San Sebastian to Tours via Biarritz – Busabout Hop-On Hop-Off Flexitrip


Busabout Hop On Hop Off / France / Spain

Today our Busabout adventure continues as we depart Spain for the last time, where most of the time has been spent on this entire trip, and cross the border into France staying two nights in the Loire Valley city of Tours. We are slowly heading closer and closer towards our next major goal of attending Oktoberfest in Munich, also with Busabout.

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So far along this journey we have had a lot of memorable experiences from attending the La Tomatina Festival from our base in Valencia, to travelling around southern Spain and Portugal, and even a little bit of Morocco on the Busabout Iberian Adventure Tour.

RECAP: La Tomatina Spain, the worlds largest food fight with Busabout

RECAP: Busabout Iberian Adventure Tour – Spain & Portugal

For the majority of this European trip we are travelling on the Busabout Hop On Hop Off coach network which is a fully flexible way to explore Europe and to meet some people along the way. We kicked things off in Barcelona and soon made it all the way up to San Sebastian via Valencia and Madrid. Most of the trip has been spent in Spain, but today we begin the French portion of our trip first taking in Tours and in a couple of days’ time hitting the city of lights, Paris.


San Sebastian to Tours via Biarritz – 08 September, 2015

Today’s portion of the Busabout network would have to be one of the longest stretches if you plan on doing the whole trek. The journey begins at 8:00am departing the Urban House hostel in central San Sebastian with the final destination being Paris at 9:30pm. That’s a massive trip and it’s what most people on the coach this morning opted to do, however we decided we would break the journey up and experience the many châteaux in the area by getting off at the second optional stop today, Tours.

Our first stop for the morning is only an hour down the road in the small picturesque town of Biarritz. This was also our morning tea stop so we were given about 45 minutes to go for a wonder and grab something to eat or just sit around and take in the view. After spending a couple of weeks in Spain we now had to train ourselves to no longer can say Hola instead saying Bonjour. At the same time it’s funny to think that just an hour back down the road over an imaginary line we call a border, that the people speak an entirely different language.

Once we were on our way again we picked up a few people from Biarritz and continued on the journey with our next stop Tours. On a side note Busabout have since changed the optional stop on this section of the trip and they no longer stop in Biarritz which I think is a good thing. The new stop is Bordeaux which is a far better place for an optional stop as you’ll be able to see and do more here and it isn’t so close to San Sebastian with the travel distance being a little over two and half hours as opposed to just an hour of travel time.

We arrived in Tours just after 5:00pm which is still a long day given this isn’t even the final destination for most people on the coach. If you continue on further to Paris you are supposed to have a dinner stop just outside of Paris before arriving at the drop off point. We later heard that this didn’t happen because the traffic was so bad and they were running behind schedule. The European Union has very strict laws about driving for extended periods of time and the driver needed to get into Paris on time.

The coach dropped us off outside the main train station Gare de Tours in central Tours and our guide walked everyone over to the drop off point which was the Hotel Val de Loire. Everyone that was continuing onto Paris was also given 30 minutes to go and grab something to eat and to have a break which was convenient given there is a McDonald’s right there. Dropping us off here was even more convenient for us as the Le Grand Hotel where we were staying was right outside the train station and next to where the coach had stopped.

We checked into our hotel which was a small room overlooking that very McDonald’s and the train station on the second floor. It was a very cozy room but it didn’t really matter as we hardly spent any time here and it had the basic essentials we needed.

Starving at this point we indulged in some Macca’s ourselves and then went for a walk to check out the town. There isn’t much to see in Tours as it is more of a base to go out and see the different châteaux which we will do tomorrow. We wondered around the streets for a bit following the main tram line through the centre of town towards the river. Not knowing what else to do from the river we could see the signs pointing out the direction to see the cathedral so we followed them and checked it out.

Exhausted from a long day of travel and some walking around town we headed back to our hotel. At this point of the trip my clothes were starting to get a bit funky and I was running out so I decided to go for a walk again and find a launderette. I eventually found a launderette which was a bit spooky because it was dark and all the lights were out, so I was standing in a strange laundry in a new town in the dark trying to translate signs on how to use the machine from French to English.

After a thrilling night of doing laundry and spending a few hours waiting for that, and a walk between there and the hotel, it was off to bed for what will be a big day tomorrow exploring four different châteaux in the Loire Valley.

