Tours is the largest city in the Loire region and one of the oldest towns in France, with many well-preserved historic buildings clustered in the historic center, which is primarily a pedestrian zone, which makes it ideal for relaxing, shopping and exploring.
In the tangle of narrow streets branching off from the Place Plumereau, one finds many examples of fourteenth, fifteenth, and sixteenth century houses, including a few with wooden fronts ornamented with roughly carved statuettes.
You’ll find the city of Tours is a very good home base for staying a few days, and from here you can easily explore the Loire Valley, and visit the many illustrious Château that are in the region. Most of the major attractions are within 30 to 40 minutes away from Tours – it's very convenient either by train or by private tour company.
Big attractions of Tours are the large number of hotels available in a wide range of prices, and lots of restaurants – and the train station is right in the center of town, so it's real convenient for getting around.
Tours is easy to reach from Paris by train. You can take the high-speed TGV from Montparnasse Station and it just takes an hour and 12 minutes with no change of train necessary, so that's very convenient. And the train station is right in the middle of town when you arrive in Tour, so everything is just in front of you.
There's also a very helpful Tourist Information Office right in the center of town across from the train station, and here you can find out about different van tours that will bring you out to the château on day trips. You and go for a half a day or a full day, all arranged here at the TI office.
Just across the street from the information office you'll find the most notable modern building in town the Vinci Congress Centre by famous French architect, Jean Nouvel.
The large number of half timbered buildings many centuries old are typical of what you find in historic towns throughout the central and northern part of France.
In its early history, this became part of the Roman Empire, and by the fourth century became a metropolis of the Roman province and dominated the Loire Valley and all the way up to Brittany. During the Middle Ages Tours was on the route of pilgrimage to Santiago de Compostela, which made it a major center.
The big Gothic Cathedral was built on the ruins of a still older church, at various times between 1225 and 1547. The choir dates from the thirteenth, the transept from the fourteenth, and the nave from the fifteenth centuries. Its magnificent stained - glass windows are in a perfect state of preservation.
The Tours Museum of Fine Art is in the former Archbishops Palace one block away from the Cathedral. It has a nice collection including some paintings by Rembrandt, Rubens and a few other famous artists, and a lot of the French local artist of the 17th and 18th centuries. And you also find a few paintings by Delacroix and Monet and Dégas.
Tours was for a brief while the capital of France at the time of Louis XI in the mid-15th century. King Louis occasionally lived in a castle just on the west side of the city, where he died in 1483 after playing an important role in unifying France.
Tours continued as one of the permanent residences of the French kings and Royal Court until the 16th century. But then late 16th century there was the beginning of a slow decline for Tours with the permanent return of the Court to Paris and then Versailles under Louis XIV. The city was greatly affected by both World Wars, suffering major damage from the bombing
Ironically Tours itself does not have châteaux of any great interest. It's got the historic buildings, the Cathedral and art museum and lovely neighborhoods for shopping. There is usually a street market with fruits, vegetables, crepes and various items.
Population of the city is 135,000 which includes 40,000 university students, and the population of the whole metropolitan area is about one half million. A new tram opened in 2013 running right through the center of town on rue Nationale.
Tours has more than a dozen fine hotels. We picked the Grand Hotel, a three-star place located right across the street from the train station, so that was very convenient for us because our plan was to take the train out along the Loire Valley to explore the different Château villages. It is a lovely hotel, with a nice breakfast room serving eggs, breads and the usual assortments, so this was a fine place to stay.
Our series about the châteaux of the Loire is also bringing you to Amboise, Chambord, Cheverny, Azay and Blois and a few other places, with our home base in the city of Tours.
The world's most famous collection of palaces is in the Loire Valley outside of Paris in France. It is a UNESCO World Heritage area and it has dozens of beautiful mansions that you can explore. We will bring you to the very best with some tips for your visit. These famous palaces were home to the French royalty and aristocracy and today open to the public.
You could see a few châteaux on a day trip from Paris, but much better to spend a few nights so you can enjoy them all, and the city of Tours makes a great home base for your expeditions.