I’ve been living in Paris for over 2 years now, going to new museums, restaurants and hidden corners whenever I can. I’m still discovering hidden treasures even now! Many people who come to France stay in Paris for the duration of their trip, it’s easy to see why as there’s plenty to keep you busy here for a week or more. However, taking day trips out of the city allows you to experience the country’s rich heritage, impressive buildings that form the legacy of its legendary monarchy, now a republic and therefore open doors. Castles, forests and palaces all beautifully preserved and waiting to be explored. Most people automatically head for the Chateau of Versailles which is a beautiful palace, but hoards of crowds can make it difficult to enjoy. I can of course offer advice on avoiding the queues and busy times, but I also have some alternatives to present you that I myself have enjoyed more than Versailles.
Chateau de Fontainebleu
This royal residence is the only one to have been used continuously for 700 years, and boasts 1500 rooms in 130 acres of land. Beautifully manicured gardens, parks, ornately decorated rooms and a huge range of artefacts from Napoleon and his entourage make this a truly impressive experience. Compared with Versailles there are far more original relics to see, and far less people in the way of that perfect picture.
Getting there: It is 1 hour from Gare de Lyon in Paris, or a direct coach service from central Paris. Information can be found on their website.
Chateau de Rambouillet
Another impressive royal residence in the heart of a huge forest, Rambouillet is even less well known than Fontainbleau. As well as visiting the chateau, there are plenty of outdoor activities to do here including rowing on the lake, grabbing a land pedalo to explore the palace grounds, and of course hiking in the forest. There’s even enough to do here to stay overnight and enjoy some calm away from the city. Website here.
Getting here: just 35 minutes from Montparnasse station, making it much more accessible than Fontainebleau if travel time is important.
Chartres and the medieval labyrinth
Half an hour past Rambouillet takes you to Chartres, a town that boasts what is said to be the most beautiful cathedral in France. If that wasn’t enough to lure you here, how about visiting a 13th century labyrinth, a paved meditation tool used for hundreds of years by pilgrims seeking a spiritual journey like no other. I learned about it from my midwife as many pregnant women come here to walk the well trodden path that helps them feel more in touch with their bodies and soul. Of course, anyone can walk the labyrinth for fun or curiosity, it’s a unique sight and experience. Find out more about it here.
Though this might not avoid the crowds, visiting La Maison Picassiette whilst in Chartres will reward you with a mesmerising walk through “The house of a million pieces”. A house completely covered in mosaic tiles, it’s a beautiful (or interesting depending on your tastes!) monument to discover. Find out more about it here.
So there you have it, three possible day trips you can do from Paris instead of, or as well as visiting Versailles. Do feel free to comment with your suggestions, or get in touch if you’d like help planning your trip to France.