Tours & the châteaux of the Loire Valley – 09 September, 2015

We are in for a long day today, we leave our hotel nice and early as we have decided to do one of the Busabout optional extra activities today that involves taking a tour around the Loire Valley and checking out four of the regions iconic châteaux.


Our tour begins today from outside the tourist office which is a short walk across the square in front of the main train station Gare de Tours on the other side of the road. We wait outside for our guide to arrive in his old Volkswagen Van which was in a faded orange and looked like it would have stood out in a crowd back in its prime.

When deciding to book this tour there are a number of things to take into consideration, first of all you can choose between two half day tours that will visit two of the châteaux, or you can opt to do what we did and take the full day tour to visit four. With this tour of the châteaux we were under the impression that we were gaining entry and were going to be shown around given we were paying €49.00 for a full day. We didn’t realise that this tour was only to transport us to the four châteaux and then we would also need to pay for entry too. This something to keep in mind when going on this trip as it ends up being a costly day out and it might be better to do some research and find an alternative tour of the châteaux. I did manage to grab a brochure from the tour operator and inside in fine print it says that entrance fees are not included but you will get reduced prices and an audio guide on the minibus. This should be written into the Busabout handbook so everyone can make a better decision.

Just for some perspective the below is the information provided in the Busabout handbook which makes no mention of it.

Tour Name: Excursions to the Châteaux of the Loire Valley
Details: We offer many different tours to the beautiful Châteaux in the Loire Valley. A true highlight of any trip to Europe. Not only will you get to see the beautiful French countryside but also how the royalty lived in its glory days. There is a morning tour to Azay Le Rideau and Villandry, an afternoon tour to Chambered and Chenonceau, and an excellent-value full day tour to all four. Ask your guide for details.

We departed central Tours and headed for the other main train station in Tours Saint-Pierre-des-Corps to pick up some other people that would be joining us on the trip today. This is the train station we will go to tomorrow for our TGV express train to Paris. In the van we are given a potable DVD player to watch some commentary on each of the four châteaux we would be visiting today but to tell you the truth I wasn’t paying too much attention to it as I was more concerned about the tight squeeze in the van and looking at the countryside outside the window.

The first château we would be visiting today is Château d’Amboise located in the town of Amboise along the banks of the River Loire. The château was built in the late 9th century and was acquired by the royal family in the 15th century or more accurately was confiscated by the royal family. We are given an hour to look around the château which is plenty of time to take in the stunning views from its high vantage point overlooking the town of Amboise and the river below. You can really appreciate how strategic this location is with prime viewing position of anyone trying to pass via the river.

Once we finished looking around we headed back down and had a few minutes spare to look around some of the shops at the base, we then jumped back into our van and headed off towards our next destination which is a château I’m really looking forward to visiting, Château de Chenonceau. This château is quite impressive as it spans the width of the River Cher with the river running directly under it. We are given an hour and thirty minutes to look around here and this was also our lunch stop.

Construction of the château began in the 16th century after a castle and a mill were demolished on the site. The Marques Tower just beside the château was retained and lived in while construction was happening and it was restored in the same style as the château. The stand out feature of this château is what’s called The Gallery, which is the long portion of the château that spans the River Cher coming in at 60 metres long and is only 6 metres wide with a fireplace at each end, with the southern one is just for decoration.

What is interesting is that The Gallery was used as a hospital during World War I, but what’s even more interesting is that during World War II the River Cher was the line of demarcation with one side being German controlled while the other was the French free zone. This meant that the Château de Chenonceau was in the occupied German zone while the southern door to The Gallery face access to the left bank of the river into the free zone allowing the French Resistance to pass large numbers of people through the zone. During the occupation a German artillery unit was kept on stand by to destroy the château, luckily this never happened and it still stands today for all of us to enjoy.

The gardens of the Château de Chenonceau are just as impressive. The old cellar has been converted into a self service restaurant which is where we had our lunch stop. The food was actually not too bad, of course it was a little pricey given where we were but it wasn’t too bad. There is the large Diane’s Garden which is where most of the iconic photos of the château are taken from and on the other side of the château is Catherine’s Garden where you can view the château from another perspective. The grounds also feature and old 16th century farm and a hedge maze which I missed as we ran out of time and we walked straight past it going up the main boulevard to the château.

Once we had finished looking around we all gathered back out the from entrance where the visitors centre is and went and squeezed back into our small little van to continue onto our next château which is called Château de Cheverny. This château was one of the first to open its doors to the public back in 1922 and is one of the only châteaux that is privately owned with all the others under state control. Château de Cheverny claims to be open every day of the year and has only closed its doors for a couple of hours on three occasions; for the visit of the Queen Mother in 1963; for the funeral of Marquis de Vibrate in 1976; and for the wedding of the current owners in 1994.

