Tours, a stroll through design and crafts

Tours has a very historical side, with its Gothic cathedral and its Place Plumereau, clustered about with half-timbered medieval houses. The city is also a destination for pilgrims visiting the tomb of Saint Martin. But apart from these two facets, Tours is a draw for devotees of contemporary design and crafts, too, as I found out on my recent trip to this gateway city to the Loire Valley.

Stained-glass windows in the cathedral

Tours Cathedral, devoted to Saint Gatianus, was begun in the 13th century, but in one corner you can see stained-glass windows of a contemporary design. The chancel area was remodelled in the 1990s, and later, in 2013, new windows with a very modern, colourful design were installed. When I was there I spotted a window depicting Pope Benedict XIII.

Cathedral (External link)
Place de la Cathédrale, Tours

The Olivier Debré Contemporary Creation Centre

To find the best showplace for contemporary art in Tours, I visited the new seat of the Contemporary Creation Centre, which is now named after Olivier Debré, a local artist who won fame as the person who best reflected the sensations of the Loire River through his huge, vibrantly coloured paintings. While there I viewed other daring, modern installations dotted all over the art centre’s three large halls.

Contemporary Creation Centre Olivier Debré (External link)
Jardin François 1er, Tours

Café Contemporain

If you’re looking for an informal place for lunch where you can get a light, original meal, the place for you is the Café Contemporain, right inside the Olivier Debré art centre. Julie and Thomas, a likeable French couple who propose a vegetarian cuisine in which bowls of vegetables, quinoa and chickpeas are combined with fish and meat. For testimonials as to the quality, look no farther than the fact that they’ve been selected by the prestigious independent French restaurant guide Fooding for two years now.

Café Contemporain (External link)
Jardin François 1er, Tours

Trade Guild Museum

There is a great display of craftsmanship in Tours at the very curious Trade Guild Museum, which you will find in the 13th-century Abbey of Saint-Julien, in what used to be the monks’ dormitory. There you will find work from some thirty trades, such as ropemaking, locksmithing, bricklaying, carpentry and baking. When I was there it took me quite some time to explore the ingenuity and artistic capacity of the craftsmen featured at the museum.

Musée du Compagnonnage (External link)
8 Rue Nationale, Tours

Colibri Gallery

On Rue de la Scellerie, parallel to what used to be the main street (now Rue Colbert), the antique shops and art galleries throng. One gallery there is Galerie Colibri, which opened in June 2018. It’s the only gallery in Tours that exhibits work by big names in today’s art world instead of the local artists you see in other galleries. When I was there, I saw that most of the work on sale was in the figurative style.

Galerie Colibrí (External link)
54, rue de la Scellerie, Tours

Atelier d’Offard

One of the great exponents of the decorative arts in Tours is Francois-Xavier Richard. At his Atelier d’Offard, he has brought back the 18th- and 19th-century tradition of making wallpaper by hand with predesigned blocks. Although 10 years ago his workshop’s early projects sought to bring back wallpaper designs from Italian and French palaces, nowadays he combines that kind of work with new designs related with architecture or other artistic fields. For example, he worked with Miquel Barceló on the illustrations for a book.

Atelier d'Offard (External link)
21, Avenue André Maginot, Tours

Art Hotel

You’ll find a good example of how Tours melds classic architecture and modern design at the Art Hotel in Rochecorbon, on the outskirts of the city and the bank of the Loire River. The late 19th-century building has been a reception centre for political refugees and a home for the elderly; now it is home to a charming hotel whose daring, modern decoration really surprised me, combining black and white in all rooms and lounges.

Art Hotel (External link)
19, Quai de la Loire, Rochecorbon