After a morning of châteaux and inventions, by the time we got back to Tours we were ready for lunch. Having decided a few days earlier that Tours was the closest we'd be getting to Bretagne (unfortunately, that's one région that's quite difficult - and expensive - to reach by train), I decided we'd better take advantage of our proximity and visit a crêperie. Crêpes are available all over France, especially with nutella and alongside waffles in touristy locations as "fast food" type stands, but a real crêperie is a sit-down restaurant that serves dozens and dozens of varieties of sweet and savory crêpes.
As we traveled further and further North along the Atlantic coast, we saw more and more crêperies. By the time we got to Tours, there were quite a few. We opted for La Grange des Celtes, which was almost empty when we got there at the end of the lunch rush.
When I had my first crêpe in France in 2008, I was told that the traditional beverage with a crêpe was, of course, cider. At the time, I was baffled - why cider? It made no sense to me. But what do you know - those silly Bretons know what they're doing after all. Bretagne is too cold and rainy to make great wine, but there are a lot of apple trees around, so the standard local drink is, indeed, cider. So naturally, I had to order a glass to go with my galette "celte:"
A galette is a savory crêpe. The batter is made from buckwheat, and common fillings include ham and cheese, though most crêperies offer all sorts of varieties. My mom ordered one with ham and spinach, and mine, called the "celte," had butter, raclette (a mild cheese from Switzerland, often included in fondue), onions, potatoes, and lardons - small bits of bacon.
The potatoes were beautifully browned, and the bits of bacon added a lovely smokiness. The caramelized onions brought a sweet element to the party, while the flavor of the cheese melted into all the other elements and tied everything together. The galette itself was just a little sour and beautifully crisp on the edges. And, not surprisingly, the cider was an excellent accompaniment - it cut through the heaviness of the crêpe with a crisp, almost citrusy edge.
The savory crêpes were filling enough that by the time we finished them, we didn't have room for a sweet one. So we headed back to the hotel briefly before we were off a-marketing again. On the first and third Friday of each month in summer, there is a "gourmet market" in Tours, so our first stop was there. After being so impressed with the variety and quality available at Les Halles, we wondered how the gourmet market could be better... The answer is, it wasn't. In addition to your standard fruit and vegetable stands, there were a couple of wine vendors and an exotic American selling pâtisseries Américaines (cookies, zucchini muffins... the kinds of things I'd bake myself!). The market left us unimpressed, but it did lead us to a cute café called Les Gourmands Disent where we stopped for a pleasant mid-afternoon café au lait. The walls were a neutral grey, and the espresso cups were among the most adorable I've seen.
They had a nice menu of lunch-like fare posted on the wall: soups, salads, tarts. If I were in town for another few days, this is exactly the kind of place I'd want to pop into for lunch.
Sufficiently caffeinated, we continued on to pick up some supplies for dinner. We passed a Hardouin boulangerie on the street, and popped in for more fantastic bread samples as well as a baguette à la tradition.
Boulangeries often offer multiple types of baguettes, each slightly different. One common variety is the baguette à la tradition, which is mandated by law to be made only of wheat flour, kitchen salt, water, and natural yeast leavening. (Gotta love a country that mandates by law what ingredients may be used to bake certain types of breads!) This was one of the best baguettes I have ever tasted: it had a perfectly crisp, thick but not hard crust that crackled beautiful when ripped open. The crumb was soft and complex and flavorful. This was a baguette as they were meant to be - and what a pleasure it was to eat!
We also got a pavé au chocolat:
Pavé means brick, which tells us this was a dense, small, rectangular loaf. It was studded with dozens of chunks of dark chocolate and was, unsurprisingly, quite delicious.
After getting out bread, we headed on to les Halles. I visited a number of Halles on my trip, some of which were architecturally stunning. In Tours, les Halles are a little more streamlined and a little less spectacular than in some other cities.
But the produce for sale is top notch, and that's what counts. We got some reine de reinettes:
Reine de reinette, which means queen of the little queens, is a variety of apple we don't have in the US, which is a real pity. It's crisp and slightly tart with a good Apple flavor. To go with our apples, we also got some mirabelles:
Mirabelles are a tiny variety of plum, about the size of a large grape, with a mostly yellow color. They are sweet and the pits pop right out as you eat them. And if you didn't already know, they are beyond fantastic when cooked and served over brioche perdue.
After getting our fruit and making a quick stop at Monoprix for some yogurt, we headed back to the hotel for the evening to relax.
Our last morning in Tours was spent heading back to, of course, les Halles one last time for supplies for lunch on the train. Not surprisingly, perhaps, les Halles are much busier on Saturday mornings than Thursday afternoons, and this time all the shops were open and there were many shoppers milling about with bags on their arms or in their ubiquitous rolling grocery bags. Included in our purchases was a tomate-pesto from Hardouin:
This crispy bread was filled with a fantastic pesto and sweet tomatoes and made an excellent lunch and reminder of Tours as we headed, finally, to Paris.
Earlier, I had booked two spots on the TGV, which takes just over an hour to go from Tours to Paris. But before getting on the train, we'll take one last look at the Hôtel de Ville:
It was a strange feeling to head to Paris, a city I already knew and loved, after spending so long heading to a new, unfamiliar city every couple of days. The part of my trip focused on eating new regional cuisines and seeing the French countryside was all but over, but I still had another nine days in France before I would return to the US.
Coming soon: revisiting old friends and neighborhoods, and the 20,000 citizens who came out to welcome me.