There are several direct trains from Gare Austerlitz, Paris, to Bourges, daily. The journey takes about two hours. One emerges practically in the old historical center, near the Yevre River. Aquitaine, Poitiers, kings and queens, religious wars… The town, which has the population of about 70,000, was founded probably by the Romans. The remains of some old fortifications and aqueducts dating back to pre-Christian era can still be seen today. The town changed its name several times; it was also razed to the ground and rebuilt. Finally, it seemed to settle down as the center of the province Cher, the Archbishopric seat, and a UNESCO Human Heritage site. Saint-Etienne de Bourges, the gothic cathedral begun in the 12th century, is a landmark which can be seen from almost anywhere in town. It is very large, with beautiful soaring turrets, several entrances which evoke memories of Westminster Abbey, lots of sculptures, friezes and bas-reliefs, stained glass windows, and a huge very long main hall, which makes one think that perhaps in the old times the cathedral was also used as a sanctuary for the whole population. Today, the cathedral is being cleaned from centuries-old grime, and one can see the sparkling white walls, as well as the yet un-cleaned almost black ones. It is surrounded by lovely parks and gardens, with statues, flowers, shady paths and pretty old buildings, Office de Tourisme being one of them. (There is also a public toilet nearby).
Walking around the winding old streets which climb up and float down in some places, taking occasional stairways, one can see the old and the new blending into a harmonious picture. I was fortunate to arrive in Bourges on November 1, the day of La Toussaint, when there were lovely flower arrangements on every corner, in the middle of every square, in parks and in the streets. La Toussaint literally means “all saints”. Established in the fifth century, it is a catholic feast which celebrates all the saints; it is also the day to remember all those who are not with us anymore.
On one of the streets one can see the statue, the palace, and many reminders of Jacques Coeur. He was a 15th centuryBourges merchant who was extremely successful in all his activities. Eventually, he became the richest man in France, who possessed a whole fleet of ships, who lent money to the King himself, who became Master of the Mint. In spite of his ever-changing fortunes (at some point, he was arrested on suspicion of poisoning the King’s mistress and barely managed to escape with his life), Jacques Coeur is warmly remembered in Bourges for being one of its most famous citizens, and for organizing the defense of the town and of the country with the help of his fleet in the numerous wars of the epoch.
There is an old carousel which still functions in one of the squares. It is useful to remember that right behind it, there are several cafes which may be open even when everything else is closed due to a holiday or simply at weekends! The food is excellent. One can see all the usual chain stores on the main street. If you are a shoe person, you will be pleasantly surprised at the number of shoe shops all around the main square. Turn left, walk along a narrow side street from the square, and you will find yourself in a wonderful museum with a large collection of statues, pictures, and various artifacts from all over the world. If you don’t feel like going inside the museum or palace, just walk around, drinking in the views. There are plenty of ivy-clad houses, bridges and parks, old cobblestone streets, monuments and benches. If you get lost, ask for directions to the cathedral. You don’t need to know any French for that, just say, “Cathedral?” That’s how I learned that there are two big cathedrals in Bourges. But then, the locals know that tourists want to seeSaint-Etienne. Once you see it, you know where you are. Bourges is one of the few places on Earth where I feel I cannot get lost; and even if I do get lost, it is so lovely, I don’t mind wandering about an extra hour or two.