Compared to all the other châteaux visited today, Château de Cheverny is probably the smallest and least grand of them all which has a nice charm to it. We are given fifty minutes here to explore the grounds. You’ll find that the most recognisable side of the building and where the main entrance is located is quite plain with just a wide path leading up to the entrance and nothing else obscuring the view of the building which allows for some great photos. The other side of the château has some very well maintained gardens and a cafe further on for a nice pleasant stroll around the grounds. One of the main draw cards to this château is being able to view the French Hounds, The Kennels are an area dedicated to housing many of the hounds that are used for hunting in the area.

Another thing you will notice being here is that there are a lot of references to the fictional character Tintin. The Château de Cheverny is the inspiration behind one of the characters Captain Haddock’s country house in the comic book with the two outer wings of Cheverny removed in the comic to give the end result. So while you’re here expect to see a lot of Tintin merchandise in the gift shop on the way out of the grounds.

After we are done here we meet outside with our driver and have a bit of spare time to look in a few of the gift shops outside. We jump back into the van and make our way over to the grandest and most recognisable châteaux of them all and UNESCO World Heritage Listed, Château de Chambord. We are given an hour and half to explore this massive château and its grounds which doesn’t do the area justice with the building itself being 156 metres long, 56 metres high and containing 77 staircases and 282 fireplaces all within 5,440 hectares of land surrounded by a 32 kilometre wall making it the largest enclosed park in all of Europe.

There is no other way to say it other than this place is massive. You really need a whole day to explore everything here but we only have an hour and a half to explore the building and a little bit of the grounds. The rooms in here are huge and a great thing about this château is that you can go outside onto the roof and gain some impressive views from up there. You can also wonder around to the back of the château where the moat is and get some great iconic photos from this vantage point. It will be interesting to come back here in a couple of years time as there is currently some construction work going on to build a new visitors centre with the ultimate plan being to restore the gardens that once stood in front of the château.

In case you are thinking, I know the name Chambord from somewhere, you may be thinking of the dark raspberry liqueur in that short rounded bottle. Well the famous liqueur is made just down the road from the Château de Chambord in another and probably a lot small château itself. Along the way back we drive along the River Loire which is a really nice drive, going this way we also get to see another château from the van as we drive past, called Château de Blois.

I really enjoyed my time here and checking out all the famous châteaux you can only dream about living in. I wouldn’t come all the way here just to see Tours as there isn’t much to see in the town itself and if you don’t plan on going out and exploring the French countryside and taking in the amazing châteaux, then don’t bother coming here. It’s also a good way to break up the journey if you are travelling with Busabout instead of doing one large trip from San Sebastian all the way to Paris which is an epic thirteen and a half hour journey cramped up on the coach. Don’t let me put you off coming to Tours and doing a tour of the châteaux from what I was saying above, just make sure you know what you’re in for cost-wise for the day and you may find a better alternative out there, however overall it was still a great day out.

Tomorrow our journey continues as we head to the capital of France, Paris. This time we are temporally leaving behind the Busabout Hop On Hop Off coach network so we can get into Paris a lot faster using the high speed TGV Trains that criss-cross France. This way we get to spend more time in Paris and don’t have to wait around for a whole day in Tours until the coach comes through.

BUSABOUT OPTIONAL ACTIVITIES & DROP OFF/PICK UP POINT – TOURS
Busabout Coach

PICK UP/DROP OFF POINT

Hotel Val de Loire

33 Boulevard Heurteloup, 37000 Tours, France
+33 247 053 786

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ACTIVITIES

Excursions to the Château of the Loire Valley
Morning Tour – Busabout Price: €21.00 Normal Price: €23.00
Afternoon Tour – Busabout Price: €34.00 Normal Price: €36.00
Full Day Tour – Busabout Price: €49.00 Normal Price: €55.00


NEXT: Tours to Paris – TGV Train vs Busabout Hop On Hop Off Flexitrip

PREVIOUS: Madrid to San Sebastian via Pamplona – Busabout Hop On Hop Off Flexitrip


Just your average guy doing his 9 – 5 job as a Senior Payroll Officer by day, writing about his travel adventures and hopefully giving you inspiration and ideas for your next travel adventure here at loneXplorer…

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