With its atmospheric medieval center and historic university (one of the oldest in France), Poitiers harbors a rich heritage and traces of the city’s artistic legacy can be found in its striking architecture. From Romanesque churches and Gothic castles, to space-age theme parks, here are eight of the most beautiful buildings in Poitiers.
The elaborately carved façade of the Notre Dame la Grande Church is often described as one of the most impressive Romanesque façades in the world. Dating back to the 12th century, it’s a feast of religious iconography, from the ornate exterior stonework to the colorful interior frescoes. Flanked by half-timbered buildings at the heart of the Place Charles de Gaulle, it’s most atmospheric during summer evenings, when a 15-minute light show brings the façade to life.
The former seat of the Dukes of Aquitaine and the Count of Poitiers, the Palace of Justice (Palais de Justice) is an imposing reminder of the city’s medieval splendor, just a short stroll from the Notre Dame la Grande Church. Transformed into a courthouse after the French Revolution, the building is notable for its colonnaded entrance, Gothic-style donjon, and gigantic Great Hall — the ‘Salle des pas perdus’.
The stately building that takes center stage on Place du Maréchal-Leclerc is the 19th-century Hôtel de Ville (Town Hall). After admiring the majestic Renaissance-style façade, step inside and be greeted by the grand ceremonial staircase, or settle into one of the square’s terrace cafés for a coffee break with a view of the historic landmark.
Poitiers has no shortage of hotels, but few are as architecturally stunning as the Hôtel Jean Beaucé. The castle-like mansion stands out thanks to the oblique windows on its central tower, fairy-tale turrets and domed lantern. The hotel is now a gîte, ‘Les Appartements de Beaucé’, with stylish rooms and fantastic views of Poitiers’ historic center.
Built for Eleanor of Aquitaine and Henry II Plantagenet, construction of the Saint-Pierre Cathedral (Saint Peter’s Cathedral) began in 1162, but it took over 200 years to complete. Today, it’s Poitiers’ largest religious building and is a remarkably preserved example of Angevin Gothic architecture, admired for its ornate façade and magnificent 13th-century stained glass windows.
Just north of the city, the Parc du Futuroscope is best known as one of France’s most unique theme parks, but its also an architectural landmark in its own right. Inside, the cutting-edge cinematography and multimedia exhibitions offer a thrilling multi-sensual experience. But outside it’s a visual feast, with futuristic buildings capped with gigantic spheres, space-age structures that defy architectural norms, and mirrored facades that catch the sunlight to dramatic effect.
Consecrated in 1049, the Church of Saint-Hilaire-le-Grand (Église St-Hilaire le Grand) takes the prize for the oldest religious monument in Poitiers. As one of the sites on the UNESCO World Heritage-listed Santiago de Compostela route, it’s also an important pilgrimage site for Catholics that’s built in a noble Romanesque style.
With its turreted towers looming over a medieval courtyard, the Hotel Fumé could easily be mistaken for a royal castle. Now housing the Faculty of Arts and Human Sciences of the University of Poitiers, the Gothic mansion is a dramatic sight but the real beauty is in the details — half-timbered banners, decorative stone ledges, fluted columns, and ornate window frames.