There’s a whole lot to see and do in Tours in the heart of the Loire Valley. It’s easy to reach from Paris by train and provides a great base to visit the area. There are several of the major Loire Valley Chateaux nearby and you can organise a tour by coach or mini bus from here (check at the tourist office for details). And in fact you can even take a train from Tours to Blois, Chambord and Chenonceau if you don’t want to drive. Here are some of my favourite things to do in Tours in the Loire Valley:
Visit the old town and wander the cobbled streets to admire the ancient half-timbered houses. Follow the historic Circuit Saint Martin in the footsteps of Saint Martin to discover the main monuments relating to his heritage. The pilgrimage of Tours is one of the oldest of Christendom among those of Rome, Jerusalem and Santiago de Compostela.
And, for museum lovers, head to the quirky Musée du Compagnonnage. It’s the only one of its kind in the world, dedicated to trades guilds, it’s located in the former monks dormitory of the Benedictine Abbey of Saint Julien (13th-18th century). UNESCO listed (Intangible Cultural Heritage) Compagnonnage dates back from the end of the Middle Ages. It is made up of societies of young workers aspiring to ‘professional and moral development by means of a journey through France’ called “tour de France”. You’ll discover thousands of exhibits from tools to engravings, woodwork and even food displays. It really is a fascinating place.
There are several other museums including Fine Arts.
Centre de Création Contemporaine Olivier Debré – if you’re a fan of modern art, don’t miss this one.
Take me to the River
Take a river cruise. Rest your feet by taking a boat ride on a traditional flat-bottomed boat, known as a ‘Toue’. You’ll enjoy great views of the town from the river.
Wine and Dine
Leave time to enjoy the local gastronomy and wines. Head to Place Plumereau (top photo) to hang out with the locals at apero time. See our review of restaurants and gourmet shops the locals love: Where to eat out in Tours
To market you should go
Les Halles de Tours is more than 150 years old and open 7 days a week. Known as the belly of Tours – this is the place to go for fabulous fresh produce from pastries to chocolate and cheese, vegetables, wine and a whole lot more.
The botanical gardens are the largest and oldest gardens in the city. The beautiful tranquil grounds house an orangery, an exhibition greenhouse and pools containing hundreds of beautiful waterlilies. With over 5 hectares of greenery and more than 2000 plants, trees and shrubs to take in, this is a great for a picnic (with that delicious produce you just bought from the market!).
Cathedral of Tours
First built in 337, it burnt down in 561 and was promptly restored on the same site in 590. It was then rebuilt in the early 12th century, but in 1166 burnt to the ground again. In 1236 work began on making the cathedral what it is today. It’s architecture is simply stunning, with wonderful stained-glass windows and an Italian style organ.
Practical Information for Tours
Tram & bus service. You can buy a rechargeable bus/tram ticket from a bus driver (including the first journey), which can be recharged at major bus/tram stops. These machines take cards and change, but not notes. Simply tap the card on a reader to pay for a journey once on the bus. It’s cheap and easy.
Top tip: Book tours of chateaux from the tourist office. Many of the greats are easily accessible from here, Chenonceau, Villandry and Chambord to mention just a few.
Where to stay: Splash out and indulge at the 4* Hotel Oceania L’Univers. This historic hotel has welcome Rockefeller, Roosevelt and Ernest Hemingway amongst many prestigious guests. Wonderfully plush, old school glamour, in a fabulous location and friendly staff. (Parking available).
Great value at Le Grand Tours. There’s a range of rooms styles (and prices) in a terrific art deco building. Friendly staff and conveniently close to Tours station.
Get there: The train from Paris takes from 1 hour and 40 minutes.
For more information on what to see and do in Tours visit the tourist office: 78-82 Rue Bernard Palissy www.tours-tourism.co.uk