The historic attractions of Tours bring people to this Loire Valley city, located where the Loire and Cher rivers join up. The main town of the Loire Valley, it's conveniently just over 2 hours from Paris by the TGV Express train. The bustling lively city is particularly known for good food and wine which attracts plenty of people who commute daily to Paris. Tours makes a good base for exploring the surrounding chateaux and gardens in this westerly section of the Loire Valley. If you want to go further, make your way west to Angers and its different attractions.
Tours Transportation - Rail Station
Tours Station, place du Gen. Leclerc, is south east of the cathedral district opposite the Centre de Congres Vinci.
The Old Quarter and Pilgrims
The old town clusters around place Plumereau; its old houses restored to their former glory. Today this is the place for pavement cafes and people watching in the summer but stroll the smaller, narrow streets like rue Briconnet and you step back into the historic medieval city. To the south you’ll find a romanesque basilica, the Cloitre de St-Martin and the new Basilique de St-Martin. You’re in the place which was once on the great pilgrimage route to Santiago de Compostela. St-Martin was a soldier who became bishop of Tours in the 4th century and helped spread Christianity through France.
His remains, rediscovered in 1860, are now in the crypt of the new Basilique.
The Cathedral Quarter
The other old part, the cathedral quarter, on the other side of the main rue Nationale, is dominated by the Cathédrale St-Gatien (5 pl de la Cathedrale, tel.: 00 33 (0)2 47 70 21 00; admission free), a flamboyant Gothic building with 12th-century decorated stonework covering the outside. Inside the highlights are the 16th-century tomb of Charles VIII and Anne de Bretagne’s two children, and the stained glass.
Just south of the cathedral you’ll find the Muséee des Beaux-Arts (18 pl Francois Sicard, tel.: 00 33 (0)2 47 05 68 73; information; admission free) housed in the former archbishop’s palace. There are gems to be discovered in the collections, but the main point here is to walk through the succession of 17th and 18th-century furnished rooms.
The Priory and Rose Garden at St-Cosne
Make your way 3 kilometers east of the center to the Prieure de St-Cosne (La Riche, information). Now a romantic ruin, the priory was founded in 1092, becoming a stopping off place on the pilgrimage route to Compostella in Spain. When the royal family came to live in Touraine, the priory flourished from visits from Catherine de Medicis and Charles IX. Equally important was the prior who received them, France's most famous poet, Pierre Ronsard. He was prior here for the last 20 years of his life, dying in 1585.
There’s a little museum dedicated to the French poet, Ronsard, but the main attraction is the rose garden which includes the Pierre de Ronsard rose among its hundreds of varieties.
Markets in Tours
Tours has markets every day except for Monday. You’ll get full details from the Tourist Office. Markets to try for include the flower and food market (Wednesday and Saturday, Blvd Beranger, 8am-6pm); the gourmet market (first Friday of the month, place de la Resistance, 4-10pm); the antiques market (first and third Friday of the month, rue de Bordeaux) and the larger antiques market (fourth Sunday of the month).
Annual markets include the Foire de Tours (from the first Saturday to the second Sunday of May), the Garlic and Basil Fair (July 26th), a huge flea market (first Sunday of September) and a Christmas market (three weeks before Christmas). All these have become major attractions in the region.
Hotels in Tours
The Tourist Office can help with booking hotels. It's worth going on to the website for special offers, though many may be last minute.
Restaurants in Tours
You'll find a whole slew of cheaper restaurants, bistros and cafe around Place Plumereau, particularly on rue du Grand Marche. For good restaurants and more local places, try the cathedral side of rue Nationale.
Local Food & Wine Specialties
Rabelais' Gargantua came from the region, so expect plenty of good food. Local special dishes to look out for in restaurants include rillettes (coarse goose or pork pate), andouillettes (tripe sausage), coq-au-vin in Chinon wine, Ste Maure goat's cheese. 'Tours prunes', macaroons from the monks of Cormery and fouaces (cakes) beloved by Rabelais.
Drink the local Loire Valley wines: white from Vouvray, Montlouis, Amboise, Azay-le-Rideau, and red wines from Chinon, Bourgueil and Saint-Nicolas. You'll also find red, white and rose wines certified as 'Touraine'.
Visiting Attractions Beyond Tours
If you're interested in gardens rather than chateaux, don't miss Villandry with its terraces, water garden and Renaissance vegetable garden.