Touring Tours

“When preparing to travel, lay out all your clothes and all your money. Then take half the clothes and twice the money.” – anonymous


 

I have to say, we made an excellent choice for our stay in Amboise.  Waking up each morning to a lovely view of the Loire countryside, horses grazing in a pasture, blue skies reflecting off the lake…it’s quite nice.

 

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After another breakfast at our hotel (Chateau des Arpentis) we  drove 30 miles south west to the city of Tours to pick up our friends, AJ and Caitlyn, who were joining us for the remainder of our time in France.  They were taking the train in from Paris and while I suppose they could have taken a taxi into Amboise, we wanted to meet and greet them.

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A view of our hotel, the Chateau des Arpentis

 

There is a train station right in the center of Tours, but there is also a train station just outside of the city at Saint Pierre-des-Corps, where our friends were due to arrive.  This station is also where we are supposed to drop off our rental car at the end of the trip, so it was helpful to scope out the place and do a dry run for our departure day.   In the research that I did, it seemed a bit less hectic to drop the car at this more suburban train station  than right in the center of Tours.  The hours of operation at the St. Pierre-des-Corps Avis were also a bit more suitable than those at the Tours location.

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Unlike most of the train stations that we have encountered in France, which are usually beautiful and built in some notable historic style or sleek and modern, this station was pretty ugly, both inside and out, but it was functional and fairly easy to find (but we totally had to rely on our GPS to get us there).  Our friends arrived on time, and we decided to head into Tours to grab a bite to eat and to check out the Cathedral.   On our way to the parking garage, we spotted something that we have seen at many other parking garages in France.  A baguette vending machine!  As I have said many times about many other things….this is why I love France.   In the most dismal of places…a parking garage at a suburban train station you can get a fresh baguette in a vending machine!

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It was a Sunday, but finding parking in Tours wasn’t easy.  We had to circle around the narrow little streets several times before we finally found a spot which required parallel parking skills that I simply don’t have.  I ride a bike in New York City….I don’t drive.  My parking skills are quite rusty (or non-existent), so I had to let my friend park the car.

Travel Tip: When traveling in Europe, don’t forget that hours of operation are quite different than in the US.  Shops, banks, restaurants, etc. shut down around 2PM for several hours.  Use this time of the day to go back to your hotel and relax. 

Unfortunately, we had arrived at the wrong time of day for 4 hungry Americans.  As we walked the streets and passed restaurants offering an array of cuisines,  we realized that it was the dreadful 2PM hour….when most shops and restaurants close down for several hours until dinner service.  This is particularly true in smaller cities, towns and villages, like Tours.  In Paris, even though many places shut down, you can always find something that is open.  But this wasn’t Paris.  We gave up on the hopes of finding food so we settled for a tea shop and then toured the Cathedral before heading back to Amboise.

Tours Cathedral, officially known as the Cathédrale Saint-Gatien de Tours, was built between the years 1170 and 1547, thus there are several architectural styles present.  The most obvious is the Gothic style, but even the Renaissance style makes an appearance in the decorative caps on the two towers.

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One of the first things you notice about the Cathedral is how incredibly vertical it is.  Yes, most cathedrals have towers and are quite vertical, but Tours Cathedral is VERY vertical.  As we were approaching Tours from the highway, you could see the towers from quite far away.  The North and South towers literally loom over you and I found it very difficult to photograph.  To give you a better idea of the verticality, I found a birds eye view from the internet.

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Photo courtesy of Google

 

The first church built on the site was constructed between 337 to 371 (a mere 1600 years ago!) burned down in 561, was restored in 590 and further remodeled in the 1100’s and burned down again in 1166!  The present Cathedral was started in about 1170 with work taking place over a span of some 375 years.

Every Cathedral that we have ever visited has a specific personality or at least a particular aspect that stands out to make it unique. For example, Sienna’s cathedral has a unique blue night time/starry sky ceiling, Florence’s Duomo is a light-filled, bright Renaissance masterpiece, Notre Dame is crawling with gargoyles….and I think Tours was all about the (mostly) 13th century stained glass.  The windows were like panels of jewels and it was very reminiscent of Sainte-Chapelle in Paris.

