Touring Tours, France
Tours, France is a great home base for touring the chateaux of the Loire Valley, but it’s also a nice city to visit in and of itself. It’s full of outdoor cafes, and amazing markets like Les Halles, with 10 million kinds of cheese (okay, I might exaggerate slightly) and the best cherries and raspberries I’ve ever tasted, along with everything else you need for a picnic.
The cathedral, is magnificent, tall and gothic and imposing, and there are other churches to stumble upon as well. There’s also a small castle that displays photography exhibits.
Tall houses criss-crossed with beams that have been turned into shops & restaurants line narrow streets, and there’s a square filled with tables for drinks or dining, with musicians spreading live sound all around. I was there in July when it was hot and sunny with a bright blue sky, in fact it was the hottest summer in a decade, with temps hovering around 100 degrees fahrenheit.
You can spend a lovely hour or so wandering through the botanic gardens, past colorful flower beds, a stream, a pond with floating ducks, and a small petting zoo, with Bennett’s wallabies, peacocks, goats and rose-breasted parrots.
There’s a restaurant that specializes in cheese, how great is that?! I arrived just as they were setting places at the 4 little outside tables, lined up on the street in front. I was the only customer as they had just opened. Restaurants tend to open at 7 and not get busy until 8 or 9, so I found that going earlier, when they’re looking for customers, they’re nicer to a solo female traveler than when they’re busy and would rather put 2-4 at a table and not “waste” it on one, a hint for solo travelers.
The antique car races were going on, so the area where the roads converge in front of the town hall were clogged with racers, parked race cars, and tons of onlookers. You could only cross the road between races, so I stood and watched a while. There were Astin Martins, a Jaguar, mini’s, corvettes, a Buick, a Chevy, and cars I didn’t recognize, quite the display!!
You can wander along the Loire River and over the Wilson bridge, named after our US president. An outside bar and deck dominate the scene at one point, where hundreds of people hang out drinking beer, talking, watching the activity, and even dancing salsa! Craft booths line up between the restaurant and the river, full of artisans selling jewelry and such.
For accommodations, there are 1-star hotels and 4-star hotels, and everything in between. You can spend hundreds of euro a night for luxury accommodations, or less than 50 on a one-star. I happened to be on the 1-star program, so let me show you what that gets you…
…a very plain, but clean and comfortable bed, although not much in terms of wall decoration. It’s funny the contrast in bedrooms in the nearby castles I’ve viewed vs. where I’m spending my nights…
…the contrast couldn’t be more drastic! But I don’t care – as much as I love a fine room in a luxury hotel like most people, I’d still rather stay in a basic place and travel longer, if that’s what means I have.
1-star will also get you your own bathroom (a luxury if you’ve stayed in hostels with shared showers), and in this case, even a bathtub! I took advantage of this fact. There wasn’t a “real” shower, just a hose with a sprayer, which worked fine and is common in Europe. But it was such a treat to soak in a big ole’ bathtub, even if it was surrounded by cracked tile & blistering flaking plaster, with a little mold.
I sprinkled some drops of lavender oil, plus a dollop of shampoo for a few bubbles, turned on my tunes, lit a candle, and enjoyed my soak. It seems one can find pleasure even in diminished circumstances – I can’t say I’ve enjoyed my baths in my previous life, in a double-wide jacuzzi tub with waterfall faucets in a marble bathroom in Michigan any more than this. It’s a good feeling to know you can enjoy life when the chips are down, maybe even more!
My 1-star room even had a small kitchen, with a table and 2 chairs, so I was able to cook my meals (or at least throw together some salads as it was really too hot to cook with no AC), again saving money. With the profusion of markets selling fresh fruits, veggies, cheeses, breads, quiches, roasted chickens, and with wine as cheap as water, I put together small feasts and spread my $3 Thai cloth on the table, lit a candle, played tunes on my iPod, and enjoyed an ambiance like that of an intimate bistro.
Outside my door was a beautiful little patio, where I could enjoy a cold drink and work on my blog, since the wifi didn’t work in my room, although it was too hot to spend too much time out there.
Tours is a very safe small city, and my hotel was in a great location, central to everything. When I set off exploring in the morning, smells of fresh bread from the nearby bakery mixed with rotting garbage and auto fumes, (it’s a city!) and the sound of the street car rattling by combined with bird song, dogs barking, and children playing in the park. Sights of golden sun on the sidewalks, bikes rolling by, boulangeries, patisseries, and cafes filled my vision, and my phone camera.
For those who love shopping, there are streets full of stores galore, and if you dare brave the heat of July, you’ll be rewarded with the sale season…
The fading light in the evenings was beautiful. I passed all of the shops, most closed now, enjoying the old French architecture and watching the people pass by, chatting, laughing, walking dogs. I recommend a stay in Tours, as you tour the Loire Valley, and make sure to take time to explore this lovely little city.