Situated in the heart of the Loire Valley, Tours boasts a historic heritage that dates back to pre-Roman times. However, the city didn't have its heyday until the Middle Ages, when the Basilica of Saint Martin, which was built on the tomb of Martin of Tours, became an essential stop-off point for pilgrims on their way to Santiago de Compostela.
The remains of the Gallo-Roman walls can still be seen behind the Gothic Saint Gatien's Cathedral. As the destination of choice for culture lovers, the cathedral quarter also includes the Museum of Fine Arts, in the former episcopal palace, and the Château de Tours, a former fort converted into a contemporary art gallery. The nerve centre of the Tours student "Movida" also lies partly in this area, more specifically around rue Colbert, which is full of pleasant brasseries and cafes.
However, to really soak up the city's magical atmosphere, there's nothing like a stroll in Old Tours. Between the rue du Grand-Marché and place Plumereau, you can admire fantastic mediaeval half-timbered houses and party with students from François Rabelais University, who come here to unwind in the area's trendy bars and clubs.
The top-end restaurants of place du Marché and the more affordable restaurants of Old Tours and the cathedral quarter offer gourmet dining. On the menu: tasty slices of pain de campagne with rillettes de Tours, andouillettes with Vouvray accompanied by mushrooms sautéed with shallots and a chilled glass of Pineau de la Loire, or even a salad of endive, apples and ash-coated Sainte-Maure goat's cheese. Afterwards, treat yourself to an after-dinner stroll along the banks of the Loire, up to the iconic Wilson bridge. In summer, there are open-air cafés... Keen on music? Book your stay in Tours in spring or in June so you can attend the chamber music festivals, or even in September, if you prefer jazz.
Thanks to its central location halfway between Saumur and Blois, Tours is a perfect stop-off point on the Châteaux of the Loire Valley trail. After visiting Azay-le-Rideau château, make a detour to admire the little country house of Saché, which inspired Balzac to write his famous novel Lys dans la vallée. Then rejoin the road to Chinon and head for Seuilly en Touraine, where you'll find the Rabelais museum, housed in his birthplace, La Devinière.