My mission - I just HAD to find the most celebrated hotel in Fanny's guidebook to the Tours - the rather splendid sounding Hôtel Metropole. She'd already mentioned it strongly in her guide to Wining and Dining in France. What might today's Gateaux de la Maison be? Would Fanny perhaps have tasted the very same one, in the very same setting? More details were given in the tour guide Holiday in the Touraine she published in 1956. With the address in hand, 14 Place Jean Jaunes, I set off to explore. A lack of data plan on my mobile meant I was transported back to the time that Fanny was writing. Just as in the 1950s, armed only with Fanny's guide, I had limited information, but a great supply of hope and belief.
A short walk from the Gare de Tours, the main square in the town centre appears to be undergoing a period of change. Regeneration we might call it. Many of the Grande Hôtels stand empty or have been re-propositioned with a variety of other uses. Surely the Hôtel Metropole would not have succumbed to such progress? The leafy square spreads out as if to make room for the expansive tram system which now strides the Rue Nationale, seemingly splitting the city in two. Stretching from north of La River Loire to the somewhat appropriately named (perhaps) Winston Churchill Boulevard in the south, the tram sees to be well used and smooth running. I never used it, preferring to walk.
In Place Jean Jaunes itself, people find comfortable spots in the various pavement cafés and those strange enclosed perspex spaces which many restaurants favour now, neither seemingly attached to the main restaurant nor flying absolutely solo. Islands of meeting and eating space. Without facilities. Fanny noted this was also the case in 1956, where celebrated chefs around the Touriane region told her 'we put the cooking and wines first, the ambiance and toilettes last', so it seems nothing has changed.
I wander round several times. Hôtel De Lille. Hôtel De L'Europe. Grand Hôtel. Hôtel De L'Universe. all there and all splendid buildings, giving the air of being THE 'place to stay' in town, just as Fanny suggested. Fanny noted that the Hôtel De L'Universe was plain to see in particular, even by the most myopic. So, I wasn't in need of an eye examination, but where was the glory of the Hôtel Metropole? Fanny was by now teasing me with details of their Crêpes Bordelaise, which apparently no-one, not even Fanny herself, can cook better that the chef there.
Hôtel Metropole had an ample eighty bedrooms, so would surely be in plain sight too, myopic or not. Wandering up and down Place Jean Jaunes in search of number 14 it did not appear to be so. Just as I was about to consult Fanny's guide to popular French phrases for weary travellers, No Spik French, and attempt to order a Daily Mail each day, or where to find the best dentist (as these are surely the essential phrases) in the hope that someone took pity on my French abilities and replied in English so I could ask about the Metropole, I saw it. Standing proud and smug, taunting me and jeering at me for not noticing it sooner. Also crushing me completely by having transformed itself into an H&M. The closest I could get to sharing a space where Fanny had been would be to buy a t-shirt.