It might be impossible to even verbalise, but just imagine for one second getting sick of Paris. Sacrilege! But after weeks spent walking up and down those steep, cobblestoned hills, listening to out-of-tune accordions echoing in dark and damp alleyways and enduring the never-ending Parisian attitude that sometimes turns even the simplest of tasks, such as buying a plain Café Americain into an Existentialist melodrama, you might just want to get away from it all, no matter how true to Paris you want to remain in your heart.
With France being the mother of invention there are thankfully several day trips and weekend getaways available from Paris within an hour that you can plan either by car or train. These little breaks from Paris will make you feel worlds away from the Eiffel Tower, and the more refreshed after seeing the rest of the country from a different perspective. Here’s a selection of our favourite Paris getaways:
As the capital of the region of Haute-Normandy, Rouen attracts a decent ebb and flow of visitors year-round, not in the least because of its magnificent and mysterious cathedral at the heart of the city. It was here that Joan of Arc was burned at the stake, and if you believe in ghosts you might want to chase hers in the quiet little streets around the cathedral, whose iconic “Butter Tower” has been depicted numerous times by none other than Claude Monet himself. In fact, until the late 19th century, this gothic tower was the world’s tallest building, way before a single skyscraper had graced the skyline of Paris. The beauty of this cathedral has become such a symbol of this city’s splendour that visitors have taken to later naming their children “Rouen” – perhaps a very private souvenir you might want to take on yourself one day.
Another popular cathedral city within easy access from Paris is Chartres. Petite and picturesque, this market town brings busloads of tourists in during the summer season but is even more attractive during the quieter winter months for those, who wish to travel off the beaten path. After discovering some local delicatessen on the square or shopping for local French products (such as perfume), you should reserve the entire afternoon for the glorious cathedral. A UNESCO World Heritage Site and a masterpiece in French gothic architecture, the cathedral has been preserved at exceptional quality for almost a millennium. With original stain glasses still reflecting the famous “Chartres blue” spots onto the floor, marvels on marble are being crafted right in front of your eyes, as they move like shadows from one end of the nave to the other. Also on the floor you will find the famous Chartres labyrinth – a sacred path devised to walk in quiet contemplation to find your inner centre in silent meditation. The only problem is that once you find that peaceful centre – will you ever want to leave again?
There’s a French saying that goes, “the best thing about Belgium is Lille” – which is ironic because Lille is still (barely) in France. But this quaint town has all the charm of Flemish architecture all over, with endless rows of terraced houses inviting visitors to roam its streets for knickknacks and markets springing up year-round to sell the best local produce. The star-shaped citadel just outside the city wall is a popular visitors’ attraction that welcomes tourists from all over the world and explains the city’s long-standing military history. Bearing this in mind it makes sense that even General Charles De Gaulle himself called Lille his hometown. A statue in the main town square serves to commemorate the father of the modern French republic, as he watches solemnly over the city.
DISNEYLAND PARIS & VERSAILLES
If longer journeys don’t seem too appealing, there’s plenty to do just outside central Paris as well, starting with a mandatory visit to Disneyland Paris. Celebrating 20 years in the heart of Europe, Disneyland Paris currently runs several special offers, welcoming tourists from all over the world to its kingdom of enchanted fairytales and storybook castles to the east of Paris.
But for a real-life castle experience, head just southwest of Paris to the Palace of Versailles, where you will pick up a history lesson or two about the many exploits of Louis XVI, his wife Marie Antoinette and life at court during the absolute monarchy in France in general – before heads started rolling during the French Revolution. From the magnificent gardens, to the breathtakingly opulent Hall of Mirrors, you are in for a big treat at Versailles. Tip: Don’t miss the Orangerie!
Dunkerque is a fascinating town on the North Sea coast near the Belgian border with history from both World Wars. With a war cemetery holding the remains of soldiers from both those military campaigns, it is the site of frequent memorial services and remembrance events from around the planet. Especially during World War II, the small coastal town became a decisive theatre of war during the Battle for France, when British troops had to retreat into the sea against German bombers in 1940, being saved by mere fishing boats from across the channel. Four year later, during the battle for Normandy, Canadian troops liberated the town and advanced inland from there, heralding the end of the war after D-Day. But there’s history well beyond our contemporary times in Dunkerque as well; in fact the infamous ”man in the iron mask” (rumoured to be Louis XVI’s twin brother) was arrested here before being sent to numerous prisons across France – all the more reason to check out this rough and rare gem on France’s northern coastline.