Tours Old Town Walk, Tours

Tours Old Town Walk (Self Guided), Tours

Having successfully preserved much of its historic heritage, Tours is particularly famous for its original medieval district – Vieux Tours. The bulk of it is concentrated around three squares: Place du Grand Marché, Place Plumereau and Place de Chateauneuf.

A stroll through the Old Town, day or night, offers many delights, and is best started at Place Plumereau. Lined with wood-framed, stone-gabled townhouses dating back to the 12th-15th centuries and carefully restored in the spirit of the time, this square is known for its exuberant atmosphere from the multitude of cafes, bars and restaurants of every kind, owing to which the place enjoys the title of the “best in France for aperitif.”

All round Place Plumereau are a hodgepodge of cobbled streets with more eateries and shops to explore. Alongside lovely half-timber buildings there you will find Saint Martin's Basilica – a late 19th-century neo-Byzantine building erected to honour the relics of St Martin, rediscovered in 1860 and now housed in the crypt; the Charlemagne Tower – one of the towers of the Saint-Martin basilica; and more.

A good number of historic sights are located in the ancient neighborhood of Chateauneuf. Place de Chateauneuf (New Castle Square) – originally built in the 15th century, has been subjected recently to a major renovation.

To the west of the former Saint-Martin abbey lies Place du Grand Marché (Main Market Square) or Monster Square, as they call it, because of the statue. To the north of Place Plumereau there are ruins of the Saint Peter the Puellier Church, founded in 512.

There is nothing like a walk in the pedestrian-friendly Vieux Tours, abounding in sights fit to please any ardent history lover. If you wish to unwind the meanders of the picturesque streets therein, whilst admiring the old-time monuments, take this self-guided walking tour.
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Tours Old Town Walk Map

Guide Name: Tours Old Town Walk
Guide Location: France » Tours (See other walking tours in Tours)
Guide Type: Self-guided Walking Tour (Sightseeing)
# of Attractions: 11
Tour Duration: 1 Hour(s)
Travel Distance: 1.6 Km or 1 Miles
Author: Linda
Sight(s) Featured in This Guide:
  • Place Plumereau (Plum Square)
  • Eglise Saint Pierre le Puellier (Saint Peter the Puellier Church)
  • Maison de Tristan (Tristan House)
  • Maison du Croissant (House of the Crescent)
  • Hôtel Gouin (Gouin House)
  • Basilica of St. Martin
  • Place de Chateauneuf (New Castle Square)
  • Jean Briconnet Hotel (Jean Briconnet Mansion)
  • Eglise Sainte Croix (Holy Cross Church)
  • Place du Grand Marché (Main Market/Monster Square)
  • Les Halles (Market Halls)
Place Plumereau (Plum Square)

1) Place Plumereau (Plum Square) (must see)

The most touristy place in Tours is the Place Plumereau, or as the locals call it "PlumSquare." Not only popular for visitors, it is also a favorite watering hole for students and the locals. It is in the center of the Saint-Martin district of the city, a very historic area of Tours old town.

The place was not always named Place Plumereau. It has been known as carroi aux Chapeaux in the 13th century, Fruits Square in 1816, and carroi des Quenouilles. Finally, on 18 November 1888 it becomes place Plumereau.

The square is named Plumereau in honor M. Charles Plumereau (1818-1885). M. Plumereau had no family or heirs. He was a city councillor and when he died he bequeathed 3,000 francs to the city.

The square is lined with half-timbered houses and mansions with Renaissance and Romanesque facades from the 15th century. The square is close to the local university. This makes it a popular spot for students. With the students, locals and tourists, things can be quite crowded at times.

Seating is no problem. Most of the restaurants and cafes set out chairs on the streets and terraces even in winter.
Eglise Saint Pierre le Puellier (Saint Peter the Puellier Church)

2) Eglise Saint Pierre le Puellier (Saint Peter the Puellier Church)

Just north of the Place Plumereau you can find the ruins of the Church of Saint Peter the Puellier. This ancient house of worship was established in 512 at the initiative of Clotilde, the wife of King Franc Clovis.

The church is the collegiate of an ancient monastery. Sold as national property during the French Revolution, it was almost completely destroyed by its new owners. All that remains are the remains of a side aisle, transformed into a dwelling. These have been registered as historical monuments since 1946.

The most recent building began around 1170 and was completed about ten years later. Built in Western Gothic style , it undoubtedly comprises a nave accompanied by simple side aisles, a transept and an east-facing choir terminated by a flat apse; a bell tower ending in a spire probably stands at the crossing of the transept.

After the destruction following the French Revolution, part of the first span and the second span in its entirety of the north aisle remain. Walls, built to the east and to the south and resting on the arcades of the second bay, transform the space into a dwelling, the volume of which is divided into two floors by a floor. One room, however, retains its western Gothic-type vault. The northern wall of the second bay is pierced with two semicircular bays decorated with a cord extending on either side - this bay is original, those lighting the east and south are modern. An identical bay exists on the preserved part of the first bay.

