Bourges, France, described by Julius Caesar as one of the most beautiful cities in all of Gaul, is one of the jewels of the Loire Valley, and is located in the center of France, less than two hours from Paris by train. Named the City of Art and History, Printemps de Bourges music festival attracts over 100,000 people a year.
Seat of the county government, this picture-postcard destination, designated as a UNESCO world heritage site, is one of the six cities comprising the enchanting Loire Valley which has received the national certification for “Tourism and Handicap,” making it a senior-friendly vacation spot.
An elegant, romantic town, Bourges is famous for its magnificent Saint-Etienne Cathedral dating back to 1195 and the first fully developed Gothic edifice south of the Loire Valley. It is one of the historic monuments that gets turned into a breathtaking night show called Les Nuits Lumiere de Bourges. Beginning at sundown, the Middle Ages are brought to life during this two-hour dazzling mosaic of light and sound ,offering visitors the opportunity to explore the winding, charming paved streets guided by the blue halo of lamplights revealing the secrets of the rich heritage of this medieval district.
Another awesome site is the massive 15th Century palace of Jacques Couer, who was one of the most influential men of his time, becoming King Charles VII’s financier. Through the magic of this almost indescribable light show, Couer and his wife appear on separate balconies and seem to be waving to the assembled masses below.
An easy walking tour of Bourges Marshlands that, according to our guide, “…is one of the best-kept secrets in France,” is an absolute must. Comprised of 1,500 privately-owned gardens, passed down from generation to generation, this historic site is surrounded by canals, nature trails, and an assortment of wildlife, including 70 migratory birds who return every spring. One lesser known fact is that Bourges has more bats, considered an endangered species, than all of France, and is the center for bat preservation.
Once a year, in late August, a big festival called the Festival of Saint Fiacre, patron saint of the gardener, is held. The marshes become alive with music on floating barges, jousting matches, mock battles of the Celts against the Romans, and festively decorated floats. Known as “One Summer in Bourges,” the festival runs from late June through September 21, and arrangements can be made for both the walking tour and festival through the Bourges Office of Tourism.
One very important historic note is that during World War II, resistance fighters were hidden from the Nazis in sheds dotting the canals by the gardeners who stood watch. To this day, although people do not live in the marsh, those lucky enough to have a garden treat this sanctuary as their own private paradise.
As you’re strolling through the picturesque La rue Bourbonnoux, one of the most charming districts in Bourges, which is filled with old book shops, antique dealers, and restaurants, you might want to drop in and say hello to J. Gonthier, one of only four authentic violin makers in France. This old-world craftsman, who also repairs violins and cellos, is a first generation violin maker and says, “All violin makers must play the violin in order to make a violin.” His son, also a violin maker, lives in Hong Kong. In the creation of this instrument, Gonthier uses a combination of woods, including spruce and maple, and is quite willing to give a small demonstration if he’s not too busy.
There are 66 certified “Tourism and Handicap” destinations throughout the Loire Valley that cater to a variety of physical and mental challenges including hotels, campsites, furnished rentals, bed and breakfasts, restaurants, and historic sites. This designation allows anyone who is disabled to choose their holiday and leisure activities according to their specific needs and can most likely be coordinated through a travel agent.