Tours is not beloved of everyone, but it's a real city where people live, work and play, not just a tourist trap. Unlike some of the more touristy small towns, like Amboise or Loches, Tours tends to empty out in high summer (other than the tourists!) rather than in winter. There's not millions of things to see and do, but it's pretty easy to get to from Paris and around the region once you're here.
SightseeingBack in May 2012, I took friend and fellow blogger Mary Kay on my Super Best Tour of Tours ever, so you should probably check out that link for starters. If you're short on time, my fabulous route map is reproduced below:
Otherwise, read on for a few key spots:
- Probably the jewel in Tours' crown is the cathedral Saint-Gatien. Built between 1170 and 1547, it's filled with beautiful stained-glass windows dating back to the 12th century. If you like, you can pay to go into the cloisters of la Psalette, but honestly, there's not much to see back there, so I'd skip it. One thing to notice as you look at the façade is that the two sides are subtly different rather than perfectly symmetrical.
- Right next to the cathedral is the Musée des Beaux-Arts and associated gardens. Obviously, the most important thing to be found here is a giant (well, not giant, normal-sized) stuffed elephant called Fritz, but I love that next to the elephant is a printed sign reminding you that you can also go *inside* the museum to see Rembrandts and Mantegnas.
|My sister and Fritz|
- Notable spots to take a gander at old half-timbered buildings include Rue Colbert (where you can find the house where Joan of Arc got her armour from) and Place Plumereau. If you want to go a bit off-piste in your search for historical buildings, I recommend ducking through a little passage on the north side of Place Plumereau to discover hidden Roman ruins, exploring behind the cathedral (there's the remains of a Roman wall back there) or popping into the little passage du Coeur Navré (broken heart) which passes between Rue Colbert and Place Foire du Roi and was supposedly the route taken by prisoners on the way to execution in the Place.
- The Basilica of Saint Martin, built in the 19th Century and home to the saint's tomb, is also quite a big deal as far as Tours landmarks go.
- Tours is renowned for its many markets, which are dotted about the city on different days, but one market which is always there is the indoor Halles. I particularly like the yummy rillettes (a local potted meat speciality) from the butcher just on the left-hand side of the north entrance, who also handily educates us on the noises French animals make:
|Grro rrrgrr indeed!|
- On the way to Les Halles, don't forget to say hi to the monster!
- And while you're in the neighbourhood, take advantage of the cheap prices and friendly staff and indulge in one of my favourite activities, wine-tasting at the Maison des Vins de Loire, where you can taste 6 wines for 5€, without a reservation and in English if so desired!
NightlifeI spend quite a lot of my leisure time bar-hopping, here's some of my favourites:
- Tours, like most places, has its fair share of Irish pubs. The Pale (Rue Colbert) and McCool's (Rue du Commerce) are my top picks.
- While The Pale's clientele is always a mix of Frenchies and expats, it is the place to head if you fancy chatting up an Irish labourer, and why not? It also features genuine Magners cider, big screens which show football and other sports, a monthly pub quiz and the occasional live band. It's often super-crowded around the bar (be careful you don't end up falling down the stairs next to it!) but the staff - also a mix of French and expats - are friendly and there's always a good atmosphere.
- McCools, on the other hand, is almost always full of Frenchies. Right in the centre of town, it's handier for bar-crawling, but that also means you get more of a student crowd. Apart from the yummy Apple Frost cider, the big attractions at McCools are the bartenders, Grand Luc and Etienne (not their real names). GL and I have been pals for a while now, and he always comes to bisou me, which is nice. As the name suggests, he's super tall and very charming, but a definite homme à femmes. Beaded, tattooed Etienne always projected more of a reserved, brooding air, but recently we've been in a few times on a Monday evening, when it's quiet, and had some good chats. I didn't realise until he pointed it out that he's lost a ton of weight and is now quite the handsome customer. Unlike The Pale, hang around the bar long enough and you'll quite often get shouted to a free shot.
- Sherlok Holmes [sic!] (Rue du Grand Marché) is the other pub we've been known to go to from time to time. It's vaguely English-themed, but thoroughly French really. I'm not a big fan of this one because the music tends to be too damn loud for comfortable conversation (and the barstaff won't get off my lawn). It does have proper cider though, so +1.
|La Cave à Manger|
- I discovered Le Narbey (rue de la Monnaie) this spring, and it's become a real favourite if I'm looking for a more chilled-out, sophisticated atmosphere. Only open in the evenings, notable features include a hidden inner courtyard and a fireplace, so it's perfect summer or winter. Wine is reasonably priced, and the staff are happy to have a chat about your preferences and recommend one to you. The only drawbacks are the couches by the fire are really too far apart for talking, and the tap in the (quite nice) loos is set to fire-hydrant pressures into a very shallow sink, so beware if you don't want to get wet!
- La Cave à Manger (Place du Châteauneuf) is another recent find. This is a proper, grown-up wine bar, with about 350 bottles on offer and friendly staff who really know their stuff and are not at all snobby about helping you find something to your liking. Wine by the bottle or the glass is available, and yummy cheese or deli tasting platters, as well as more substantial meals. I haven't been downstairs, but it's pretty small, so booking is perhaps advisable.
