The small city of Chartres, an hour’s train ride southwest from Paris, is most famous for its wondrous cathedral. Certainly the magnificent Gothic structure, a UNESCO World Heritage Site, is not to be missed. But Chartres has much more to offer.
Start with the Petit Train tour, and you’ll get a ride through the streets of Old Town, a nice overview. The train leaves from the tourist information office, where you can pick up a town map (plan de ville).
Chartres stretches from the hilltop Cathédrale de Notre Dame down to the Eure River.
If you go exploring, walking the steep lanes and stairways that tumble down to the Eure, you’ll find myriad treasures. In no particular order, they include:
– Maison du Saumon, one of the prettiest houses in Chartres, with its timbered walls and gables. It’s on Place de la Poissonnerie, close to the cathedral.
– International Stained Glass Center, where you can admire the displays and learn everything you’d ever want to know about ancient and modern stained glass.
– Fine Arts Museum, a rich collection of paintings and harpsichords dating back to the 17th century.
– Saint-Aignan church, with gorgeous stained glass windows from the 16th and 17th centuries, and St. Peter’s Church, a Gothic wonder, housing a collection of medieval stained glass.
– Maison Picassiette, an astonishing work of art by Raymond Isidore. Open to the public, the artist’s small house and garden and virtually all the household items are covered with mosaics of broken china and crockery. You’ll see animal designs, flowers, cathedral scenes and much more.
– Fountains, public gardens, food and flower markets, and a lovely river dotted with old watermills and quaint bridges.
Where to Eat and Stay while in Chartres
In the evenings, Chartres turns on the lights. From mid-April to mid-September, dazzling displays of color play against the cathedral and other buildings. You can watch them from various vantage points. There’s a good view from Le Bistrot de la Cathédrale, a fine restaurant by the cathedral.
The Best Western Le Grand Monarque, with 55 rooms, is considered the most upscale hotel and has two good places to eat, Le Georges restaurant and Le Madrigal brasserie, each with varied wine selections. The well-known hotel is in a redone 17th-century inn.
Some say Le Saint Hilaire is the superior restaurant because it prepares regional specialties to perfection. They’re all fairly pricey, but you won’t go wrong.
Mercure Chartres Centre Cathedral, a mid-priced hotel is just a short walk to the cathedral. It offers comfortable air-conditioned rooms, 24 hour reception and free WiFi.
Restaurants, bistros and cafes abound. One of my favorites is Le Serpente, right in the heart of tourist activity by the cathedral. Sitting on that sunny terrace eating good traditional French cookery is a great way to spend an hour or two.
Les Feuillantines is noted for its cuisine of regional foods, especially pleasing when enjoyed on the terrace. The duck with raspberries is a treat. Brasserie du Chatelet has reasonable prices and serves hefty portions of good-quality foods.
Finally, Le Vieille Maison is cozy and completely charming. It’s in a 14th century home opposite the cathedral. The cuisine is renowned; this is a good place to try snails, frog legs, and regional specialties.
Chartres is called a city of light probably because light appears in many forms: it streams through stained glass windows and casts prisms, light displays are held every summer evening, and there’s a clear natural light. Perfume is included in the city’s motto because it’s a significant industry in the region, with famous names clustered in a group labeled “Cosmetics Valley.”
Written by Marilyn McFarlane for EuropeUpClose.com