Chartres is a city I’ve been wanting to visit for a very long time. Like Orléans and Rouen, it’s only approximately an hour by train from Paris, so you can easily visit it on a sunny weekend day. One of those perfect visits that let you escape from the usual hustle and bustle of Paris without much effort.
I first thought about spending a day there 7 years ago, while I was visiting Châteaux de la Loire nearby. At the time, I was rather passionate about the history of France in medieval and Renaissance times, so visiting Chartres was one of those milestones I couldn’t skip. But I didn’t have enough time for this, unfortunately.
When I arrived in Paris, I naturally thought about spending a day at last in Chartres, in order to visit its beautiful Cathedral. It was actually on the list of cities I wanted to visit with a friend I used to hang out a lot with. But we never took the time to do it. All in all, it took me 4 years since I first arrived in Paris to visit Chartres at last, despite my living only an hour or so by train from there. But as they say, it’s never too late, fortunately !
As said earlier, Chartres is only an hour by train from Paris. You need to go to Gare Montparnasse – the train station from which all the trains leaving Paris to Brittany depart -, take the regional train, and then just sit patiently for an hour or so in the train. That’s all it takes to go from Paris to Chartres.
Like in Rouen or Orléans, the train station of Chartres is quite plain. I actually really wondered whether I had had a good idea to hop on a train when I got off the train in Chartres. Fortunately, the station’s not far from the Cathedral, so you don’t need to walk for too long before realising you’re going to spend a very good time visiting Chartres. As I walked along the main street from the station to the Cathedral, I came across Place du Châtelet, where the Cathedral of Chartres appeared in its magnificent prominence over a city that’s otherwise quite flat, to say the least (and I like that).
Like many other cathedrals in France, the Cathedral of Chartres is not perfectly symmetric, due to its construction spanning over 4 centuries. The Southern tower, which is the smallest one, is also the oldest one and the most austere. Its massive look sharply contrasts with the Northern tower, which was erected some 400 hundred years later (XVIth Century), in a pure Gothic style. It gives the Cathedral a unique look that sets it appart from all the other French cathedrals.
Though I couldn’t take any satisfying picture inside the cathedral (it was quite crowded when I arrived), all I can say is that the Cathedral of Chartes only makes it worth to travel an hour by train to visit the city. It’s one of the most impressive cathedrals I’ve ever visited. The floor is quite unusual: it is made of uneven whitish stone tiles, revealing a labyrinth around the middle of the nave. The white walls of the Cathedral let it escape the grim atmosphere you usually find in old religious buildings. The stained glasses are also a wonder to admire : they create a polychromatic light that, in turn, paint the white walls with rich and vibrant colours. Last, the masterpiece of the Cathedral sits around its choir: a magnificent jubé with sculpted scenes of the Bible that dates back from the XVIIIth Century encircles the choir and makes it one of the most beautiful religious piece of art I have ever been able to see.
The old city of Chartes also has a lot for it : Chartres has kept much of its medieval past, and there are many streets where you can find half-timbered houses and remnants of the rich past of the city.
The best part of the city, though, lies on the banks of the Eure, the river that runs though Chartres. Many medieval buildings are still standing along the river, with their old laundries. You can cross the many medieval bridges that span over the river to discover this charming part of Chartres, and wait there for the sun to set in order to admire a beautiful view on the Cathedral of Chartres at sunset.
All in all, I loved visiting Chartres. I think I’ll spend another day there later this Spring, in order to capture the magic of the Eure banks when the trees are blossoming.
If you ever have the chance to spend some time in France in Paris or nearby, I strongly advice you to put Chartres on your to-do list: it’s one of those easy-to-access wonders you’ll be glad you have visited.