TOURS - THE CAPITAL OF LOIRE
The city of Tours is inhabited with some 300,000 of citizens. Its history begins from Roman times. Like Blois, it was one of the main centers of France. But in opposite to Blois, Tours today is a modern and full-of-life city. The University of Tours attracts a lot of young people from all over the world to learn the French language (because here you can hear the purest French in all of France).
The city of Tours is at the middle of the region. So, it's a good base to visit the castles of Loire. At the evening you have a lot of options to eat.
The restaurants of Tours are of the best in France (although are not too expensive). For 100 FF per person you can receive a good dinner with 3 courses. Rue Colbert has a major concentration of restaurants (restaurant Le Turon is my recommendation).
Now, let's begin our trip. The trip is planned for some 3-5 hours (depends on you).
Start your visit from La Gare (train station). Look at this great building of the end of XIX century (see in my pictures). Its 3 arches give the feel of fly. Inside the station you can buy one of the SNCF's tours to chateaux.
From the station turn right to Blvd. Heurteloup and then left to rue Jules Simon
. As you approach rue des Orsulines
, on you right you'll find Musee des Beaux Arts (02 47 05 68 73). In XVII century Archibishop's palace you can see a good collection of Italian and French art of the last 6 centuries. Don't miss the altar paintings by Mantegna stolen by Napoleon from Italy. Apart of Tuesday, the museum is open daily 9.00-18.00 (except of 13.00-14.00). Although you can spend long hours in the museum, I'd recommend you to dedicate no more than 1 hour. The price is 5 Euros. But if you plan to visit a few more museum, then buying the Carte multi-visites to all museums of Tours is a good deal (the price is 8 Euros).
From the museum visit the tiny but very charming flower garden. Look at the picture below.
Now, continue with rue Jules Simon to place de la Cathedrale to find on your right Cathedrale St Gatien
. The Gothic Cathedal was built and rebuilt during 400 years (beginning at XIII century). Pay special attention to the stained-glass windows dated by XIII-XV centuries. The magic atmosphere in the church will reward you for the efforts to come here. The place is open daily 9.00-19.00.
From the Cathedral continue with rue Lavoisier. On your right you can see chateau de Tours (destroyed by Nazis). In the castle there are nice Aquarium Tropical (02 47 64 29 52) and Wax Historical Museum (02 47 61 02 95). Both are open daily (Aquarium - April-November) 9.30-12.00, 14.00-18.00 (In July and in August with no break).
Crossing the river with Pont de Fil turn left and make a nice trip along the river. Look at the pictures below to see the wonderful views of Loire's nature. The river has a lot of little islands. One of them you had crossed just now.
At the next bridge - Pont Wilson (built in XVIII century) - come back to the left bank. Staying on the bridge you will see the famous University of Tours. This great panorama can be seen in the picture below.
On the right side of rue Nationale (heavily damaged by Nazis) you'll find two museums - Musee des vins and Musee du Compagnonnage (Guild Museum). The first one can be omitted from your list, because the best way to enjoy of wine is in the vine cellars like the one of Mt Louis (see trip to the East of Tours). The second museum displays nice crafts of the region. I'm highly recommending you to visit the museum (even then Musee des Beaux Arts).
From rue Nationale turn right to rue du Commerce. This street is placed in the historic part of the city. A lot of half-timbered houses can be found in place Plumereau. This square is a meeting place with a lot of restaurants.
Rue du Change will lead you to rue Charlemagne. Here turn left to find on your right Basilica St Martin, pseudo-Byzantine church of the late XIX century. This massive building transfers to you the feel of strength.
From the Basilica go to Blvd. Beranger and continue you trip in the Gare's direction. On your left you'll find Hotel de Ville (the City Hall). This building was built in XIX century by Viole-Le-Duc. Although it's far from to be the Parisian Hotel de Ville, its facade is impressing too.
If it's evening now, than I'd recommend you to go to rue Colbert to enjoy the wonderful food in one of the restaurants. Again, my recommendation is Le Turon. But remember, that the best way to find free table there is to come before 20.00 or after 21.00. In Sundays it's closed.