Why visit Bourges?
Most people visit Bourges for its cathedral, one of the great Gothic buildings in France and one of France's world heritage sites though it is less famous than Chartres. But it has more going for it than the cathedral, magnificent though it is. Bourges has lovely old buildings around the cathedral and very good restaurants.
At the southern end of the Loire Valley, Bourges is conveniently near the wine-growing areas around Sancerre, chateaux and gardens in this part of the region. It also makes a very good overnight stop for anybody going from the North France ports to the south of France, Provence and the Mediterranean.
A Little History
Strategically placed in the central part of France, Bourges was an important city by the time Gaul (France) was conquered by the Romans. Sacked by Julius Caesar in 52BC, it became the capital of the Roman province of Avaricum in the 4th century. Under Jean de Berry in the 14th century, Bourges became a real powerhouse of artistic achievement, rivaling Dijon and Avignon. Its name is inextricably linked with the unrivalled illuminated miniatures known as the Les Tres Riches Heures du Duc de Berry.
- Bourges is the chief town of the Berry region
- Population of greater Bourges is around 95,000
- Located on the River Yevre
- Tourist Office
21 rue Victor-Hugo
Tel.: 00 33 (0)2 48 23 02 60
Attractions in Bourges
The Cathedral St-Etienne is at the center of the city and a landmark for miles. The 12th-century cathedral was built as a show stopper in what was then the brand new Gothic style. Not only was it designed to look impressive, but architectural innovations meant that some of the restraining details like transepts were no longer needed and instead the two-tiered flying buttresses were revealed in all their soaring glory. The cathedral is now classified as a UNESCO World Heritage Site
The tympanum above the main door of the west front shows the Last Judgement in wonderful gory details, designed to make the onlooker shake in his or her shoes at the fate that awaited the wicked.
Inside the first impression is of height, then you’re drawn into the glorious 12th- and 13th-century stained glass windows. Go to the choir to see the remarkable biblical stories, all created between 1215 and 1225. The windows here were made according to the techniques of the master glass-makers of Chartres; elsewhere windows were added and renovated over the next five centuries.
There are other features to look out for: the great astronomical clock with its front painted to celebrate the wedding of Charles VII to Marie d’Anjou in 1422, and the crypt with some remaining parts of the original tomb of Jean de Berry.
The same ticket allows you up the north tower for a fabulous view over the medieval rooftops and on to the countryside beyond the city.
Open April 1 to September 30 8.30am-7.15pm
October 1 to March 31 9am-5.45pm
Guided tour of the cathedral 6 euros per person
Guided tour of the cathedral and the medieval city 8 euros per person
Information and tickets from the Tourist Office.
Come out of the cathedral on place Etienne-Dolet where the former bishop lived in a palace of some style. Today the Palais Jacques Coeur houses a museum you could only get in France, Le Musée des Meilleurs Ouvriers de France (Museum of the Best Workers in France; tel.: 00 33 (0)2 48 57 82 45; information). The title is given by the government to those who are at the top of their profession, from butchers to bakers to candlestick makers. It’s a huge honor and winners are invited to the Elysee Palace in Paris to be given the award. This museum houses pieces made by French artisans with a different theme each year. There’s a lovely view of the cathedral from the gardens attached to the palace.
The old buildings of Bourges lie around the cathedral, with the best of them converted into museums. To the east of the cathedral, the early Renaissance Hotel Lallemant is a wedding cake of a building. It houses the Musée des Arts Decoratifs which has some good paintings, tapestries and furniture. (6 rue Bourbonnoux, tel.: 00 33 (0)2 48 57 81 17; website).
Walk to the north of the cathedral to the 15th-century Hotel des Echevins which houses the Musée de Maurice Estebe (13 rue Edouard Branly, tel.: 00 33 (0)2 48 24 75 48; website). It’s full of paintings by this colorful local artist, and again the bonus is seeing the interior of the building.
Rue Edouard Branly becomes rue Jacques Coeur where you’ll come across the other major historic building in Bourges, the Jacques –Coeur Palace.
Jacques Coeur (1395-1456) began as a goldsmith at the court of Jean de Berry then became finance minister to Charles VII. This was an age when the wily entrepreneur could make a fortune, and Jacques Coeur was one of the wiliest, becoming money-lender and supplier of luxury goods to the King. To show off his wealth, he built himself a palace. The 15th-century building is adorned throughout with amazing decorative stonework. Watch out for the visual jokes such as the hearts and scallop shells (‘coeur’ is French for heart). There’s a wonderful bas-relief of a huge sailing ship, symbolic of the owner’s wealth. The house was way ahead of its time, with latrines, a steamroom and washrooms.
Palais Jacques Coeur
For opening times, check the website above.