- The Indian Café (Rue Colbert) looks like a tacky biker bar from the outside, but makes the list due to the lovely and hilarious women who run the place. It's super tiny - just a counter inside and a couple of tables outside - and usually filled with regulars, so if you drop by here, be prepared to get your chat on. As well as the company, this place is notable for the giant and cheap goblets of wine they serve, and the way said goblets are never allowed to sit empty. Watch out with all that drinking though - one flaw in this place is it has a squat toilet! Never fear, The Pale is just up the road and you can probably move on (or just sneak in) if you require a seat.
- It's not really a bar, but the famous Guinguette needs a mention somewhere. From spring to autumn, this is a Tours institution on the banks of the Loire. By night, head to the open-air guinguette for drinking, dancing and live music (sometimes), and by day take a book and sip rosé in the sunshine. Perfect.
- If you end up on Rue Colbert at chucking-out time (2 am), you can head around the corner to L'Académie de la Bière (Rue Lavoisier). Despite the name, you can get any drink you fancy here. To get to the dancefloor, you have to go through a quite narrow bit next to the bar, so it does get crowded. This is where the old man grabbed my arse, and it's actually not the only time I've had old-man-related unpleasantness here. The dancefloor is insanely slippery, and there's also a squat toilet, but by the time you get here, everything else around will be closed, so you'll have to take your chances. All in all, pretty rough. No cover charge that I've ever come across, but there might be for men.
- Back in the Place Plume end of town, Café Chaud (Rue Briçonnet) is actually much less "chaud", to the extent that it's often a bit boring. There's a typically pretty empty dancefloor downstairs, and you can usually grab a table and quite comfy chairs upstairs. They serve absolutely enormous cocktails for about 10€, but don't be fooled, they're about 95% fruit juice/soda and very little alcohol. I got quite the stomach ache from all the pineapple juice when I had one. This is more a place to come after the bars shut if you want to stop off for another drink and some chat before going to a proper club. Café Chaud is the home of the spiral staircase to the bathroom that enables you to look up girls' skirts (if you try really, really hard, which the guy we were with did).
- Nearby is Les Trois Orfèvres (Rue des Orfèvres), usually referred to as "Les Trois O's". This has quite an unusual set-up. There's a tiny bar upstairs, which is where you want to be hanging out if you'd like old hippies to buy you drinks. Be nice to the owner, Pioche, and he'll buy you drinks too. Then there's a mezzanine, which is useful if you want to chill in an uncongenial atmosphere, I suppose, and then downstairs is another bar and a usually very crowded dancefloor. They play a more rocky style of music here, often morphing into solid variété française as the night wears on, and the dancing/moshing can get pretty intense and sweaty. There is a cover charge, but I've never had to pay it - horrible flatmate was mates with the bouncer, and now, although I don't come here often, I think they recognise me. There's also two staircases, on either side of the upstairs bar. Handy if you want to run away from someone, not so handy if you're trying to find your mates.
- I haven't actually been to another nearby club, L'étoile (Rue de la Monnaie) in ages - it's another one I used to go to a lot with the old flatmate. Upstairs is very quiet, staffed by a nice bartender who, for some reason I can't remember, I always thought wanted to ask me out but never did. Downstairs is a complete meat market for youngsters. I went there for my birthday in 2010 and became obsessed with the digital Heineken-themed thermometer reading "30° (etc.) on the dancefloor, 0° in the bottle". It just kept getting hotter and hotter in there, and I think my conversation that evening almost solely consisted of shouting "OMG, it's 32° in here! 32°!" What fun.
- If you want to go quite a way out of the centre of town and then hang out with 20 year-olds in a club that doesn't let you bring your handbag in with you (pet peeve alert), then you can head out to Pym's (Avenue de Grammont). This is probably the clubbiest i.e. biggest and danciest of all the clubs mentioned here. The bar's quite nice though, and several people bought us drinks.
RestaurantsBeing of the poor persuasion, I don't go to restaurants that much, but here's some I've been to:
- La Souris Gourmande (Rue Colbert) - cheese, glorious cheese! How could you not love this place? Friendly staff, cute décor, reasonably-priced bottles of Chinon wine and delicious cheese-based cuisine. I've been here four or five times, and personally I'm a sucker for the tartiflette, a cheese and potato dish from the Savoie. They even made a vegetarian version for my sister without a murmur.
- Mamie Bigoude (Rue de Châteauneuf) doesn't have the best food - they serve up perfectly tasty but unexceptional salads, crêpes and burgers - but does have plenty of ambiance. You can choose your dining experience from themed rooms such as the bathroom, bedroom or kitchen. Be sure to book, especially if you want your choice of room, it's a pretty popular place.
|My sister and me in the "bathroom" at Mamie Bigoude|
- I've had lunch a couple of times at Les Farfadets (Rue Nationale), which serves you giant cheese, meat, and potato dishes with a couple of green leaves hiding underneath and calls them salads. This allows you to be a little piggy while pretending to be virtuous. Therefore it obviously gets top marks.
- My favourite crêperie in Tours is La Bretagne (Rue du Commerce), a tiny blink-and-you-miss-it place just off Place Plume (near McCools). Watch out if you sit outside though, when I was there with my sister recently we got watered by the upstairs neighbour doing the plants on her balcony. Luckily we'd finished our crêpes!
|Me and my parents at La Bretagne|
If you're coming to Tours and you have any questions, you can always leave a comment or email me at gwannelsandiego at gmail. NB I don't live there anymore, so inevitably some of the information on bars and restaurants will go out of date eventually!