Paris tops many travelers' bucket lists. After all, The City of Light offers unique museums, breathtaking architecture, gourmet food and chic shopping. However, many travelers want to incorporate some time outside of Paris into their French holiday; maybe they want to escape the crowds of tourists, or maybe they just want to explore the country's more rural heritage. Fortunately, Paris is surrounded by beautiful villages, towns and cities that offer an authentic look at a different side of French living. As an added bonus, most of these awe-inspiring destinations can be visited as a day trip using public transportation. Bon voyage!
Developed around an opulent eighteenth-century palace, Compiègne played an important role in both ancient and modern history. Travelers interested in World War One won't want to miss a visit to the town where the Armistice of the war was signed in 1911; they can also stop at the Armistice Clearing to explore a replica of the train carriage where the treaty was signed. From the palace, active travelers can do a steep five-kilometer hike to take in panoramic views of the entire valley, while gourmand tourists will want to head back to the town center for a visit to the morning market on Wednesday and Saturday.
Compiègne is about ninety kilometers north of Paris. Regular train service (from €12) departs from Gare du Nord in Paris and takes approximately one hour.
Crécy la Chapelle
If you think there is nothing more romantic than getting lost down a winding village lane, you'll love spending the day in Crécy la Chapelle. Today, the town's narrow streets still follow the routes laid out along fortified ditches back in the middle ages. A marked walking route takes visitors to the charming landscapes that have long inspired local artists, but travelers can also tour independently to visit the traditional homes along the canal and the church which was originally built in the thirteen century. Crécy la Chapelle has several restaurants and a crêperie, should you forget to pack a picnic lunch.
Crécy la Chapelle is about fifty kilometers east of Paris. It is most easily accessed by car on the A1 motorway, though it is also possible to visit by train (you'll need to change lines in nearby Esby).
Giverny is famous for being the town where Impressionist painter Claude Monet lived and worked from 1888 until his death in 1926. In fact, the town's main street is still named rue Claude Monet, and is home to both the Claude Monet Foundation and the Musée des Impressionismes. Visiting the village is like stepping back in time- narrow, cobbled streets overflow with flowers, charming cafés and quaint art galleries. Active travelers will also want to take in one of the well-marked, scenic hikes that start just behind the Impressionist Museum. If you want to stay for more than a day, Giverny abounds with charming guesthouses that offer guests an inside look at traditional French country living.
Little has changed in Provins since the Middle Ages. The town is still heavily fortified behind two kilometers of stone walls, Caesar's Tower still offers panoramic views of the surrounding countryside, and the town square - Place du Chatel - is still surrounded by original thirteenth-century homes. Its traditional structures are so well-preserved that UNESCO named the entire town a World Heritage site in 2001. Visit in June to travel back to medieval times; the annual medieval festival is full of exhibitions, re-enactments and other entertainment.
Several bus companies run day trips from Paris that include return transportation and tickets to Provins most popular attractions; prices begin around €65. Hourly trains (€12) depart from Paris' Gare de l'Est station and arrive in Provins after about ninety minutes.
Reims is a little further afield at 144 kilometers away from Paris, but it is still an easy day trip thanks to the high-speed rail connection linking it with Paris twelve times each day. Reims is the must-visit French city for travelers who want to indulge in champagne, with ten local vineyards opening their doors to visitors. A typical champagne tour involves tours of the vineyards and cellars, along a guided tasting and opportunities to purchase the vineyard's champagne. Reims is also home to three UNESCO World Heritage sites (Notre Dame cathedral, the Palace of Tau and the Saint Remi Basilica), so even travelers who don't indulge will enjoy spending a day here.
In addition to the high-speed trains, there is also regular intercity bus service from Paris to Reims. The Reims Tourist Information office is also specially equipped to assist travelers with mobility impairments in accessing Reims' many attractions.