- 05 Oct 18
Located in central France, the scenic Tours offers a superb array of cultural and culinary attractions.
Where is it exactly?
Located in the heart of the Loire Valley, a region centralised around the Loire river, Tours is the unexplored gem hidden in the centre of France. As a university town, it is well suited to students, but contains an impressive array of history, culture, nightlife and amusements of interest to all travellers.
Why should I go?
There’s so many reasons to visit Tours. First of all, it’s the perfect destination to escape from the concrete jungle. It is a region steeped in art, beauty and incredibly preserved historical areas that feel like stepping back in time. As getaways go, Tours is rare because it is in no way remote or isolated. It’s a vibrant town full of character and energy. With bustling nightlife, delectable food (and wine) and plenty of places to explore, it’s a chance to experience French culture in all its glory.
What are the touristy things to do?
Tours is often cited as a romantic getaway but above all it’s a place for art lovers. Stop by the Musee des Beaux Arts (18 Place François Sicard, 37000 Tours) near the town centre to peruse its rich and varied collection. Another great spot for inspiration is le Café Contemporain (Jardin François Premier, 37000 Tours). Half contemporary art gallery, half restaurant, this is the perfect place to discover more innovative works while munching on a delicious avocado on toast. Be sure to check out their website in advance to plan your visit to coincide with one of their events. Tours is also a great spot for shopping. You can find top brand names like Gucci and Dior or let yourself be led astray down the winding paths to discover the vintage shops tucked away under old-style street signs.
Being in the centre of the Loire Valley, Tours is a perfect base to visit one of the many castles that dominate the nearby villages. One of the most impressive by far is Château de Chenonceau (37150 Chenonceaux), a short train ride away. Dating from the 14th century, this castle boasts associations with many prominent historical figures such as Catherine De Medici and Henry VIII. Standing on the tower balcony looking down over your subjects (aka fellow visitors) is the ultimate power trip. Chateau de Clos (2 Rue du Clos Lucé, 37400 Amboise) is another good pick. Not only is it where Leonardo da Vinci once lived but you can also explore the neighbouring Chateau de Amboise (Montée de l’Emir Abd el Kader, 37400 Amboise).
How do I get there?
Tours Lore Valley Airport (40 Rue de l’Aéroport, 37100 Tours) runs flights to London Stansted and connects Dublin and Manchester during the summer months. An added extra is that the town’s tram-line connects with the airport and with tickets at €1.60, you don’t have to splurge on taxis.
What language do they speak?
French is your best bet no matter where you are in France. Locals really do appreciate when visitors make an effort to speak their mother tongue – even if it’s just to open with ‘Bonjour’. After that, you will find most people speak at least a small amount of English and, more often than not, they are eager to practice it.
Where should I stay?
In a city like Tours, it’s both easy and affordable to stay near the centre of town. These days you’re most likely to find the best options on Airbnb. Look for places near Rue L’Ermitage for charming apartments up rustic cobblestone streets. For those seeking more traditional accommodation, Hotel Val de Loire (33 Boulevard Heurteloup, 37000 Tours, France) awaits under an unassuming red awning. It has an interior that is equally homely and has an unbeatable location right around the corner from the main train station and bus stops.
What’s the transport like?
Surprisingly good for a town this size. Tours has a tram service that operates an extensive line throughout the city, and buses connect with provinces further afield. The best part? The tram and buses are run by the same network and one ticket covers both for up to 90 minutes. On a normal day, transport in Tours is cheap, easy to navigate and reliable. What you do need to bear in mind are the strikes. While I’m certainly a proponent of industrial action when needed, the French have a knack for making strikes a habit. This can be inconvenient but don’t let it put you off. Under normal circumstances, there is advance warning on social media channels and usually it’s a case of easy come, easy go and services resume within a couple of hours.
Where can I get a drink?
Place Plumerau (or Place Plum as residents call it) is the best spot for bars in Tours. A repurposed medieval corner, here you’ll find intoxicatingly inexpensive merlots and your choice of outdoor seating (a must during the summer months). Caféchaud (33 Rue Briçonnet, 37000 Tours) is a favourite clubbing spot and hands down the best place for cocktails in Tours. If you’re looking for an Irish bar, The Pale (18 Place Foire le Roi, 37000 Tours) has you covered. Once inside you’ll be greeted by the friendliest staff and uncover a wealth of Irish memorabilia, just in case you find yourself homesick. It also has the best soundtrack for dancing, whether sober or fuelled by liquid courage.
What should I eat?
Everything, if you’re a foodie like me. When in France it is your solemn duty to sample as many croissants, pain au chocolats and crusty loafs as you can. My top tip is to seek out your nearest bakery early on (this won’t be difficult). Pâtisserie Léger (59 Place du Grand Marché, 37000 Tours) in particular crafts a great selection of freshly baked breads and cakes that will have you coming back every day.
If you have a more adventurous palette, all you have to do is travel down Rue Colbert and let your nose be your guide to a great selection of international cuisine. Stand-out gems include El Cafecito (43 Rue du Grand Marché, 37000 Tours), a colourful Guatemalan cafe; Karamara (151 rue Colbert, 37000 Tours), the go-to for Ethiopian food; and Restaurant la Bekaa (80 rue Colbert, 37000, Tours), which offers up Lebanese delights. For the health conscious, don’t despair. France may be famed for its treats, but recently more and more places are offering up nutritious, filling fare – my favourite is Smaak Natural Food (35 Rue du Grand Marché, 37000 Tours). They offer filling salads, hearty soups and the option to have both in one bowl (trust me, it’s delicious).
Bike trails are a great way to get around the city and explore the sights. The tourism site for the city is a great page to check for rentals, treks and more (touraineloirevalley.co.uk/). During the summer months The Guinguette, an outdoor space on the riverside, runs a bar/live music venue/open air cinema, and everything in between. Finally, keep an eye out for the impromptu book stands set up around the town streets. They have some real finds and who knows, you could even return home with a first edition for a few euro.