Guinguette de Tours sur Loire, the outdoor riverside bar.
On Tours

Postcard from the World Cup: Ireland's home away from home

The vibrant city of Tours has been the perfect base for the first half of the tournament.

AS PAUL O’CONNELL discussed the challenge ahead in Paris earlier today, he had to speak up a little more than usual.

Outside the media room at Ireland’s training base in Tours was a hive of noisy activity. A forklift hoisted heavy pallets of equipment up onto two big trucks as members of Ireland’s backroom staff carried more out. Weight plates, porridge oats, protein bars, dumbbells, and all the other gear a professional rugby team needs.

It was quite the operation, a glimpse behind the scenes at just how much planning and effort is required to provide Ireland with what they need.

Some of the stuff is heading back to Ireland, the rest to Paris. Sadly, this is the final day in Tours for Andy Farrell’s squad and for the travelling Irish media. We’re all on trains to Paris tomorrow morning. Everyone is in agreement that they’d love to be coming back here again after the Scotland game this weekend but that’s not the case. Quel dommage.

Tours has been a perfect home away from home since the start of September. Indeed, it genuinely has become known simply as “home” among the Irish squad and the Irish journalists who have been welcomed so warmly.

A vibrant, fun university city of around 140,000 people, it is jammed with great restaurants and bars. The river Loire runs through Tours and the surrounding area has castles, vineyards, and plenty more we haven’t even had the chance to see.

The people of Tours have been proud to host Ireland. When we headed for lunch on Sunday, the friendly owner of the Nachos burrito bar told us how Andy Farrell and his players have popped in over the past month. It’s been a badge of honour for all businesses here.

people-walking-through-the-jardins-botanique-botanical-gardens-tours-indre-et-loire-centre-france-europe The Jardin botanique de Tours. Alamy Stock Photo Alamy Stock Photo

The policemen who have been ever-present around Ireland’s training camp got a nice photo with the entire squad at training yesterday, the players signing autographs. One of the officers even gave Johnny Sexton a top with ‘POLICE’ across the back of it. It ended up with Dave Kilcoyne wearing it for the warm-up.

Ireland have loved their hotel, the Château Belmont, which they’ve had exclusively for themselves. That said, the courtyard of the hotel is shared with the retirement home next door and the Irish squad have struck up friendships with some of its residents. A couple of the elderly French folk have even wandered into the team room in Ireland’s hotel, although there are no suspicions of spying. The Irish squad will miss them.

On Sunday evening, the Irish media were enjoying a digestif just off the buzzing Place Plumereau when a Frenchman at the next table introduced himself. He and his friends were players from the local rugby club, US Tours, and they were celebrating victory in their Fédérale 2 – France’s sixth tier – match that day. They’re top of their regional table after three wins from three and the €4 pints were flowing. Our friend, Thibaut, was leading the craic.

On Monday afternoon, the friendly Marieke and Louise from the tourism board for Tours, Touraine province, and the Loire Valley were kind enough to take us on a magnificent trip. After collecting a picnic from a lady in the village of Rochecorbon, we met an intriguing character named Clément from La Rabouilleuse, a boat club, who took us out onto the river on a wooden vessel that looked like something out of Pirates of the Caribbean or Lord of the Rings. 

As we cruised lazily along the Loire in 30-degree sunshine and with Clément telling us about the region, it struck us that this job comes with some fantastic perks. The picnic was world-class, made up of local delicacies like Rillettes de Tours, which is shredded pork made into a coarse paté, and La Silure, a huge catfish that’s smoked before serving. The Macarons de Cormery, soft biscuits made with almonds, were hard to resist.

view-east-along-river-loire-from-pont-de-fil-suspension-bridge-tours-france The Loire river just outside Tours. Alamy Stock Photo Alamy Stock Photo

Along with fresh bread, fresh fruit, a few glasses of local wine, and good conversation, it was a magical few hours. Marieke and Louise then took us to the Cave de Vouvray, an incredible underground network where they produce white wines. Most of them are sparkling, all of them are delightful. This place holds five million bottles of wine and it was fascinating to learn what goes into the production. Serious business.

We only really glimpsed the area surrounding Tours on our lovely tour but it’s clearly a wonderful place.

Back in town, there has been a farewell vibe for the last couple of evenings. Tuesday night was one of the culinary highlights as the media pack assembled at a restaurant called Les Gens Heureux, where owner Lucie gave a great welcome and spoke with pride about the menu. It more than lived up to the billing.

The food in France is always superb and Tours didn’t disappoint. Whether grabbing breakfast in one of the boulangeries, browsing the big market at Les Halles for lunch, or sitting down for dinner, there weren’t many misses.

There are a few part-time runners in the group and we’ve been doing our best to make it a habit, although not as religiously as the Ireland backroom staff.

They have a tradition of running together on match day and if anyone misses it that morning, they have to get 5k done at some stage later on. They’re usually not that superstitious a bunch but no one wants to break the cycle after 16 wins in a row.


Paris will undoubtedly be brilliant for the next three-and-a-half weeks, with Ireland planning on being there right through to the final at the end of October. Given that all their possible knock-out games would be at Stade de France, they would be based in a new hotel outside Paris for the remainder of their time.

That hotel draw still has to be confirmed once the quarter-finalists are decided but Ireland would unfortunately have last choice due to their lack of luck in a random draw to decide the order for hotel selection. All the new bases are around an hour’s commute outside the city centre, meaning there’d be lots of time on the train.

So everyone is going to miss Tours. Earlier today, we went searching for la bernache, grape juice that has just begun fermenting and is not wine quite yet. It’s another local speciality but seems to be very hard to get your hands on. That’s one for next time.

So tomorrow, it’s not quite au revoir to Tours, rather à bientôt. We will be back at some point in the future.

Your Voice
Readers Comments
This is YOUR comments community. Stay civil, stay constructive, stay on topic. Please familiarise yourself with our comments policy here before taking part.
Leave a Comment
    Submit a report
    Please help us understand how this comment violates our community guidelines.
    Thank you for the feedback
    Your feedback has been sent to our team for review.

    Leave a commentcancel