Georges Rouzeau - 2009-04-13
Le Printemps de Bourges (21 - 22nd of April) music festival is an opportunity to discover this town which still has countless examples of Gothic architecture in the vicinity of its cathedral and its famous Jacques-Coeur Palace.
As with certain other provincial towns, Bourges suffers from a lack of image. But once you are there one discovers an attractive town and indeed a very lively one, due to its cultural institutions and its many students. Of course the reasons for visiting are: the St-Etienne cathedral, one of the biggest in France, the Jacques Coeur Palace named after Charles VII's minister of finance, the half-timbered houses and winding cobbled streets, the Estève museum (a painter from l'École de Paris who is less well known these days but whose talents as a colourist will appeal), the musée des Meilleurs ouvriers de France (museum for France's best artisans award) in the old Bishop's Palace. Nor should one forget the Printemps de Bourges festival which transforms the town into a gigantic rock concert.
After this you discover the bars and the numerous restaurants of which there are some very nice places such as l'abbaye Saint-Ambroix (François Adamski, Bocuse d'or andMeilleur ouvrier de France award.) or le Piet à Terre (Thierry Finet.) There are also second-hand booksellers, a stringed instrument maker, a proper bookshop and traditional butchers etc.
Bourges saw the introduction of the first of France's Maisons de la Culture, inaugurated by Andre Malraux in 1963. It is also an old university town (Calvin studied and spread his reform ideas from here.) Its National College of Art is equally well known and you can visit its 'Box' gallery of temporary exhibitions which displays 6 to 8 French or international artists every year. This town of the old French province of Berry is also the European capital for the study of bats: these wonderful little flying mammals haunt the vaults/cellars and the many outlying quarries.
From the religious to the civil: two Gothic art masterpieces
Bourges cathedral is one of the most beautiful in France. It was built over eight centuries ago in only two periods (1195-1214 and 1225-1230.)
One never tires of wandering around it and its wide flanked chevets or passing through its richly sculpted portals. Inside there are no less than five floors alternating shade and light. The cathedral is also home to one of France's richest collections of stained glass windows.
Then go down into the crypt where the lower church houses a white marble recumbent statue of Jean de Berry the lavish and famous sponsor of “les très riches heures” (illustrated manuscript) created by the brothers Paul, Jean and Herman de Limburg. The third son of the King of France Jean II (known as 'the Good') is still watched over by his favourite animal - a bear chained by fleur-de-lys. Michel Pastoureau dedicated some fascinating pages to this plantigrade animal in his 'The Bear, a story of a King deprived of his throne.' The crypt also conceals another treasure, a C16th entombment replete with approximately ten statues.
Formed by four main buildings surrounding a central courtyard, the Jacques Coeur Palace is quite simply one of the most sumptuous civil buildings of the Gothic era. Sadly Jacques Coeur, who was abandoned by Charles VII, did not have much of a chance to enjoy it.
The facade displays great colour: a lavish decorative display in tribute to the master and mistress of the house, whose busts gaze amorously at each other (in fact they should have been looking at the centrally placed King who has now disappeared.)
The exceptionally beautiful and opulent interior of the palace is a testimony to the Finance minister's fortune.
The Medieval Town
All you have to do now is wander through the tastefully restored old town, which has numerous half-timbered houses such as those in Rue Bourbonnoux.
The gardens at the Bishops Palace at place Étienne Dolet, the Ramparts promenade at l'hotel des Échevins (Estève museum), and the Passage Casse-cou (Break-neck passage) in the Rue des Juifs. These Berry place names exude a Middle Ages charm.
A night time visit is also a must. Follow the night illuminations route to see the main Berruyer monuments brought out and revealed in a new light by this urban scenography.
Tourist Information for the Cher département
Bourges Tourist Office
21, rue Victor Hugo
Tel: +33 (0)2 48 23 02 60
Opening hours: everyday from 9am to 6pm and Sundays from 2pm to 5pm.
Where to eat
Bourges has no shortage of good places to eat. Berry's capital is surrounded by rich local produce such as game, cheeses, meats, fruit, vegetables and wine.
Le Piet à Terre
44, boulevard Lahitolle
Tel. : +33 (0)2 48 67 95 60.
Set menus at 34, 39, 64 and 129 €
At his new Berruyère address (an attractive mansion), Thierry Finet creates sharp, lively cuisine which negotiates between citrus fruits, fresh herbs and an expert use of spices. His dense, aromatic sauces enhance these truly opulent dishes which are not simply “concept dishes”, as is far too often the case in creative cooking. The impression is of an artisan-cook who is passionate, experimentalist, yet respectful of tradition.
Le Jacques Cœur
3, place Jacques Cœur
Tel. : +33 (0)2 48 26 53 01
Lunch menu from 19,90 €
A la Carte: 50/84 €
A few months ago Stéphane Philippon took over this legendary Bourges restaurant which has been starred for over thirty years. These days Jacques-Cœur's a la carte menu offers a mixture of traditional french dishes, local Berry dishes and some more creative dishes. For example you will find sole meunière, calf's head with gribiche sauce (vinaigrette sauce with chopped boiled eggs, gherkins, capers and herbs), veal kidneys with Madeira wine sauce or poultry vol au vents.
44, rue Bourbonnoux
Tel: +33 (0)2 48 24 14 76
Dinner Menu 13 € (weekdays)/ 32 €
Marie-France and Jean-Michel Huard serve classical cuisine, which is often brought up to date by a few exotic touches: beef kidneys are topped with a sauce seasoned by an infusion of arabica, vegetables with aromas of tonka bean, fillet of duck rubbed with the fragrance of kaffir lime. Everything is 100% home made.
Boulevard de la République
Tel: +33 (0)2 48 70 80 00
50, rue Bourbonnoux
Tel: +33 (0)2 48 65 96 26
Where to stay
Best Western Hôtel d'Angleterre
1, place des Quatre-Piliers
Tel. : +33 (0)2 48 24 68 51
In an attractive location, a short walk from the Jacques Coeur Palace, the hôtel d’Angleterre benefits from being very spacious. It has been completely renovated throughout and now offers rooms with a high level of comfort (some with two doors.) Welcoming reception. Covered garage (10€.)