While the temperatures may be cooling and the touristic hotspots winding down, the end of the summer season certainly doesn’t mean that Tours is no longer worth a visit. In fact, if you are a horticultural fanatic, or simply an admirer of all things floral, then this could be the autumnal destination of your landscaping dreams. Tours, a city hugging either side of France’s Loire Valley, boasts proximity to an array of chateaux with stunning gardens, as well as some of its very own in the heart of the city. This month I have been exploring what Tours has to offer for the green-fingered among us!
Following the Loire Valley westwards from the city centre, you will eventually reach the Château Villandry. Well known in the region for its luscious gardens, the chateau is hosting two journées du potager (best translated as ‘days from the vegetable garden’) on the last weekend of September. The weekend will include about twenty exhibitors, displaying their wares from plants to garden accessories. And of course, as this is France, there will be opportunities to sample the many edible delights that have been cooked up using the vegetables grown on sight. This is a fantastic opportunity to consult the resident jardiniers and take inspiration from these fairytale-like gardens. The usual entry fees for access to both the chateau and gardens are 11€ for adults, or 7€ for those under 26 or students, and this weekend is no exception!
The next chateau on the list – and you can never have too many chateaus when discussing the French heartlands – is the Château Charmont-sur-Loire. Here, they host the annual Festival International des Jardins, comprising of themed gardens created by professionals from landscape architects to artists. The shortlisting is rigorous, with twenty to thirty successful designers being whittled down from roughly 120 applicants. This year will be its 27th and the exhibition is continuing until 4 November, allowing you to make the most of the last few hours of autumn warmth. This year’s theme, l’expression de la pensée, meaning ‘the expression of thought’, will no doubt deliver some abstract and existential designs. Below are some photographs of last year’s contenders, to get your landscaping juices flowing!
For those visiting Tours briefly, there are still plenty of picturesque options within the city limits, namely the Jardin Botanique. While not matching the chateaus in terms of size or grandeur, this petite botanical garden placed in the charming centre of the city allows any tourist to make the most of these final days of sunshine. A stand-out feature of this garden is its feathery inhabitants: Tours began introducing exotic animals – mainly birds – into the park as long ago as 1856. These days you will be greeted by chirping parrots and flamingos, before visiting the wallabies who share their enclosure with the resident emus. Aside from the wildlife, there are vast species of vegetation to be seen, including the arboretum showcasing more than 150 types of tree; a small garden with flourishing medicinal plant life, and le jardin de l’évolution, a scientific garden that has been organised to exhibit chronologically the evolution of vegetation, from algae to conifers.
After all that excitement, you’ll probably be in need of gentle recuperation. Fortunately, the Jardin des Prébendes, a much-frequented spot by local students on sunny afternoons, is only a twenty-minute walk away from its botanical neighbour. It is ideal for a relaxing afternoon stroll, to share a picnic, or sit and read a book in the fresh air. Its large duck pond, spanning a huge chunk of the garden, adds to the relaxing feel; it’s easy to get caught up in the magic of this inner-city haven!
In order to round off an energetic day of garden hopping, I would also highly recommend a stroll further into town towards Place Plumereau. Often considered la plus belle place de France, it will certainly cater to all of your food and drink needs, with a plethora of bars and a variety of cuisine – so that you can while away the evening after a long day of horticulture. So, with temperatures hovering around twenty degrees celsius through October, it would be a shame not to take advantage of these outdoor opportunities before the leaves start falling!