The Easiest Day-trip from Paris

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Images and text by Gabrielle (and some images by Ben Blair, too).

We’re in our last 5 weeks of living here, and though we have no big trips on our schedule (until the big trip home), we’ve been considering a couple of Saturday day-trips to local destinations. No matter how much we’ve seen, it seems like there is always another intriguing place to explore! For example, we haven’t been to the white elephant rock of Etratat yet, and we’ve heard Bagnoles de l’Orne is definitely worth a visit.

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Anyway, we started talking about our favorite spots that are within a couple of hours of our town, and it reminded me that I never shared our photos from our field trip to Chartres — the world-famous cathedral that’s about an hour away from Paris.

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So I thought today would be a perfect day for a little report.

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We drove to Chartres on the last Saturday of February of last year (2012). We really didn’t know what to expect, but we brought our trusty Rick Steve’s Guide to France and read what he had to say as we drove. What we gathered is that Chartres is a huge draw for two reasons especially: 1) The birthing veil said to be worn by Mary when she gave birth to Jesus is on display there, and 2) The current cathedral was built relatively quickly — in less than a century — so it’s said to be Europe’s “best example of pure gothic architecture.”

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By the time we visited, we had lived in France for over a year, and our kids were a little bit cathedral-ed out. So we spent more time walking around the charming town, and the grounds of the cathedral, than we did exploring the interior. We were there at the peak of off-season, so both the grounds and the town were virtually empty. We had a lovely time roaming around snapping photos, and stopping for a bite to eat at a bakery.

Man oh man is the cathedral enormous. I remembering thinking I’d never seen anything quite like it. It feels simply massive. And it’s just shocking to such a structure sitting there in the middle of the not-very-big town.

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Speaking of the town, it’s a little jewel! You can walk along the river. Peak into the tiny shops. Stop for crepes or gelato. And see the variety of architecture that France has to offer. We loved our day there! It’s the sort of destination that’s not overwhelming. You see the cathedral, and then you wander. There’s nothing else specific you need to see or visit. And there’s no wrong way to do it. My kind of place!


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Living in the countryside, we’ve had many chances to visit smallish French towns, but before we moved here, the only place in France I’d seen was Paris. Believe me, I know it’s hard (practically impossible!) to leave that magical city if you only have a few days in France. But if you do want to get out the city, and get a feel for life outside of Paris, Chartres makes such a great destination!

Using the train, you can easily come and go from Paris in one day. You get to visit one of the wonders of Europe, and you can also wander around the town in a way that you simply can’t in a big city.

For those of you who have visited France, I’m curious: Did you make any visits outside of Paris? Maybe to Chartres or Giverny or the Loire Valley? I’d love to hear about your favorite spots!

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27 thoughts on “The Easiest Day-trip from Paris”

  1. Giverny is just lovely, especially in bloom…For the normandy area, Deauville and Honfleur are definitely musts if you haven’t seen them yet…Lisieux if you have time, home of St. Therese…and finally, maybe seeing lace in Alencon?

  2. I’m so glad you are going to Etretat! I’ve been wondering why I hadn’t seen pictures of it here. Long time ago, I was a nanny in Belgium and the family I nannied for summered in Criquetot- a little town about 5 min. away from Etretat. We stayed in a 15th century pigeoniere- which is to say a little estate that used to raise pigeons for a local royal. I have fond memories of riding my bike, on my time off, to Etretat and watching the artists paint pictures of that famous rock.
    Now, I live in the Pacific NW, and visiting Haystack rock in Cannon Beach, OR gives me the same feeling.

    Enjoy your family there- it’s a magical place!

  3. My favorite outing in France, which I did as a day trip from Lyon, was to Saint-Romain-en-Gal. This small town offers some of the most extensive Roman ruins in France–which one can touch, walk through, and climb on–along with an excellent museum.

  4. When I went to Paris two years ago we had 4 full days. Our first half day we visited Disneyland Paris (we were trying to keep ourselves awake, and this did the trick!). The next day we took the train to Normandy to visit the D-day beaches. I loved the little car we rented and driving around the little town was so great, especially with the rectangular trees! We were there and back to Paris in the same day (and we got back late enough that we had to take a ride back to our hotel from a random driver, we couldn’t find a real cab and we missed the last train!). Then two days in Paris and last day in Versailles. My favorite day was the day in Normandy for sure but all of it was magical. I can’t believe you get to live there.

  5. What a great place! I sang inside that cathedral with a choir on a trip just after graduating high school. It was amazing! Great memories.

  6. We toured the town (mostly the cathedral) as part of a BYU-I tour a few years ago. I loved it! It was also a slow time of year, and we felt like we had the town to ourselves. I remember there being a big story with the spires in the front- destruction forced one spire to be rebuilt. Unfortunately, I can’t remember the details of the story! I remember the interior being amazing, especially the mini wooden? scenes. Also, there was a fake parachuter on the roof of the cathedral if I remember my towns correctly- it was to remember when the allies arrived in the town, and the Nazis would shoot the parachuters as they tried to land. I would love to go back with my husband- but we’d need to find a historical tour guide to go with us again throughout Europe, as they takes the sites to the next level!