 

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One of the other stand outs at the Cathedral is the 16th century organ which sits majestically below an incredible rose window.

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After leaving the Cathedral, we didn’t have a lot of time to explore the rest of Tours.  We did pass by many of the medieval, half-timbered buildings, but it was definitely a “drive by” visit of the town.  I wanted to get our friends to their hotel in Amboise so that they could unpack and have time to relax before our dinner reservation at their hotel.

 

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Back in Amboise, our friends were staying at Hotel Le Choiseul, located just below the Chateau d’ Amboise and right along the banks of the Loire.  We had actually considered staying here before we found a room at Chateau des Arpentis.  It’s a lovely hotel, made up of three 18th century buildings.  It looks very French.  There is an upscale restaurant located in one of the buildings, which is where we would be dining later that evening.

 

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We went back to our hotel and got ready for dinner and returned for our 6:30 reservation.  I have mentioned it before, but even in the high season of July, restaurants in the small towns that we visited serve dinner from about 6 to 9.  It seems early because Europeans have a reputation of eating dinner very late into the evening….and this may be true in Spain and Italy and maybe even in Paris….but in our experience, this is not true for the rest of France.   And as I also mentioned, even if a restaurant doesn’t look busy, they really prefer you to make a reservation or you might find yourself in the worst seat in the house.

We waited for our friends to arrive in a lovely drawing room where we had a cocktail.  It was decorated in period furniture, but there was a casual, comfy vibe.

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The restaurant in the hotel is called Restaurant Le 36, and we found nothing but outstanding reviews for the place.  All four of us enjoy food, but one of our friends is mostly vegetarian which should prove interesting in this land of duck and foie gras.  Interestingly, on my various Trip Advisor reviews, a lot of people ask if there are vegetarian or vegan options, a question I can’t really answer because I never consider those options.  But for the remainder of our trip, I’ll have to make a note of how well our vegetarian friend fared with the various menus. The menu at Le 36 was very french, and there were several options in terms of how many courses you wanted…or there was an a la cart option.   You could also choose from a few different prixe fixe menus that included an entree, a main course and dessert (which is what I chose).  But they also spoiled us with an amuse bouche, a cheese cart and a house dessert.

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The amuse bouche (yes, there were a few)

 

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My main course of what else….duck?  But it was delicious.

 

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The dessert that came with my prixe fixe meal…it was all about raspberry and dark chocolate

 

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My wife’s dessert

 

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These were the house desserts brought out after we finished our individual dessert

 

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The all important cheese cart to finish the meal.  Left side were local cheeses and the right side were cheeses from all over France.

 

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I borrowed this photo from the restaurants’s web page—just wanted you to see the lovely view of the Loire

Overall, this was an outstanding meal and compared to what we would have paid in New York, we got a really quality dinner for a reasonable price.  The dishes were individually delicious and prepared by a well-trained hand.  The service was impeccable, bordering on a bit too nurturing.  All of that being said, by American (New York City) standards, the restaurant was a bit old-fashioned and dated.  The decor was a bit stuffy and the plating style was a 1980’s fussy.   But overall, we had a great dinner.

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After dinner, we took a stroll along the Loire and then walked across the bridge that connects Amobise to a little island that sits in the middle of the Loire.  The sun was setting and the reflections on the river were gorgeous.  We could see what looked like a bar at the end of the bridge, and once we got over we found Le Shaker, a cocktail bar that served literally every cocktail known to man.  We grabbed a seat and enjoyed a view of the Chateau across the river.

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Another borrowed image from the internet to show you Le Shaker

 

Tomorrow, we will be visiting the Chateau d’Amboise and Chenonceau.  Au revior!

We are the Jones Family from New York City's vibrant East Village neighborhood. My wife and I are both architects...we love art and architecture... and I love photographing all aspects of our travel expeditions. Our 9 year old is already filling up her passport and enjoys discovering the joys of Europe. We caught the international travel bug a few years ago, and now we love to explore different cultures and to see the great big world that is out there!

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