europe’s best art is hidden in churches throughout the continent.
Eglise Saint Hilaire, nestled amongst the streets pictured from the side
We spent a while meandering through the picturesque streets before stopping into the grocery shop for some provisions. The area from the Siège de la Communauté d’agglomération de Grand Poitiers to Église Notre-Dame-la-Grande is filled with big brand names and unique, artisan shops. Here you can buy clothes, food and crafts that are specific to producers of the area. A browse amongst the restaurant and café menus can be useful in picking a place to have dinner in the evenings or you can call in to some of them during the day and dine in the sun.
Le Rue de Cordeliers on a tranquil Wednesday afternoon
Going past Place Alphonse Lepetit we saw the front of the Palace of Poitiers with it’s Columns and almost Roman façade as we continued along the Rue du Palais and headed back up towards the Église Notre-Dame-la-Grande. With a riverside picnic in mind we took the Grand’Rue downhill, heading away from where the hub of the town sits. Unable to resist the call of another church Mom and I popped one street over and caught our first glimpses of Cathédrale Saint-Pierre de Poitiers through the tops of the houses. Work began on the Roman Catholic cathedral in 1162 on top of the ruins of a Roman basilica. It was constructed in the Romanesque and Early Gothic styles and contains a set of choir stalls which were carved between 1235 and 1257 making them amongst the oldest in France. The Organ was completed and handed over in March 1791 and stands as an outstanding example of eighteenth-century organ design. Just around the corner from there lay the Baptistère Saint-Jean which was built in 360, giving it the reputation of being the oldest existing Christian building in the west. A baptismal tank was installed in the 6th Century moving baptisms from the river Clain which Mom and I were headed towards.
The impressive Cathédrale Saint-Pierre de Poitiers
Crossing the river via the Rue du Faubourg du Pont Neuf you can follow a little path to your right down by the river in amongst the the trees. Strolling along this path to the next bridge, the Pont Saint-Cyprien, you can take the Rue du Bas des Sables to continue walking along the tranquil river. About a kilometre away, just off the road is a railway bridge decorated with creative graffiti. We walked along the road for a while before heading back towards the town.
Speckled sunlight through the trees
Passing by Église Sainte-Radegonde on our trek back to the town centre we caught glimpses of the gold statue of the Virgin Mary and the baby Jesus on the Notre Dame des Dunes.Turning our attentions back to the church we followed the street along the building to it’s impressive front façade. The Abbey of the Holy Cross had been founded by Radegund in Poitiers in 552 as the first monastery for women in the Frankish Empire. this however, meant that the chapel was built outside of the city walls. After her death and burial in 587 the chapel was renamed under her patronage. Her remains were exhumed in 1012 for public veneration. The entire church was rebuilt after a major fire in 1083 which expanded the structure. Work began on the bell tower in 1099 which to this day extends so high into the sky meaning that the only decent picture I could get of it was from the street on the hill above it.
Église Sainte-Radegonde from the front exterior
Later that evening, after having bought a salad at one of the local shops we went for ice-cream by the église notre-dame la grande soaking up the music and the relaxed atmosphere.
église notre-dame la grande, poitiers during sunset
We waited patiently for the famous light display which illuminates the exterior of the church from June 21st to September 16th. We were lucky enough to have come to Poitiers just after the start date. Different light displays appear throughout the summer. It was an unforgettable experience and completely transformed the stonework and façade. It feels as if you’re being transported into a psychedelic dream where you could bump into Alice in Wonderland and a Hookah smoking caterpillar.
projections on église notre-dame la grande, poitiers
The Thursday consisted of a day-trip to La Rochelle where we explored the sea side town. With what little time we had left on Friday we paid a visit to the Parc de Blossac which was created in the late 17th century. The park extends on a vast plateau over the Clain river valley consisting of 9 hectares. It is composed of several gardens such as the French and English. The Blossac Park is directly linked to the banks of the Clain via the path of Cagouillère. The French garden is geometric due to the influence of the gardeners of Louis XIV. To modernise, a bandstand, a fountain pond and two sculptures by Antoine Etex have been included. The English garden has plenty of foliage and water is a strong element of this garden, featuring grottos, fountains and a lazy river. The rock garden, situated at the base of the walls of Blossac is highlighted by the presence of plants that blend with the rock creating a rock garden and a Mediterranean garden. Finally there is a zoo which children and adults alike can enjoy. There are swans, rabbits, guinea pigs, parakeets, ducks and many more friendly animals awaiting you.
The English garden in Parc de Blossac
After a light lunch in the Park we took one last walk through the town before retrieving out bags from the hotel. From the train station we got a taxi to the airport and bode farewell to this beautiful, little town.