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333km (207 miles) SW of Paris; 177km (110 miles) SE of Nantes

History fills this city, the ancient capital of Poitou, the northern part of Aquitaine. Everybody has passed through here -- from Joan of Arc to Richard the Lion-Hearted.

Poitiers stands on a hill overlooking the Clain and Boivre rivers -- a strategic location that tempted many conquerors. Charles Martel chased out the Muslims in A.D. 732 and altered the course of European civilization. Poitiers was the chief city of Eleanor of Aquitaine, who had her marriage to pious Louis VII annulled so she could wed England's Henry II.

For those interested in antiquity, this is one of the most fascinating towns in France. The Battle of Poitiers was fought on September 19, 1356, between the armies of Edward the Black Prince and King John of France. It was one of the three great English victories in the Hundred Years' War, distinguished by the use of the longbow in the skilled hands of English archers.

After decades of slumber, the town has really come alive, with the opening of Futuroscope, a cinema theme park. The thriving student population (25,000 of Poitiers's 90,000 residents are students) adds vitality as well.