The gateway to the Loire Valley , Tours is far more than a mere stopover on the châteaux trail . With a flurry of world-class attractions and a dreamy Old Town to boot, it is a right dazzler.
A maze of cobbled streets trimmed with half-timbered homes and imposing hôtels particuliers, Tours’s Old Town is a veritable time capsule. Its beating heart is without doubt the bustling Place Plumereau – hands down the best spot in town for people-watching. Make like a local and treat yourself to an apéro at one of the terraces lining the historic market square.
CULTURE A GOGO
What it may lack in size, Tours more than makes up for in museums and contemporary art galleries. Pressed for time? Make a beeline for the city’s holy trinity: the Centre de Création Contemporaine Olivier Debré, the Château de Tours and the Musée des Beaux-Arts.
Nicknamed the “Jardin de France”, the Touraine region is dotted with remarkable parks and manicured gardens – and Tours is no exception. While away an afternoon in the peaceful fold of the Jardin des Prébendes, or take a leisurely stroll through the botanical gardens – a 6ha green oasis in the heart of the city. And don’t miss the staggering 30m cedar tree beckoning holidaymakers to the Musée des Beaux-Arts.
CITY OF LIGHT
Tourangeaux are suckers for a good light show – so much so that they set the cityscape aglow nightly. With radiant illuminations rippling across the Old Town’s key attractions and iconic façades, it’s a brilliant way to uncover its historic gems.
Vieux Tours’s centrepiece, the Basilica Saint-Martin, is sure to turns heads. Built on the tomb of Saint-Martin, between 1886 and 1924, by Victor Laloux (of Musée d’Orsay fame), the Neo-Byzantine confection is a right dazzler and a popular pilgrim stopover. Cap off a visit with a climb of the nearby Tour Charlemagne, one of the last vestiges of the medieval basilica. The 300 steps are a killer but the breathtaking vista is worth the shattered glutes.
Calling all gourmands: as one of a select few awarded the coveted Cité Internationale de la Gastronomie status, Tours is a foodie Mecca – one packed to the gills with traditional bistros, high-end restaurants and farmers’ markets.
With no fewer than ten appellations in Touraine alone, the Loire Valley is an oenophile’s paradise. And you can sample them all (and more) at one of Tours’s countless wine bars. White, red, rosé, even sparkling numbers, the capital of Touraine has something to tickle every palate.
VALLEY OF CHÂTEAUX
As the gateway to the Loire Valley’s château trail – and with no fewer than 50 royal residences and Renaissance piles within a 100km radius – Tours is the perfect base from which to discover Touraine’s listed gems. Best of all? The tourist office runs minibuses daily to the region’s showstoppers, including Chenonceau, Villandry and Amboise.
A RIVER RUNS THROUGH IT
The best way to explore the UNESCO-listed Loire River is by hopping on a traditional flat-bottomed boat. Once used to transport goods, nowadays these babies ferry tourists across France’s longest fleuve, usually with a little aperitif and canapés thrown in. Top off a cruise with a spin at the guinguette (open-air bar-cum-dance hall) flanking the river bank by the Pont Wilson in summer.
HOP IN THE SADDLE
Why not hit the road – and the sights – à bicyclette? Just the ticket for château- hoppers, the Loire à Velo, a 900km cycle trail slicing through the region, winds its way past the city and along the Loire, Cher and Indre rivers’ sparkling waters, taking in a flurry of attractions and monuments – not least the area’s finest Renaissance palaces – and sweeps of magical scenery.
For more information visit www.tours-tourisme.fr 
From France Today magazine