Tour de France, Stage 9 – Poitiers

Text read by Mary Peters

Geneviève crosses the point from the past to the future.

We have left Charente-Maritime and La Rochelle and are now 137km further east in the city of Poitiers in the region of Aquitaine.

The town was founded by the Pictones, a Celtic tribe. It was an Oppidom (a Celtic fortification). When the Romans arrived, the town was renamed to Pictavium, which eventually became Pictavis and is now Poitiers. The town has grown continuously and while Poitiers itself has 88,000 inhabitants, over 250,000 people live in the surrounding urban areas.

The town has many sights, here are the most unusual. I would like to start with the cathedral “Saint-Pierre”. In the south transept is a treasure of Gothic art, the quality and size is unmatched in France. The pictures show us biblical scenes, saints, angels and the coronation of the Virgin. All are shown in the required colour code (or rules) of this epoch; very vivid blues, reds and greens using precious pigments.

If you visit Poitiers during summer, keep an evening free to watch the illumination of the Eglise Notre Dame La Grande. The façade of the church is shown in colours of the Middle Ages with a multicolour, musical spectacle.

The Saint Jean Baptistery is an old Gallo Roman building in which you can discover an old octagonal shaped baptismal pool. It was used until the 8th century. The building was converted into a church and is decorated with murals from the 11th to 13th centuries. You can also admire the Merovingian sarcophagi.

Twenty kilometres from Poitiers is the medieval city of Chauvigny, where you can experience some brilliant falconry. At the baronial Château des Évêques you can attend a bird spectacle. In the amphitheatre, you should admire the giant birds gliding over your head. New species join the growing family every year and a few of them have even taken part in movies.

Whilst you are there, try a very special mode of transport. The old railway line was transformed into a so-called velorail. The vehicle looks like a car without the chassis and you sit on comfortable seats and pedal as if you were on a bicycle. The wheels are small train wheels rolling on a railway track. During your almost 9km long velo-railing trip, you can admire the landscape and take in the fresh country air.

An hour away is La Roche-Posay and there are two things you can do here. One is focussed on your health, the other on your bank account. The medical cure of La Roche-Posay heals all your dermatological problems, a health cure for your skin. It is the leading centre in Europe and is also known for its selection of skincare products under the same name which is available in chemists.
 
Once your health has been restored, you can “have a flutter” in the casino. You are spoiled with a choice of entertainment. Enjoy dinner and cabaret in the “Salle de Cabaret”.  Lunch in the “Bistrot Gourmand” and, in between meals, try your luck either with the “one-armed bandits”, “slot machines” or “fruit machines” in the gambling halls or, if you want to spend an evening like James Bond, you can do that in the more traditional and elegant surroundings with roulette and blackjack etc. Should we add a note of caution to say that gambling can be addictive?

The Futuroscope

Poitiers is synonymous with the Futuroscope which is located 10km north of the city.  Here is a theme park with an emphasis on technological and scientific education. It was opened on May 31, 1987, but different attractions have been added almost every year. You have a choice of over 40 different attractions, not just for children of all ages, but also interesting for parents.  

Go on a time machine journey, experience a virtual reality racing simulator with local hero in the Alsace, Sebastian Loeb, walk along the cyber avenue and follow Thomas Pesquet, the first French astronaut who went to space, into the imagination pavilion in which you walk in total darkness and have to recognise objects by touching them. You can return to the ice age, watch a fabulous show presented by Canada’s famous Cirque du Soleil.  Why not “Dance with Robots” with Martin Solveig. In June 2020, the park opened its latest attraction, the Mars Objective which aims to inform people about future missions to Mars. There is really a lot to do and see, so my advice is just go in and have fun.

It’s time to cycle on. See you when I reach my next destination, the wider area around Clermont Ferrand.

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