How about enjoying your stay in Paris to know other cities in France? It is straightforward and inexpensive to have a chat in some cute town on the outskirts of the French capital. One is the city of Chartres, which is an hour from Paris by train and has many cool things to do in just one day.
I visited Chartres and was enchanted by the picturesque buildings, the winding streets (reminiscent of the streets of Montmartre), the old houses on the banks of the canal, and not to mention the beautiful stained glass windows of the churches.
Feel like you want to know more? So come with me, I put together a guide for you to discover Chartres. 😉
THE CITY OF CHARTRES
With less than fifty thousand inhabitants, Chartres is a small town, about 90 km from Paris, very charming and conserving several buildings from the past centuries.
The main point is the Chartres Cathedral, declared a World Heritage Site by UNESCO, built between the 12th and 13th centuries.
However, Chartres not only has old buildings, but the city is also part of the “Cosmetic Valley” region where several cosmetics and perfume factories are located. Also, the center of Chartres is full of restaurants, bars, and shops.
What to Visit in Chartres in a Day
To make your life easier, once you arrive in Chartres, head to the Tourist Office (l’Officiel de Tourisme). There you will receive a guide with a lot of information (in Portuguese) and, most importantly, a map of the city.
You can also get some tips from the staff who are super friendly.
1) CHARTRES NOTRE-DAME CATHEDRAL
Besides being the most famous tourist spot, Chartres Cathedral (Cathédrale de Notre-Dame de Chartres) is also the highest point in the city and one of the most important Gothic churches in Europe. The Cathedral fascinates both its architecture and its beautiful stained glass windows.
And speaking of stained glass, the church houses the oldest collection of stained glass windows in France. They are so important that they were removed during World War II and replaced later.
I was blown away by all the details of the church and the vast stained glass windows. When I see buildings like this, I always wonder how they could do amazing things without today’s technology.
But the details don’t stop there. The Cathedral was completely destroyed in 1194 during a fire from which only the crypt and the western facade survived. Then it was rebuilt on top of the old Roman-style church. This one was already on top of a Celtic well. In 1260, it opened again, but this time with a gothic style. Today, it is open to the public for masses and visits.
Another great attraction is the maze inscribed on the floor of the nave. It symbolizes the pilgrimage to the Holy Land. All made of white and black limestone, it is one of the few medieval mazes that remain today.
Chartres Cathedral Tower
To get to the top, you will need to face many steps (300) on a narrow, spiral-shaped staircase. It is to be wobbly! But overcoming that part will give you a unique view of the whole city.
Now if you have problems with height, don’t even try climbing! I speak from experience. My husband has issues with altitude, but as I wanted to climb, he agreed to go along.
We bought the tickets and started the saga of the stairs, where you can’t stop halfway because it’s really pretty narrow (either you go up or down). We had already climbed enough, but it was still a little while before we reached the highest place.
Then we paused to catch our breath in a section of the stairs that you could already see a little of the view. At this point, my husband did not feel well, and I had a bit of vertigo (but I could go all the way). However, we decided to give up (I didn’t want to be widowed anytime soon lol).
Opening hours: Monday to Saturday, from 9:30 AM to 12.30 PM and from 2PM to 6PM *. On Sundays, from 2PM to 6PM
* Between September and April, it is open until 5:30PM.
The crypt was one of the places I liked the most in Chartres. I liked it so much that it’s hard to choose where to start. But I begin by saying that you can only get to know it through a guided tour in French.
Honestly, I don’t like guided tours very much because I feel limited, but in this case, it was totally valid. Without one person telling the whole story, I might not have liked it that much.
The first thing you should know is that the crypt is actually the old Cathedral that was built in Roman style on top of another church (confusing, but that’s right). During the visit, you can see a column of this first church, built in the Middle Ages.
Another exciting item is the Celtic well, made before Christ. At 35m deep, it has a round top and a square bottom, with each side facing a cardinal point. According to the Celts, it was a magic well.
Still, in the crypt, you will see stained glass chapels, Notre Dame Sous Terre (One Our Lady who caught my eye for looking down) and also a sacred relic, the robe they believe to be of the Virgin Mary.
Opening hours: guided tour at 11 AM and 4:15 PM
2) ST-AIGNAN CHURCH
A very cute little church (old mega) that was rebuilt in the 16th century. From the outside, it seems a bit simple, but inside the St-Aignan Church (Église de Saint-Aignan) is very beautiful, full of Renaissance frescoes and some Gothic elements, such as the 14th-century main portal.
3) ST-PIERRE CHURCH
Much more massive than the church of St-Aignan (Église de Saint-Pierre), but not as beautiful as.
However, it is an ancient 11th-century church that still preserves Gothic elements and beautiful 14th-century stained glass.
The church does not seem to be very crowded (when I visited there was no one), but I highly recommend a visit to admire the stained glass windows that are even more beautiful when illuminated by the sun.
4) VITRAL INTERNATIONAL CENTER
From the side of Chartres Cathedral, the Center International du Vitrail holds the secrets of stained glass art, both contemporary and ancient, and also offers courses, lectures, and workshops with all stages of creating stained glass.
As I had seen many stained glass windows in the churches, and I am not crazy about stained glass, I chose not to enter. However, it is a suggestion if you want to know more about this medieval art.
Opening hours: Open Monday to Friday, from 9.30 AM to 1.30 PM and from 1.30 PM to 6 PM • On weekends, from 2.30 PM to 6 PM
5) MUSEUM OF THE FINE ARTS
Housed in a former Bishop’s mansion, the Musée des Beaux-Arts surprised me.
I thought it wouldn’t be fascinating, but the museum houses several works of modern and ancient art, including works by Zurbaran, Chardin, Vlaminck and Soutine, an Oceanian art collection, and various 17th and 18th-century objects.
Besides, the building is lovely, overlooking a garden right behind Chartres Cathedral.
Opening hours: Open from Tuesday to Saturday from 10h to 12h30 and from 14h to 17 • On Sundays from 14h to 17h
HOW TO ARRIVE IN CHARTRES
♦ Musée de l’École – A little further from the city center, the School Museum brings together furniture and materials used in the schools of yore.
♦ Conservatory of Mechanism and Agricultural Practices (COMPA) – It is the first French museum dedicated to agriculture. You can see machines and tools as well as learn more about the agricultural process of yore.
♦ Porte Guillaume – It is actually the remnants of the old gate built to protect the city of Chartres, which was destroyed by the Germans in 1944.
♦ Lower Town – Stroll through an older area with lots of cute little houses from the Middle Ages.
HOW TO GET TO CHARTRES
Getting to Chartres from Paris is very easy and fast. You go to Gare de Montparnasse station and take a train from the SNCF train company. The journey time is approximately one hour, and the ticket price is 16 euros each way.
You can also rent a car (roads A10 and A11) and leave in a city parking lot. However, I find the train much more practical, and you have the same comfort of a car.
⇒ Important to Know: You can buy the ticket over the internet, but you need to print and validate it at some self-service point (small yellow machines located near the platform entrance) before you board.
During the trip, an inspector will check and if not printed, will have to pay a new ticket and request a refund when arriving at the destination station.
WHAT TO EAT IN CHARTRES
The city is also known for its cuisine, including the Mentchikoff, a sweet made of chocolate praline topped with Swiss meringue; and Cochelin, a man-shaped puff pastry cake that can be stuffed with chocolate, raspberry or marzipan.
Tip: You will find Cochelin during the holidays.
It is! If you feel like meeting or already know Chartres and have any tips to add, comment here. =)