Saturday, 5 May 2012

Poitiers, France

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Dudes, news flash. France is old. Like OLD old. Never have I been more aware of that fact than when hanging out in the Poitou-Charantes region.  History is oozing everywhere you look.  It's pretty spectacular.

Poitiers takes in all of that old and in turn radiates with all the appeal that can bring.

Lonely Planet has a great, and succinct write up on the history of the city: Inland from the coast, the cobblestone city of Poitiers is packed with history. Founded by the Pictones, a Gaulish tribe, it is the former capital of Poitou, the region governed by the Counts of Poitiers in the Middle Ages. A pivotal turning point came in AD 732, when somewhere near Poitiers (the exact site is not known) the cavalry of Charles Martel defeated the Muslim forces of Abd ar-Rahman, governor of Córdoba, thus ending Muslim attempts to conquer France. The Romans built up the city and various ruins can be found around the city.

A day out in the city offers up a lot to see and explore. One of the easiest way to discover the sites is to follow one of three Chemins de Notre Dame, a series of self-guided walking tours that are marked by a continuous coloured line. All of the walks start at Notre Dame la Grande, the central cathedral, take about 1.5 - 2 hours to complete, and loop back so that you also finish at Notre Dame.  

On our day out there, we mixed things up a bit as we already had some sense of what we wanted to see. Instead of focusing on just one of the walks, we picked at certain parts of two of them.

We started in the centre of the old town at Notre Dame la Grande (built in the second half of the 11th century), and then continued on to Musee Saint Croix, one of two musuems in town.  The museum focuses on both art and archeology, with the archeology section including traces and exhibits from Prehistory to the Middle Ages.

Next up we were off to discover the Place de la liberte. This unassuming square was once the residing place of Poitiers guillotines during the revolution.  Now, it holds a miniature, replica, Statue of Liberty which was cast by Frederic Auguste Bartholdi, the very same man who designed the original. 

With dinner plans at some local friends, we had just enough time for an espresso before we headed out. 

If you're in the region, be sure to stop in to the old town of Poitiers and lose yourself in all that ancient!

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