It can be difficult to pull yourself away from the charm and energy of the City of Light, but beyond the borders of metropolitan Paris there are magical worlds waiting to be explored. While day trippers head west to Monet’s Garden at Giverney and south to Fontainbleau, go a little further afield, and you’ll find often more authentic, sometimes quieter locations for a taste of the history, art and fine local food France is famous for.
Renaissance Art in Chantilly
The home of that sweet whipped cream by the same name, Chantilly is well worth a day trip from Paris, not for the cream but the chateau. While the chateau may not be as opulent as Versailles or Fontainebleau, it houses the second largest collection of Renaissance artworks in France, after the Louvre. The stable, which is so large it’s often mistaken for the castle, houses the Horse Museum and sports arena, where you can witness dressage demonstrations with trained horses and dogs.
Michelin Starred Lunch in Chartres
The main drawcard of Chartres, a short train ride south from Gare Montparnasse, is its impressive 12th century cathedral, an ancient place of pilgrimage. Stained glass windows and spires aside, it’s worth making a pilgrimage of your own for lunch at Chez Georges, a Michelin-starred restaurant in the Grand Monarque Hotel. With a menu driven by seasonal produce and a wine list exceeding 2000 bottles, you’ll head back to Paris full bellied and in need of a kip on the train.
History at Mont Saint Michel
A little farther out of the city than other day trips, Mont Saint Michel is worth the extra time on the road. Head through Normandy’s sheep grazing countryside to the coastline, where the steep rocky island sits one kilometre off the coast. Take the path through the walled, medieval village as it winds to the peak of the island, to the imposing abbey. Having been a monastery since the 8th century, it has also been a strategic fort and prison, making for an intriguing dose of history.
Chateaux in the Loire Valley
Tick off more than one castle in a day trip by heading to the picturesque Loire Valley, where the countryside is littered with country estates and hunting chateaux to explore. About a two-hour drive from Paris, once you arrive in the valley, many of the chateaux are in easy reach of one another. Explore the history and opulence at Chambord and Cheverny, art and architecture at Leonardo da Vinci’s Clos Luce and serene gardens at Villandry, all in one day.
A Bubbly Tour to Reims
Combine a history of high life and war destruction with the birthplace of bubbly and you have Reims, the capital of the Champagne region. Just a 45-minute train ride from Paris, explore the Reims Cathedral, one of France’s best examples of Gothic architecture, before heading to the main attraction, the Champagne cellars. While many of France’s wine regions produce sparkling, only that produced in this region can be called Champagne. There are many cellars open to the public, however you may need to book tours at some including Mumm, Veuve Clicquot and Taittinger, especially on weekends.