  7. I was in Paris for vacation last month, and I find it so hard to leave the city just as you said! However, this trip I wanted to plan a day trip and I chose the Loire Valley. I traveled to Tours via TGV and had arranged a tour through the local tourist bureau. I had more flexibility this way to choose which chateaux to see – I wound up visiting Clos Luce, Chateau Amboise, Chambord, and Chenonceau. It was a long day, but I had ample to time to discover each. I would go back and stay longer in the area, because the surrounding towns were so charming I would like to explore them further!

  8. In college, I studied for a semester at the Universite de Haute Bretagne in Rennes. On weekends we would take trips to various historic sites in France. Loved Chartres! Also Quimper (which has a quaint old town which seems more Breton than French), Mont St. Michel (which can be a bit touristy but it is cool to see the tide come in!) and some of the towns along the Breton peninsula, many which still had old towns filled with character. Oh, and then there were the castles in the Pays de Loire region like Château de Châteaubriant (Châteaubriant) and Château des ducs de Bretagne (in Nantes). Have you tried Breton galettes yet? They are different than crepes. I yearn for them even after all these years; can find nothing like them here in the states! Oh, now I’m getting nostalgic for France. You are so lucky to live there for a while!

    1. lizzie hessmiller

      Quimper also has the best macarons in the entire country! Les Macarons de Philomène in the old town is considered “premier de France.” The salted caramel macaron is to die for.

  9. I always found the old quarter of Lyon far more magical than Paris. . . I still can’t pinpoint why, apart from maybe that Paris always felt a little surreal, like you were walking around a film set. Anyway, the old quarter of Lyon (especially during the Fête des lumières) is amazing

    1. Yes, it is beautiful!

      I love the Parc de la Tete D’or in the 6ieme in Lyon as well. It took many days just to see the park, and I never did get to go inside the greenhouses. I did get a picture of the giraffe eating grass from the ground! That was amazing.

  10. Another great destination that’s really close to Paris is Le Mans. People forget that the historic Plantagenet city is incredible! Of course we’re partial to the Loire Valley, since we live there for part of the year. I recommend it enough and it makes a great day trip or weekend!

    xoxo PARIS BEE kids blog

  11. When we were in Paris we did a day trip to Chartres and also to Reims and Epernay – we toured several of the champagne caves there. Both charming and the champagne tours are very interesting.

  12. We took a day trip from Paris to Auvers (where Van Gogh lived right before he died).
    There was an interesting museum, a charming town, and posters of his paintings where he painted them (like in St. Remy).
    Giverny- yes !!! the house and his studio and the garden….

  13. It may be a bit cliche, but I LOVE Chenonceaux, It is the ONE castle that I have visited that I feel like I could see myself living there. And I just adore that the river flows underneath.

  14. Oh my! So many memories coming back: I was an intern for 3 years in a Chartres high school( Marceau). From spending time Lounging on the grass behind the Cathedrale, eating kebabs( doner not sis) with friends, walking by the Eure river and making the mad dash to the train station every week, cursing the announcement ‘Chartres ici Chartres 5 minutes d’arret’ that would greet us back every Sunday evening…
    My favorite place to visit in France remains the Mont Saint Michel. Spending the night there once was nothing short of magical. I highly recommend the overnight experience.

  15. I loved Aix en Provence. I had my first croque monsieur there (now they’re my go-to sandwich for an easy dinner) and spotted some missionaries tracting. I had just joined the church so that made it an exciting day. Plus, because it’s a college town it was full of students and that gave the whole town a very interesting feel.

  16. I lived in Paris a few years ago and my sister came to visit for a week. We had both already been to Paris twice before I moved there, so we spent some time doing things we hadn’t done before. One was a day trip to Vaux le Vicomte. Depending on who you ask, Versailles was modeled after it, or it was modeled after Versailles. :) It’s a beautiful little chateau, and the grounds are beautiful. We packed a picnic, toured the chateau, and then ate on the grounds. There was no one else there, and it was so nice to get away from the crowds and craziness of Paris. (We went in April, so before high season–it might get busier in the summer months). I was disappointed that they didn’t allow photographs inside, because the rooms are really gorgeous. They also have this talking mannequin display that we thought was funny bordering on creepy… and the library of my dreams. You can also climb up into the attic and climb the bell tower on the roof to get a great view of the grounds.

  17. I know it’s quite a ways away, but the Auvergne region is lovely. Just outside of Clermont-Ferrand are so many castles. It is really lovely in the spring.

    I miss France all the time; more than I ever knew I would.

  18. I stayed in Paris for a week last spring. I didn’t venture outside of the city except for a trip to Versailles, and I highly regret it! My hopes for a trip to Normandy or giverny fell through. Next time (hopefully there is a next time), I will spend 4 days or so in Paris, and then see the things I missed!

  19. “….our kids were a little bit cathedral-ed out.”
    Love it! We’ve definitely been there. When I recently asked my son what he thought he will remember about living in Germany he said, “…that we saw a LOT of cathedrals!”

  20. Have been to France but never to Paris. I like cities but sometimes you’ve seen something from so many angles; in movies, ads, pictures, that it loses some of it’s magic. I remember seeing the Great Wall of China for the first time and thinking: “Pretty much like the pictures.” What a horrible thing to think about something so wonderful!

    What I really love are little towns or smaller cities that aren’t overexposed. Montpelier was a highlight of our time in France. I had heard of it but there my familiarity came to an end so we were able to wander without feeling like we should hit the “it” sights. With all that said I would like to see Paris someday.

  21. Pingback: Bloggers Guide to France | Prêt à Voyager

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