Anyone who lives in Paris will tell you that they love it but that sometimes they need an escape from the crowds, noise and pollution for a little bit. It is not always possible to take a weekend, or longer, away from life in the city but there are a variety of wonderful places right outside the city to escape for a day. If you need a break from the hectic city life or if you are a tourist looking to see beyond Paris, here are 4 of our favorite places to check out.
Just a 45 minute train ride outside of the city, this château has all the beauty and glory of Versailles with less people. One of the largest royal palaces in France, it still retains a lot of the furniture that was added by Napoleon I, including the last surviving furnished throne room. Fontainebleau is known not only for its luxurious furnishings but also for the surrounding acres of gardens. There is a sculpted French garden, similar to those of Versailles but on a smaller scale, as well as a wild, English garden full of winding paths to walk. The gardens and chateau will take up a good portion of your day, but if you have some extra time, be sure to check out the town as well. There is a little shopping area with stores similar to those in Paris but a lot less crowded.
If you can’t make it down to the Loire Valley, a trip to the chateau of Chantilly will give you a taste of what it is like. This chateau, completely destroyed in the French Revolution and rebuilt in the 1800s, was one of the many residences of the kings outside of Paris. For example, it was here that Molière first performed his play Les Précieuses ridicules. The chateau is also home to the Musée Condé, which has one of the greatest art collections outside of the Louvre. Take some time and walk through the gardens designed by André le Nôtre and visit the horse stables as well (which still house horses, who are used in races at the local racetrack). But the real star of the show is the Chantilly cream. Tucked away in the gardens is a café serving up authentic, homemade Chantilly cream on top of waffles, crêpes or pain d’épices. A real treat to check out!
If you are an art history buff and love Impressionism, this is definitely a great place to check out. Claude Monet bought a house here in the late 1800s, around which he cultivated beautiful gardens where he created some of his most famous paintings. Today, his house has become a museum and the gardens have been maintained in the same state as they were when Monet lived there. Go in the spring or summer to see the flowers in bloom and take a leisurely walk around the garden. While there, also check out the Impressionism Museum, located a short walk away from the house. The train from Paris goes to the neighbouring town of Vernon, from which you can take a bus to Monet’s house. Or, if you are feeling a little more adventurous, you can rent a bike and ride the winding country trails to Giverny.
Chartres is a quaint town located not too far outside of Paris, easily accessible by train. The major highlight of the town is the gothic cathedral, known for its stunning architecture and the giant labyrinth painted onto its floor (if you want to walk the labyrinth be sure to visit on Friday when it is uncovered). Time your visit so you can take a tour in English with Malcolm Miller, who has dedicated his life to the study of the cathedral. Besides the church, there are also several museums including one dedicated to stained glass and a Natural science museum that are both worth checking out. The commercial center of the town offers lots of shops and restaurants to finish off your day.