A building, built to the west on the site of the first aisle of the aisle, preserves some vestiges of the walls of the church. The visible capitals to the northeast of the building (junction of the second and third aisle span) have remained in their original state, those placed opposite, to the southeast, have been resumed.
Sight description based on Wikipedia.
Maison de Tristan (Tristan House)

3) Maison de Tristan (Tristan House)

The house of Tristan L'Hermite is a private mansion located in the old town of Tours. The building has been classified as a historical monument since 1862.

The house belonged to Tristan L'Hermite, a French officer who successively served the kings of France Charles VI, Charles VII and Louis XI. L'Hermite is known as a master of the artillery. He was also in charge of the high police force and the discipline of the Royal armies. His bravery during the siege of Fronsac earned him a knight in June 1451.

The building's brick and stone facade has a singular Flemish influence with its large stepped gable. Inside, it has a beautiful brick Saint-Gilles spiral staircase in a tower, with a belvedere at the top.

In the 17th century, the mansion was acquired by Jean Charles Viot, a dealer in silks and judge-consul, who also built the neighboring hotel. Today it is the headquarters of the European Institute for the History and Cultures of Food (IEHCA).
Maison du Croissant (House of the Crescent)

4) Maison du Croissant (House of the Crescent)

The Maison du Croissant, also known as the Maison de la Belle Teinturière, is a fine example of a Medieval French mansion. Built some time between the second half of the 15th century and the first quarter of the 16th century, this palatial bourgeois house stands in the area that was once inhabited by silk workers, who settled in Tours around 1470 at the behest of King Louis XI.

The building owes its name to the tufa staircase tower, standing on one of its corners. The coat of arms of Saint Maurice, which crowns the front door of the tower, with a motto in the form of crescent, refers to the Order of the Crescent established in 1448 by René d'Anjou. However, no archival documents make it possible to establish precisely the relationship between this house and the knightly order.

The Gothic-style front door seems to have been installed during restoration in 1962, led by the architect Henri Enguehard. That restoration notably replaced the initial cob slabs on the façade with the decorative brick slabs. Several windows also have been restored to their original location and size, including those on the ground floor of the tower and on the two square floors of the timber-framed upper part of the main building.

The ground floor of the house is corbelled. The north façade, damaged during WWII, has been restored and is partly modern. The building has been registered as a historical monument since 1946.
Hôtel Gouin (Gouin House)

5) Hôtel Gouin (Gouin House)

The mansion was built in the 15th century and is incorrectly considered to have been the home of Jean de Xaincoings, treasurer of the assets of Charles VII. The house was the property of René Gardette, a descendant of a family of silk merchants from Tours. The reworking of the facade that dates from the 16th century includes the addition of the porch and loggia and the left wing in early Renaissance style. The sub-basement contains Galloroman remains.

The name Goüin is taken from a wealthy family of Breton bankers who purchased the building in 1738. The family undertook several improvements including the balcony over the rear courtyard, demolition of two houses on the roadside, the enlargement of the south yard, removal of the south balcony, and construction of the entry gate.

In 1944 during the Second World War the building was almost entirely destroyed by bombs leaving only the facade intact. In the 1950s the main accommodation and the entrance were partially restored, while no traces of the garden and north yard remain.

The building once hosted the Société archéologique de Touraine (Touraine Archeological Society), and is now the home of the Goüin Museum. In 1967, on the occasion of the 40th congress of the French Federation of Philatelic Societies, the building was featured on the 0.40 franc postage stamp.
Sight description based on Wikipedia.
Basilica of St. Martin

6) Basilica of St. Martin (must see)

The beginning of the story of the Basilica of St. Martin goes all the way back to the 4th Century, when a small chapel was established here. The chapel was dedicated to St. Martin, who was the bishop of Tours at that time. Destroyed and rebuilt many times since, it was architect Victor Laloux that designed the Roman-Byzantine basilica on the site today.

The first basilica was built in the fifth century over the ruins of an earlier chapel. The basilica was dedicated to Saint Martin of Tours and it was erected over his tomb. Alcuin, an adviser of Charlemagne, was appointed Abbot of the monastic establishment of Saint-Martin's, developed as a collegiate church and governed by a community of canons.

The medieval chapel was destroyed in the French Revolution. Only two old towers connected to the medieval chapel are still standing today. Between the years of 1896 and 1924 the present church was built by Victor Laloux in a neo-Byzantine style on the site of the original basilica. The church was dedicated in 1925.

It has been said the exterior design is reminiscent of an old European synagogue. The interior has white stone walls and stained glass windows showing scenes in the life of the Saint. The new, modern crypt of the church holds the remains of Saint Martin.

The Basilica is located in the Tours Old Town. Saint Martin was third bishop of Tours. He is one of the most familiar and recognizable Christian saints in France. Because of his military experience and his leadership of French Christians, Saint Martin is seen as a protector of France.
Place de Chateauneuf (New Castle Square)

7) Place de Chateauneuf (New Castle Square)

Place de Chateauneuf is one of the most beautiful places in Tours. The square lies at the foot of the Charlemagne Tower, which is one of the four towers of the ancient Basilica of Saint Martin. Beside the Tower one can see the remains of the old basilica itself, built between the 11th and the 13th centuries over the tomb of the bishop of Tours.

