Tours – Louis Xl’s capital

Louis Xl’s capital, Tours today is a big, prosperous city, well worth exploring for its museums, stores, restaurants, and handsomely restored old buildings.

An important city even in Gallo-Roman times, Tours enjoyed great wealth and celebrity in the Middle Ages thanks to the tomb of its famous bishop, St. Martin (now in the crypt of the New Basilica). The town flourished during the Renaissance, becoming famous for its silks, jewels, and arms. But several centuries of decline followed, culminating in the devastation of World War II. In 1959, the city began the process of regeneration that has made it a model of urban development.

The Quartier St.-Julien, bordered by the river, is today all trendy restaurants and antique shops. Start with lively Place Plumereau, lined with cafes and restored half-timbered buildings. Nearby is the Hotel Gouin, a lavishly sculptured Renaissance building that houses the Musee de I’Hotel de Gouin.

On the other side of Rue Nationale (running across the Pont Wilson, a faithful 1978 reconstruction of an 18th-century stone bridge partly washed away by the river), in the former abbey of St.-Julien, is the Musee des Vins de Touraine. Equally fascinating is the Musee du Compagnonnage next door, devoted to the history of craft guilds and trades.

The Cathedrale St.-Gatien (place de la Cathedrale) was built from the 13th to the 16th centuries. It is a superb example of the development of the Gothic style. Especially fine are the Gothic facade, the richly colored medieval stained-glass windows, and a 14th-century fresco of St. Martin and the beggar.

Next door, in the 17th- and 18th-century former Bishop’s Palace, is the Musee des Beaux-Arts , which has two parts of a triptych by Andrea Mantegna (1431-1506).