Well, I have just been to Tours. It is rare to visit somewhere and to find that it lives up to its reputation but Tours certainly does. France has a reputation as being somewhere where they treat food seriously, where food is the centre of social and family life, and somewhere where they don’t compromise with their food. And in Tours, I found that this reputation is deserved.
The food was delicious. Seriously good in fact. And, everywhere, from everything you see, you get the over-riding idea that food is important. That you have to give it time, you have to think about it, and if you are eating or drinking you don’t rush things. So no wonder the city has been called a City of Gastronomy, listed on UNESCO as an intangible cultural heritage.
So, how and where do you find out about the Tours food scent? Well – the short answer is everywhere. The longer answer (which I’ve gushed about to all my friends) is here:
Tours takes it food seriously. Nowhere is that more apparent than in one street where forty restaurants tempt visitors with a vast array of choices. And even better is the fact that as I walked down the street checking out the restaurants, not one single person outside tried to hassle me to choose their establishment.
Nestled in amongst these establishments is Restaurant L’Evidence, where a rather unassuming entrance conceals what is one of the best meals I have ever had. There was the piquant chorizo soup with a slow cooked egg to, the melt in your mouth fish served over a black rice and a tasty fish sauce and my favourite dessert of all time the lemon cream with fruits topped with the perfectly crunchy crumble. The meal was ended with guava nectar perfectly paired with coriander and black pepper. And the wines have been chosen to very well complement the food. This is a restaurant to tell the whole world about.
I also enjoyed Restaurant L’Arome where we had an amazing sardine and anchovy pate with garlic croutons and and delicious marinated strawberries and ice cream and almond sponge and the flakiest ever Mille-feuille with bourbon vanilla cream that you can imagine. A special mention to the Restaurant L’Echanson a short drive away in Amboise. Not only is their beef burger with a goats cheese sauce out of this world but the restaurant itself has a great atmosphere and vibe and a well thought out children’s corner. Plus a chef who chef takes pride in his food, making it a point to come out and chat to the dinners, can only be a great thing.
You can find out more about where to eat and drink in Tours from the newly launched Cite de la Gastronomie a Tours website.
The markets certainly help show the importance of food. Stalls are bursting with of fresh and beautifully presented produce at its very best. Mountains of white asparagus proudly labelled as local (Touraine is France’s second largest asparagus-producing region), fresh strawberries and sweet cherries, tomatoes as large as my head, crunchy looking radishes, freshly caught fish and oysters piled high in empty wine boxes. Neighbouring stalls have chickens roasting on the rotisserie, cheeses, sausages and other eats.
And in the markets you see people being serious about choosing their food. I watched in fascination as a grandfather laughingly spent ages choose the best apricots along with his grandson at the market stall, whilst bantering loudly with the stallholder. I saw stall holders happy to explain to tourists which cheeses and wines go well planned meals. I chat to another stall holder (in my non-existent French and with a whole load of hand gestures) who proudly tells me that their recipes have been passed down in her family for 3 generations. I could have stayed in the markets for hours.
Tours has a market everyday of the week so it is easy for visitors to find fresh produce. The nearby market in Amboise is also definitely worth a trip, especially as they have just won the award for the most beautiful open-air market in France.
One of the best ways to really appreciate a lot of the local specialities is to visit the delicatessen scattered around the city, and buy a picnic lunch. I certainly loved it, going to one shop and getting some Tours rillettes, rillons (seriously delicious hot or cold – I had never had them before, now they are going to be pretty much a staple) and a couple of pates; a couple more pates and terrine from the next place; delicious cheese (I loved the creamy and highly addictive sainte-maure-de-touraine goats cheese) from a third; fresh bread from the baker and even fresh brioche from the shop that only sells brioche.
Completed with fruit and salad from the market and some local wine you have a picnic fit for a king, so you can wander down to the banks of the river, sit with family and friends, have time to talk, relax, and to savour the food. Something I’d do every weekend if I lived in Tours – and something the locals certainly do – the art of the spontaneous picnic, with a group of good friends or family, which carries on from lunchtime until dusk must come from around here.
One of the most fun parts about choosing a picnic is choosing the wine. The Loire Valley produces about a third of France’s wine. But within the region there is a huge diversity. And so there are hundreds of small producers, each with their own distinct wines. So much to try and so little time…..
If you really want to get to the heart of the Loire wines, you need to do one (or both) of two things. Either get up and go out to the estates, meet the producers, see how it is made, try and buy (very easy to do as lots of estates welcomes visitors).
Or, do what I did and let the wine come to you. Every year there is a Vitiloire wine festival in Tours, where the estates bring their wine to show it off. It was great to see and taste wines from over 150 different wine producers at the 2015 festival. And it is certainly worth popping over to their website to find out more about Vitiloire 2016.
A sense of occasion.
If you want to be a bit more formal, and have a delicious dinner which is just that very bit special, visit the pop-up dinner Diner en Blanc. The location changes and part of the fun is that you are told, just before it starts, where it is going to be and then everyone turns up at once, all dressed in white. It is quite a sight to see, the organisers choose beautiful sites (well, if other occasions are anything like the one I went do they do), everything is laid out beautifully, and with the hubbub of everyone arriving, all excited, it really turns a meal into a sense of occasion.
Needless to say people bring delicious food and drink. And the atmosphere was perfect. Formal enough so that I felt that all the effort was properly appreciated. Yet informal enough that a family could bring babies with them. It was right for me (a tourist) and also right for the lovers as you can see.
I can’t put my finger on why it works so well in Tours, maybe it just is something in the French character that I want to learn.
Nestled on the banks of the Loire is the Guingette where I actually first lost my heart to Tours. In the warmer months, this lively outdoor social spot is a great place to soak up the local lifestyle. People dance along to various local musicians and concerts, enjoy the dance battles, take part at various creative workshops, watch a film or two or just catch up with friends all whilst enjoying some good food and drink. The best bit is that anyone can just people watch and soak up the atmosphere at the Guingette free of charge for as long as they want no pressure whatsoever to buy anything.
These are just a few of the gastronomic and lifestyle delight that I experienced in Tours and I get the feeling that I barely touched surface. I want to see more and I have got some big plans to go back and discover new things in both in Tours and the Loire. I am already imagining cycling along the river banks…
The biggest question is how soon can I do it?
Please head over to Cite de la Gastronomie a Tours Facebook page by 21st June page for a chance to win a stay in the Touraine
I was a guest of Cite de la Gastronomie a Tours on this trip. I was not required to write a positive review and all opinions are my own.