Admission Adult 7 euros, 18 to 25 year olds 4.50 euros, under 17 years free.
From here you’ll find steps leading to the rue des Arenes and the 16th-century Hotel Cujas (Tel.: 00 33 (0)2 48 70 41 92; open Mon & Wednesday to Saturday 10am-noon & 2-6pm; Sunday 2-6pm; Admission free). The splendid building houses the Musée du Berry which includes Roman remains and shows the times of Jean de Berry with artefacts, including the superb pleurants (mourners) which adorned the tomb. There are paintings by Jean Boucher, and on the first floor, a good selection of items showing rural life in Berry in the 19th century.
Where to Stay
Les Bonnets Rouges
3 rue de la Thaumassiere
Tel.: 00 33 (0)2 48 65 79 92
Four charming rooms are set around a private courtyard in a 17th century house decorated with antiques. The top floor room has great cathedral views.
Rooms from 58 to 80 euros, breakfast included.
Hotel de Bourbon Mercure
Bd de la Republique
Tel.: 00 33 (0)2 48 70 70 00
Centrally located hotel in a former 17th century abbey. Comfortable, elegant rooms in one of Bourges’ best hotels are luxurious. Rooms from 125 to 240 euros. Breakfast 17 euros.
Hotel Villa C
20 ave. Henri-Laudier
Tel.: 00 33 (0)2 18 15 04 00
This charming, elegant 19th-century house just near the station is decorated in contemporary style has just 12 rooms. With a roof terrace, equally as stylishly designed, and a chic bar serving local Loire Valley wines, this is a real find. 115 to 185 euros. Breakfast 12 euros. No restaurant.
5 rue Halle
Tel.: 00 33 (0)2 48 70 56 50
Don’t be put off by the exterior, this hotel of 71 rooms in the heart of the old quarter has well decorated, traditional rooms. Rates vary according to season but average around 90 euros. No restaurant.
Bourges has a good selection of restaurants, with the many of them along rue Bourbonnoux near the cathedral.
Le d’Antan Sancerrois
50 rue Bourbonnoux
Tel.: 00 33 (0)2 48 65 92 26
This one-star Michelin restaurant in the center of the city is elegant and modern, much like the cooking. Try dishes like foie gras with creamed lentils, followed by lobster with scallops. All made with the freshest of seasonal ingredients.
Menus 35 to 85 euros.
44 bd Lahitolle
Tel.: 00 33 (0)2 48 70 33 27
Awarded a Michelin star in 2013, this relatively new restaurant (opened in 2011) offers two bars for an aperitif or digestif and an attractive room opening onto a garden. Cooking is modern and inventive, as in a starter of foie gras with quince, warm smoked scallop and Chinese cabbage, and mains such as local Bourbonnais chicken with a light spiced broth and avocado puree.
Menus 25 to 80 euros.
44 rue Bourbonnoux
Tel.: 00 33 (0)2 48 24 14 76
Bright colours in this below floor restaurant and good traditional cooking make this a popular local choice. Good value menus offer the likes of asparagus risotto, roast leg of lamb with pepper sauce and spring vegetables and classic desserts.
Menus 13 to 32 euros.
Le Bistro Gourmand
5 pl de la Barre
Tel.: 00 33 (0)2 48 70 63 37
In the heart of Bourges with cathedral views, this is a great lunch spot with outside tables for sunny days. Simple décor and good honest cooking. Lunchtime favorites include fresh, large salads; there are dishes from the grill, brochettes and a good children’s menu.
Lunch menu 16.50 euros.
Pub Jacques Coeur
1 rue d’Auron
Tel.: 00 33 (0)2 48 70 72 88
Great pub atmosphere in this picturesque where the financier Jacques Coeur was born. Gets very busy at weekends and there’s a billiards room downstairs.
Local Food & Wine Specialties
Look out for green Berry lentils (but don't confuse them with lentils from Le Puy in the Auvergne); pumpkins, and try Berrichon, a local pork and egg pie.
Drink the local Loire Valley wines: white from Vouvray, Montlouis, Amboise, Azay-le-Rideau, and red wines from Chinon, Bourgueil and Saint-Nicolas.
Visiting Attractions around Bourges
Bourges is very central in the Loire Valley, so is well placed for visiting several of the fabulous chateaux and gardens of the region.To the north east lies Sully-sur-Loire and the great gardens and fortress-like chateau of Ainay-le-Vieil. Go a bit further afield to the western Loire valley and all their great chateaux and gardens, starting at Chaumont.
You're very near some of the main vineyards of the Loire Valley, all to the east of Bourges. So stop to taste and buy in Sancerre, Pouilly-sur-Loire and Sancergues to the north east and Valencay and Bouges to the north west.