Tours

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Hovering somewhere between the style of Paris and the conservative sturdiness of central France, Tours is one of the principal cities of the Loire Valley. It's a smart, solidly bourgeois kind of place, filled with wide 18th-century boulevards, parks and imposing public buildings, as well as a busy university of some 25,000 students.

Orientation

The central hub of place Jean-Jaurès connects the main thoroughfares – west–east bd Béranger and bd Heurteloup, and north– south rue Nationale and av de Grammont. The old city encircles place Plumereau, 400m west of rue Nationale.

Emega Cyberstation (43 rue du Grand Marché; per hr €2; hnoon-midnight Mon-Sat, 2-11pm Sun) Internet access.

Tourist Office (Tel 02 47 70 37 37; http://www.tours-tourisme.fr/; 78- 82 rue Bernard Palissy; h8.30am-7pm Mon-Sat, 10am- 12.30pm & 2.30-5pm Sun mid-Apr–mid-Oct, 9am-12.30pm & 1.30-6pm Mon-Sat, 10am-1pm Sun mid-Oct–mid-Apr)

Arranged around the courtyard of the former archbishop’s palace, the Musée des Beaux-Arts (Tel 02 47 05 68 73; 18 place François Sicard; adult/student €4/2; h9am-12.45pm & 2-6pm Wed-Mon) is a fine example of a French provincial arts museum – look out for works by Delacroix, Degas, Monet, Rembrandt and Rubens.

With its twin west towers and Gothic arches and gargoyles, the Cathédrale St- Gatien (place de la Cathédrale; h9am-7pm) is a show-stopper. It’s particularly known for its stained glass; the interior dates from the 13th to 16th centuries, and the domed tops of the 70m-high towers date from the Renaissance.

France’s skilled labourers, including pastry chefs, coopers and locksmiths, are celebrated at the Musée du Compagnonnage (Tel 02 47 61 07 93; 8 rue Nationale; adult/student €5/3; h9am-12.30pm & 2-6pm mid-Jun–mid-Sep, 9am-noon & 2-6pm Wed-Mon mid-Sep–mid-Jun).

Tours has several public parks, including the 19th-century botanic garden (bd Tonnelle; admission free; h7.45am-sunset) a five-hectare landscaped park with a tropical greenhouse, medicinal herb garden and petting zoo. The park is 1.6km west of place Jean Jaurès; bus 4 along bd Béranger stops nearby.

In the old city, place Plumereau, rue du Grand Marché and rue de la Rôtisserie are loaded with restaurants and cafes.

Tartines & Co (Tel 02 47 20 50 60; 6 rue des Fusillés; mains from €8.50, lunch menu €13.20; h10am-5pm) Snazzy little bistro that reinvents the traditional croque (toasted sandwich). Choose your topping – chicken, roasted veg, carpaccio beef – and it’s served on toasted artisan bread.

Comme Autre Fouée (Tel 02 47 05 94 78; 11 rue de la Monnaie; lunch menu €10, other menus €16-19.50; hlunch Sat & Sun, dinner Tue-Sat, lunch Tue-Thu mid- May–mid-Sep) For local flavour, you can’t top this place, which churns out the house speciality of fouées, a pitta-like disc of dough stuffed with pork rillettes, haricots blancs (white beans) or goat’s cheese.

For all your picnicking needs: Atac supermarket 5 place du Général Leclerc (h7.30am-8pm Mon-Sat); 19 place Jean Jaurès (h9am- 7.30pm Mon-Sat) The place Jean Jaurès branch is inside the shopping centre.

Les Halles (covered market; place Gaston Pailhou; h7am-7pm)

Place Plum and the surrounding streets are plastered in grungy drinking dens.

Bistro 64 (64 rue du Grand Marché; h11am-2am Mon-Sat) Cosy neighbourhood bar that’s one step removed from the place Plum hustle. Scuffed-up decor, jazz combos and plenty of house beers keep the local crowd happy.

L’Alexandra (Tel 02 47 61 48 30; 106 rue du Commerce; hnoon-2am Mon-Fri, 3pm-2am Sat & Sun) Popular Anglo-Saxon bar crammed with students and late-night boozers. Wi-fi’s €2.

Tours is an excellent base for exploring nearby chateaux.

The 16th-century Château de Chenonceau (Tel 02 47 23 90 07; http://www.chenonceau.com/; adult/student €10/7.50, with audioguide €14/11.50; h9am-8pm Jul-Aug, 9am-7.30pm Jun & Sep, 9am-7pm Apr & May, 9.30am-5pm or 6pm rest of year) is one of the most architecturally attractive (and busiest) of the Loire chateaux, surrounded by a glassy moat and sweeping gardens, and topped by turrets and towers. The highlight is the stunning 60m-long Grande Gallerie spanning the Cher River.

Built in the 1500s on an island in the River Indre, Azay-le-Rideau (Tel 02 47 45 42 04; adult/18-25yr €7.50/4.80; h9.30am-7pm Jul & Aug, 9.30am-6pm Apr-Jun & Sep, 10am-12.30pm & 2-5.30pm Oct-Mar) is another moat-ringed wonder, decorated with geometric windows, ordered turrets and decorative stonework, as well as a famous loggia staircase.

For medieval atmosphere, head for Château de Langeais (Tel 02 47 96 72 60; admission €7.50; h9.30am-7pm Jul & Aug, to 6.30pm Feb-Jun & Sep–mid- Nov, 10am-5pm mid-Nov-Jan), complete with its own working drawbridge, crenellated battlements and ruined 10th-century donjon (keep), thought to be the oldest in France.