A Thousand Years into the Future

By | Category: Travel destinations

Futuroscope 200mph ride

Poitiers, the capital of the Department of Vienne is one of the oldest cities in France. Even then it is only 10 Km from Futuroscope theme park which lays claim to having technically the most modern “rides” in the world. The heavy promotion of Futuroscope (1.8 million visitors in 2010) has economic benefits for the whole area and understandably there are promotional references to “Land of Futuroscope”. But bear in mind there’s a lot more going on in the Vienne area. And there are ways of combining visits to other attractions with the truly amazing features of Futuroscope in an area richly populated with mediaeval abbeys, churches and chateaux. www.tourisme-vienne.com

Futuroscope has a vast website and current offers, with combined entrance and hotel deals, are flagged on the home page: www.futuroscope.com So, what’s it all about? Over 20 years ago it pioneered virtual reality with 3D productions and all the features which became known as Imax presentations. Now it has recently introduced what it calls 4D features which amount to a combination of multiscreens, special glasses and headsets combined with vibrating and slightly tilting seats which create stimulation effects that are truly astonishing.
On the basis of one visit to France’s second biggest attraction, it was a great relief not to have the queuing that one experiences at Disney both in Paris and the US. This is referred to as “good management of visitor flow.” Over 90% of visitors are French but virtually all the attractions have English headset commentaries – the next highest number of visitors are Spanish and there’s an interesting reason for this which combines the “old” and the “state of the art”. Many Spanish families come to the area to see some of the churches and because Poitiers is on the Pilgrimage route to Santiago de Compostela.

Another more contrived way that links tradition and Futuroscope is one of the most dramatic simulated experiences: travelling at over 200 mph through the narrow cobbled streets of Poitiers.

A fun place to stay near everything is in a tree house at the Domaine de Dienné . You enter the tree house across a walkway and, as well as peace and privacy, breakfast of warm fresh bread, croissants and fruit juice is delivered early in your own covered basked which is hauled up through the trees. As well as a spa centre and open air pool the Domaine has a diverse collection of animals including horses, goats, sheep and camels. It offers riding, a tree top adventure course and other activities. www.domaine-de-dienne.fr

A popular attraction worth a visit is the Vallée des Singes (Valley of Monkeys) where you will find gorillas, chimps, marmosets and other monkeys including the newly arrived rare bonobos from the Congo. There are no cages or fences in the valley. Some of the smaller monkeys run free around the visitors picking a pocket or two (if you’re not careful) and the others are contained by a series of canals due to the interesting fact that these monkeys hate water probably because they can’t swim.

Centres with trained hawks and other birds of prey are not unique but the “Giants of the sky” show at Chauvigny was out of the ordinary. The setting is within the walls and keep of the 12th Century Bishops’ Castle, one of five Castles in the town. A variety of birds from all over the world fly from keeper to keeper about a foot above the heads of the audience.

At Bonnes we visited the Château de Touffou the home of the widow of advertising legend David Ogilvy – it was a great pleasure to meet Herta and have a chat down memory lane about the London agency scene of yesteryear. Touffou was mentioned as early as 1127 but still doesn’t appear in many tourist brochures. It’s a real find. Over more than 20 years the Ogilvy’s maintained and restored the Château. It was a huge task as they renovated two 12th century dungeons, the rampart walkways, the tower built by Francis I and the Hôtellerie tower (once the bake house and kitchens) which has great views of the Vienne valley. The gardens are superb, so much so that they have been written up in magazines. The château and the gardens are open from May to September but check opening hours (entrance €5) by telephoning (05 49 56 40 08) or emailing chateaudetouffou@yahoo.fr first.

With so many superb churches and abbeys in the area you are spoilt for choice but I would single out three. The Monastère of Ligugé, which still has an active community of 25 monks, has villa foundations from the 5th century. As recently as 1953 other foundations were discovered in the crypt which go back to the 1st century. It also has a reputation for the high standard of singing and bell ringing. At the Abbey of Saint-Savin, a UNESCO World Heritage site, we encountered a Fête Classique which included an opera interlude. A scarlet clad soprano accompanied by a guitar player was gently paddled across the lake elsewhere a lone sax wasS played high in the ramparts. It was followed by a delicious buffet attended by the Mayor. A classic morning which the French do so very well. Those who do not want too much history can enjoy the Grand Place facing Notre Dame de Poitiers whilst enjoying a glass or two or an excellent value lunch at Nardo’s Bouchon , which contradicts the accepted wisdom that all bars and bistros in main squares are too expensive.

As we know, there has been a decline in the smaller family owned hotels and restaurants throughout France but there seemed plenty in the Vienne area around Poitiers with a good choice of three course meals from around €14 to €19. Most prix fixe menus included local cheeses. Futuroscope itself has some good value options and one does not have to have the ubiquitous Pizza. Recommended places in Poitiers itself are: Nardo’s Bouchon, La Table du Jardin and in Gençay the Vieux Château.
An interesting way that the old and the new combine to give Poitiers a lively atmosphere is through the University of Poitiers. Founded in 1231, the second oldest on France, it has 23,000 students – incidentally 4,000 of the students are from other countries. With so many students there should be some good affordable night spots and our (younger) friends at the Vienne tourist office recommended three: La Tomate Blanche, Next and La Grand Goule.

Poitiers and the Vienne area have all you need for a great family holiday and are well worth a couple of days break if you are en route to the South. For a family break, the very modern hotel attached to the Manoir du Normandoux has a great outdoor pool and reasonable meal prices www.normandoux.fr. For those driving through France Logis de France have a choice of 2,800 hotels and bistros www.logishotels.com
A city with 23,000 students should have some good affordable night spots and our (younger) friends at the Vienne tourist office recommended three: La Tomate Blanche, Next and La Grand Goule.
Getting there: There are direct Ryanair flights from Stansted and Edinburgh. A bus shuttle operates between the railway station and Poitiers-Biard Airport costing € each way; from Paris it is a 340 Km drive or 90 minutes by TGV from Gare Montparnasse in Paris.

story and photographs© Anthony Lydekker

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