Another key attraction on the square is the Mansion of the Dukes of Touraine, dating back to the 14th century. The palatial residence consists of two buildings with gables overlooking a courtyard and a Gothic-style octagonal tower in between.

The name Chateauneuf (“New Castle”) refers to the historic town evolved around the Abbey of St Martin back in the 9th century. Attesting to this are the ancient fortifications dating from that period.

By the 2010s, the square had found itself cluttered with vehicles and in much need of renovation. In 2017, Place de Châteauneuf finally received the facelift and was made entirely pedestrian. The gentrified area now boasts ample green spaces, benches, and is soon to be replenished with the Beaune-Semblançay fountain moved from Rue Nationale.
Jean Briconnet Hotel (Jean Briconnet Mansion)

8) Jean Briconnet Hotel (Jean Briconnet Mansion)

The Hôtel Berthelot, sitting on the corner of Rue de Chateauneuf and Rue du Change, is a private historical mansion built in the 15th century for the prominent local family of Berthelot.

At some point, the property came into the possession of Jean Briçonnet, the first Mayor of Tours, following his marriage to Jeanne Berthelot. In the northern part of the building there is the coat of arms of Jean Briçonnet, who died in 1493.

Over the years, this lodging house has seen many modifications. Circa 1885, it was split in two and half-demolished due to the construction and alignment of Rue de Chateauneuf.

The building has been a listed historic monument since January 1928.
Eglise Sainte Croix (Holy Cross Church)

9) Eglise Sainte Croix (Holy Cross Church)

The Sainte-Croix church in Tours is a historic monument, listed on December 19, 1939. Set in the Old Town, between rue de Châteauneuf to the South and rue Henri-Royer to the West, this 13th-century edifice was built on the site of an even older monastery, founded in the 6th century by Sainte Radegonde, wife of Merovingian King Clotaire I.

The design follows the pattern generally adopted by Christian churches of the period – choir to the east and nave to the west. It has a single span nave, a transept and a choir. The cross of the transept and the choir are narrower than the nave. The nave's vault, of Western Gothic style, rests on Romanesque piles. The western facade changed significantly in the 15th century following the construction of an adjacent building.

The northern part of the transept, vaulted with a semicircular cradle, is connected to the cross of the transept by a large semicircular opening. It is extended to the east by a chapel, covered with a so-called Angevin vault, featuring the same style as that of the nave. The choir, terminated by a flat apse, is only lit by two windows on the northern side.

With the exception of its south facade, floors and internal partitions, the building represents a historic heritage. The rectory, adjacent to the north gutter wall of its nave, is also listed as a historic monument.
Place du Grand Marché (Main Market/Monster Square)

10) Place du Grand Marché (Main Market/Monster Square)

Looking like a not so handsome cousin of The Hulk, only paler, the "Monster " dominates the Place du Grand Marche also known as "Monster Square."

The square had been known as the Main Market since the 15th century. In those days there may have been statues of monsters but they looked not so comically forbidding. The Market Square was simply an area between High Street and St. Clement.

In the 16th century Pierre Germain Valencia and his son erected the largest fountain in the city there. The fountain was 26 feet high and 20 feet across. Now the "Monster" stands in its place.

In 1845 the Square was enlarged by eliminating some butcher shops in the northern part of the square. By municipal decree of January 1905, the name of the square officially became Place du Grande Marche.

The square is surrounded by 15th century houses and shops jammed together in a row.

Today the tradition of market carries on with the unique Saint Anne Garlic and Basil Fair in July. It's a great time to stock up on garlic, shallots, onions and basil. A true festival of Touraine region. This is no longer the primary purpose in the Square. The Market Halls are but a short walk away.

The flea markets may not be the answer, but the square is still very rambunctious. Bars, restaurants and shops are plenty and then there is the Monster. Somehow this incongruous thing forms a missing link between the middle ages and the age of Mickey Mouse.
Les Halles (Market Halls)

11) Les Halles (Market Halls)

On the Place Gaston-Paillhou in the Tours old town there is something that looks like a white steamship liner with many windows. On the ground floor are two banks, a press house, a perfumery, frozen foods, bakeries, butchers, delis, dairies, fruit & vegetable stalls, a wine cellar and caterers. The top floor has offices and studios.

This is Tours Market Halls, sometimes called the "Belly of Tours." In 1866 Gustave Guerin produced pavilions of metallic architecture modeled after the work of Victor Baltard on the Halles of Paris.

The location chosen for Market Halls was the Place d'Aumont, today called the Gaston-Paillhou Square. Two churches, Saint-Martin collegiate church and Saint-Clement were razed to make room for the expanding market.

For 150 years the Market Halls have been the gastronomic center of Tours. There is an underground parking but (spoiler alert) there may not be toilets.

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