This week I was in Potiers in the department of the Vienne. Now, if you had visited this city twenty, or maybe thirty years ago, you probably wouldn’t have come away with a particularly great impression. Sure there is some fabulous architecture but the overall feeling would have been of a rather run-down, slightly sad place that was perhaps down on its luck and a bit neglected.
Two years ago, I visited the city with our youngest daughter for a tennis tournament, but we didn’t have time to explore the city itself; instead we drove around the outskirts and I watched from the sidelines as she competed in her matches. There was nothing whatsoever that made me think my previous assumptions were anything but correct. Then last year my brother was staying with us from the UK. He had spent a day in Poitiers during his drive southwards to us and had nothing but good things to say about the place. At the same time our second-eldest was about to start university there and we got to explore the city center – and for the first time I could quite see why my brother was so enamoured.
Now it’s a year later and I have just spent another week exploring Poitiers. To say I was quite amazed by how much I love the city would be an understatement; it is a fabulous place and now I cannot help but think I was so wrong and that instead that this is a city which is doing rather well for itself; it feels ‘rich’, but in a good way – it is buzzing and vibrant. But don’t just take my word for it, have a look for yourselves.
I hope I’ve captured some of the spirit of the city, for it is so incredibly French. It’s not particularly well known on the tourist trail and certainly not popular with foreigners as a general rule, but it’s a real gem. Architecture dating back over a thousand years surrounds you. Traditional half-timbered houses feature prominently and somehow they have managed to carry off their transformation of ‘modern shop front at street level and private home above’ rather well.
But if you visit, be sure to look up, for that’s where the real magic happens.
The city is made up of a mass of tiny narrow winding streets, and as it is virtually all pedestrianised one can wander slowly along and just soak up the atmosphere.
Stop at one of the many numerous cafés and restaurants and enjoy a coffee, or perhaps an aperitif, lunch or dinner.
It’s a fabulous place just to sit and watch the world go by, ‘people-watching’ French style….
….seated at the ubiquitous French café table and chairs!
Poitiers boasts 2000 years of history and was first built on a rocky promontory between two rivers. After the Roman conquest in the 1st century BC it began to grow in size and by the end of the 3rd century AD a large defensive wall had been built around the entire city. It is here that you will find one of the most beautiful Romanesque facades in the world; the 11th century church of Notre Dame la Grande.
It’s not just famous for its exterior though, the interior quite literally took my breath away. It is dominated by fabulous painted columns which were restored in the 1800’s
and there are some stunning stained glass windows.
These frescoes on the vaulted roof are from the 12th century.
Poitiers also boasts one of the oldest universities in France dating from 1431. But I don’t want to completely overwhelm you with facts, because it is also the very Frenchness of this city that has captivated me.
Simple plants against a shabby exterior,
A second-hand book stall in the middle of a square,
cafés and more cafés.
Outside the prestigious Hôtel de Ville (which is the town hall and should not be mistaken for the town hotel!), vintage wooden games-tables had been set up for anyone to play.
The outdoor market is an absolute feast for the hunger within, as well as for the eyes.
There are artisanal breads,
organic goats cheese
and flowers picked fresh that morning along with eggs from the hens of local farms and producers.
Couple this with the architecture, the latest shops, numerous small boutiques and mouth-watering chocolatiers and you really do have the best of French city-living, all in one place.
Now you might be wondering why or indeed how I spend so much time being able to write about various cities and areas of France. It’s something I have mentioned very briefly once or twice, but actually it’s all down to our youngest daughter. In a very short time she has become one of the very best junior tennis players for her age in France. At just 12 years old she has competed all over the country and in Portugal and Italy. Struggling to find players of her level locally we are forced to travel further and further afield and she is currently playing in adult tournaments in order to progress her game (that’s the reason we were in Poitiers, she played two adult tournaments back to back, and was runner up in the first and winner of the second, all while she is still just 12 years old).
There are many who say she could be the next Coco Gauff, given her short but vertical progress, and I am sincere when I say wait three years and she will be on your television screens. Ok, so she’s our daughter and we are supremely proud, but she’s also one in a million on the court, not just for her talent and extreme dedication but also for her mental calm and impeccable attitude.
This is her passion, her life and her dream. I have been to every one of her tournaments, she trains with her coach for five hours a day (3 hours tennis, 2 hours fitness) and is now home-schooled. This is not our dream, this is her’s. Financially, it’s horrendous, and time and again we’ve hinted that she might have to stop, except for her it is not an option, as there is NO stopping her. And so we have to find a way to keep her going.
In an effort to continue to pay for her coaching and travel we have launched a website today, created by her very talented eldest sister, Izzi, who works in London. If you feel like taking a look please do, the site is here. If you feel like donating to help her, I cannot tell you how incredibly grateful we would be and you can do that here. I hate to ask, but I am guessing you all know that I would do anything for my family and for my children (she is the youngest of five)!
You can also follow her incredibly popular Instagram account too, which she runs herself for fun; it’s the story of her tennis journey with some great videos and has over 15,000 followers! @gigina_tennis
All I can say is thank you for taking the time to read this from all of us. And thank you to Gigi for giving me the opportunity to bring so much of France to you, it is a real pleasure. Susan xx