CENTRE Tours Hotel de Ville

Tours (pop 298,000) is one of the chief towns of the Loire Valley, as it acts as a train hub to the rest of the region. It comprises of a bustling city centre (usually teeming with university students) and a well-restored old city circle (La Vieux Tours). Being situated at the confluence of the Loire and Cher Rivers, Tours has seen the damage of the Battle of Tours in 732; as well the bombs of WWII. Therefore, much of its local castle has been destroyed. However, the town acts as a smart base to explore the chateaux of the surrounding areas; namely- Langeais, Villandry and Azuy-le-Rideau. Visitors also flock to Tours for its magnificent medieval cathedral.        

Place Jean Jaures is the geographical centre of Tours, with rue Nationale, Bd Beranger, Avenue de Grammond and Bd Heurteloup branching out from it. The commercial district stretches north from this ‘cross’, towards the river and the old city circle lies west of this, at Place Plumereau. You can arrive via regional flights at the Tours-Val de Loire Airport, located northeast of town; or via Tourine Fil Vert buses or SNCF trains at Place Général Leclerc.


 TOURS STREET MAP:   1. Tourist office  2. Train station  3. Place Jean Jaures  4. Place Plumereau  5. Cathédrale St-Gatien  6.Musée de Beaux-Arts  7. Musée du Compagnonnage  8. Musée du Gemmail  9. Basilique St-Martin  10. Vouvray (east of map limits; zoom out 4 clicks)


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CENTRE Tours, Cathédrale Saint-GatienCathédrale St-Gatien [Place de la Cathédrale, +33 247702100 ] has been a monument historique since 1862. Having been constructed over 4 centuries (13th – 16th century), the cathedral’s features are a physical documentation of the evolution of Gothic architecture. The building comprises of all the Gothic elements ranging from the sky scraping towers, lanky flying buttresses to grizzly gargoyles. However, the cathedral is best known for its intricately painted, gem-like stained glass windows- in particular, the rose window above the organ. Since actual works on the cathedral started much earlier, in the 12th century itself, the current cathedral sports a few Renaissance details as well. These influences can be seen on the domes of the 70m high towers as well as the northern Cloître de la Psalette. The St-Gatien cathedral also houses a finely sculpted tomb of the children of Charles VII and Anne de Bretagne.       

Opposite the cathedral, lies a flowery space, enclosed by ancient Gallo-Roman walls; known as the Cathedral Quarter. This area is less frequented by tourists as it is mainly populated with private residences. However, it is also home to a handful of flower gardens and Tours’ Musée de Beaux-Arts [18 Place François Sicard, +33 247056873,  ad/ch, €4/Free]. This fine arts museum sits in a gleaming white building that used to be the Archbishop’s palace. Built in the 18th century, the structure has a classical pediment and terraces that peek into the surrounding gardens. The museum displays an excellent collection of French provincial artworks, which are showcased in rooms that reflect their periods with relevant interior décor. Notable pieces are those by Eugene Delacriox, Monet and Andrea Mantega.       

Another art gallery across town is the Musée du Gemmail [7 rue du Mûrier, +33 247610119, ad/ch €5.40/Free]. Gemmail is a stained glass technique that uses fragments of coloured glass, glued together on a piece of cloth to create a mosaic. The work is then illuminated from behind, causing the colours of the ensemble to pop out. This technique was created in the 1930s, steadily gaining popularity until it flourished in the fifties, even being hailed as the new art form by Picasso. However, it died out soon after that, leaving these wonderfully abstract works behind. A good collection of these intriguing pieces are housed in this museum, which stands in a hotel.

Yet another interesting museum- the Musée du Compagnonnage [8 rue Nationale,   +33 247610793, ad/ch, €4.90/Free] (Museum of Companionship) is, despite what its name implies, has nothing to do with brethrens or cult groups. Instead, this unique museum is dedicated to the guild organisation of the Compagnonnages. Compagnons refers to the French craftsmen who have been in demand since the middle ages, thanks to the numerous showy castles and churches that dot the nation. In fact, the compagnons were the ones who were responsible for the fine metal restorations of the Statue of Liberty, in the 1980s. While the original Compagnonnages were restricted to stonemasons, ironmongers and carpenters, the current guild welcomes pastry chefs, coopers and locksmiths as well. Therefore the museum displays everything from huge clogs and locks to ginormous cakes.       

The Basilique St-Martin church [7 Rue Baleschoux, +33 247056387 ] was once responsible for making Tours an important pilgrimage site, as it housed the tomb of St-Martin- a Roman soldier-turned-evangelist, who performed many miracles in his time. He became the bishop of Tours in the 4th century and died here in 397. A Romanesque basilica was erected above his tomb in his honour; however, only its north tower remains today (due its destruction during the War of Religion and French Revolution). A replacement was built in 1862, a short distance from the original site, housing a small St-Martin museum [3 rue Rapin,  +33 247644887, ad/ch Free] beside it – showcasing the ruins of the lost church.

Vouvray (pop 3,000) is a small town just east of Tours that is best known for its white wine production. Many visitors to the area add wine tasting to their itinerary, as Vouvray is home to unique wine cellars, which are located in ancient man-made caves (serving as the perfect temperature control for the aging process).  The area is also surrounded by numerous vineyards.