It stands on the lower reaches of the river Loire, between Orléans and the Atlantic coast. Touraine, the region around Tours, is known for its wines, the alleged perfection (as perceived by some speakers) of its local spoken French, and the Battle of Tours in 732. It is also the site of the Paris–Tours road bicycle race. Tours is the largest city in the Centre region of France, although it is not the regional capital, which is the region’s second-largest city, Orléans.
In the 6th century Gregory of Tours, author of the “Ten Books of History”, made his mark on the town by restoring the cathedral destroyed by a fire in 561. Saint Martin’s monastery benefited from its inception, at the very start of the 6th century from patronage and support from the Frankish king, Clovis, which increased considerably the influence of the saint, the abbey and the city in Gaul. In the 9th century, Tours was at the heart of the Carolingian Rebirth, in particular because of Alcuin abbot of Marmoutier.
Tours became the capital of the county of Tours or Touraine, territory bitterly disputed between the counts of Blois and Anjou , the latter were victorious in the 9th century. It was the capital of France at the time of Louis XI, who had settled in the castle of Montils (today the castle of Plessis in La Riche, western suburbs of Tours), Tours and Touraine remained until the 16th century a permanent residence of the kings and court. The rebirth gave Tours and Touraine many private mansions and castles, joined together to some extent under the generic name of the Chateaux of the Loire. It is also at the time of Louis XI that the silk industry was introduced – despite difficulties, the industry still survives to this day.
It was the arrival of the railway in the 19th century which saved the city by making it an important nodal point. The main railway station is known as Tours-Saint-Pierre-des-Corps. At that time, Tours was expanding towards the south into a district known as the Prébendes. The importance of the city as a centre of communications contributed to its revival and, as the 20th century progressed, Tours became a dynamic conurbation, economically oriented towards the service sector.
The inhabitants of Tours (Les Tourangeaux) are renowned for speaking the “purest” form of French in the entire country. The pronunciation of Touraine is traditionally regarded as the most standard pronunciation of the French language, supposedly devoid of any perceived accent (unlike that of most other regions of France, including Paris).
The city of Tours is called “Le Jardin de la France” (“The Garden of France”). There are several parks located within the city. Tours is located between two rivers, the Loire to the north and the Cher to the south. The buildings of Tours are white with blue slate (called Ardoise) roofs; this style is common in the north of France, while most buildings in the south of France have terracotta roofs .
Tours is famous for its original medieval district, called “le Vieux Tours”. Unique to the Old City are its preserved half-timbered buildings and “la Place Plumereau”, a square with busy pubs and restaurants, whose open-air tables fill the centre of the square. The Boulevard Beranger crosses the Rue Nationale at the Place Jean-Jaures and is the location of weekly markets and fairs.
Near the cathedral, in the garden of the ancient Palais des Archevêques (now Musée des Beaux-Arts), is a huge cedar tree planted by Napoleon. The garden also has in an alcove a stuffed elephant, Fritz. He escaped from the Barnum and Bailey circus during their stay in Tours in 1902. He went mad and had to be shot down, but the city paid to honor him, and he was stuffed as a result.
Tours Loire Valley Airport connects the Loire Valley to London Stansted Airport, Marseille and Porto. Scheduled flights to Dublin and Manchester as well as charter flights to Ajaccio and Figari are also available during the summer.