Less than an hour from Paris, Tours is a charming medieval city with a long and rich history. Known as the "garden of France", this blossoming, green city is also conveniently close to the Loire Valley with its hundreds of beautiful châteaux set among rolling green pastures and ancient vineyards. Scattered along the "Valley of Kings", beside the river Loire, you'll find 59 historic places which are all worth a visit. Both Balzac and Rabelais praised this corner of Touraine where the vine reigns supreme.
Cross the Loire via the Pont Wilson, or Pont Saint Pierre. This bridge shimmers with lights at night time, and will lead you to the well-preserved medieval centre of Tours.
The Place Plumereau (or "place Plume" to those in the know) is the liveliest square in this student town, with cafes, galleries and some of the best shops in Tours to be found here in this buzzing pedestrian zone. At the heart of Tours, the Cathedral of Saint-Gatien is one of the most famous pilgrimages in Europe. Blanche of Castille and Saint Louis contributed to the construction of the cathedral, while Joan of Arc, the kings of France, and thousands of pilgrims on their way to Saint Iago de Compostela have all visited here.
The Museum of Fine Arts in Tours has a fine collection which includes works by Rubens, Rembrandt, Delacroix and Degas, housed in the old Archiepiscopal Palace.
In nearby La Riche, Ronsard was Prior at the Priory of Saint-Cosme 16th century where he wrote his poetry.
You'll emerge from the Wine Museum in Touraine an expert on the wines of the Val de Loire. From Chalonnes-sur-Loire to Sully-sur-Loire, discover the 69 different Unesco-protected vineyards. Roll the names off your tongue: Anjou blanc, Bourgueil, Chinon, Cabernet de Saumur… You can almost taste their smooth fullness. Try the Coteaux du Layon, Crémant de Loire, Muscadet Coteaux de la Loire, Touraine Amboise, and Vouvray (perhaps not all in one go, however). Over the course of a weekend, VitiLoire will take you through these fine local wines.
If you're visiting with the family, take the kids to let off some steam at the Île Simon Park, the Grande île Aucard Park or perhaps to the lake (Lac de Tours) for some fresh air in a beautiful natural setting.
The chateaux of the Loire Valley are a key part of French national heritage and are known internationally for their sublime beauty. Drive your coach and horses up to the château of your dreams, such as Château d'Amboise, Château d'Azay-le-Rideau, Château de Chenonceau or Villandry. Sleeping Beauty's Castle, or the Château d'Ussé is heaven for small girls who dream of being a princess. The Chanteloup Pagoda, in Louis XVI pure chinoiserie style, and the Clos Lucé which is dedicated to the inventions of Leonardo da Vinci, are just a couple of the unusual things to do and see in Tours .
If you'd like to see all the chateaux but you just don't have time, here is your solution: The Mini-châteaux Park in Amboise (30 minutes from Tours), which has models of the famous chateaux over 2 hectares of gardens. This is the stuff of fairy tales...
De gare à gare