Next time you’re in the chic cosmopolitan capital of France it’s worth taking time over a café au lait and croissant to plan an adventure that takes you beyond its captivating cafés, world class fashion boutiques and historical landmarks.
From the fragrant gardens of Giverny that once inspired impressionist painter Claude Monet to the magnificent splendor of the Palace of Versailles, there are some unmissable things to do outside of Paris for those who want to use their vacation to truly spread their wings in France.
No list of Parisian day trips is complete without mention of the leafy suburb of Versailles, located just 15 miles outside of the city and home to the country’s most famous palace. Once a hunting lodge belonging to 17th century monarch Louis VIII, today it’s a UNESCO World Heritage Site spanning nearly 2,000 acres.
Seeing is believing when it comes to the scale and grandeur of this chateau, from its sprawling formal gardens to the 2,300 rooms of the main palace. The Hall of Mirrors is perhaps the most elaborate and famous, with other attractions including musical fountain displays and tours of the Trianon estate – comprising two palaces, a hamlet of houses and extensive gardens.
A visit to the Equestrian Arts Academy of Versailles comes highly recommended. Tours give you the chance to explore the stables, home to 40 horses including the famous Lusitanians, a favorite of Louis XIV. You may also get to see the riders in training within the beautiful wooden, Italian-style arena.
Expect a tour of Versailles to take a full day – but it’s worth considering a two-day visitor’s pass so you can really do this attraction justice.
Looking to switch out the urban sprawl for the fresh air of the countryside? Head to Fontainebleau, famed as much for its hiking and rock climbing as its spectacular castle. This impressive chateau boasts over 1,500 rooms including where Marie Antoinette once rested her head and the table where Napoleon signed his abdication before exile to Elba.
Less full on than Versailles, this charming town with its 130 acres of parkland and gardens is a popular destination with city dwellers wanting to escape the crowds.
A destination that’s used to catering for the tastes of Parisian day trippers, you’ll find gastronomical gems and first-class exhibitions to match those of the capital but in a more relaxed environment. Expect the travel time from Paris to Fontainebleau to take you just over an hour in the car.
A mecca for fans of the founder of French Impressionism, you don’t have to be an expert in the work of Claude Monet to enjoy a tour of his colorful former house and gardens in Giverny.
The attractive wisteria-clad cottage, with its trademark pink walls and green-shuttered windows has been preserved since his death in 1926. You can view the art studios of this prolific painter, but also the domestic rooms, from his bedroom to the pantry.
Monet lived here for four decades, expanding and transforming both the house and the gardens where he installed a Japanese-inspired water garden with weeping willows, a pond and the famous green bridge and lily pads of his paintings. Paris to Giverny will take just over an hour by car – it’s located 50 miles west of the capital.
For a change of pace, hop in your rental car and head to Provins. This medieval market town leaps to life in spring and summer with jousting contests, street theater and subterranean tours of its intricate tunnel system. Above ground, take in the timber-clad buildings, discover the cobblestoned central square or hike up Caesar’s Tower for magnificent views over the surrounding area.
Check the town’s packed calendar of events before you travel for details on food and craft markets, art exhibitions and music festivals. You can get from Paris to Provins in under two hours.
Mont Saint-Michel is said to be one of the most visited attractions outside of Paris, and it’s easy to see why. On a small granite outcrop on the flats of the estuary of the River Couesnon in Normandy (to the north-west of Paris) stands this walled medieval city.
At the center of this island-city is a striking Gothic abbey with a willowy spire that gives the rock its fairy tale feel.
As a tidal island you can only gain access to the area when the tide is out. Head through the Boulevard Gate and then the King’s Gate – complete with portcullis – to wander the main street with its museums, shops and houses dating from the 15th and 16th centuries. You’ll also want to take some time out to savor the stunning views across the bay.
Back on the mainland, it’s well worth discovering the colorful port of Honfleur. Packed with galleries and bistros, this picture perfect town has long been a magnet for artists. Take a boat trip out on the vast Seine estuary, enjoy time on the beach, or just window shop while wandering the charming cobbled streets.
Taking it easy in one of the cafés or bars housed in the pastel-painted canalside buildings lining the pretty Saint Leu district is the perfect starting point for any visit to Amiens in northern France. Surrounded by miles and miles of countryside, its sizeable student population helps add just the right amount of buzz.
The center is mostly pedestrian-friendly, giving it a relaxed feel, while it’s also home to the largest Gothic cathedral in France. Amiens, which suffered greatly in both world wars, is also a gateway to the Battle of the Somme memorials at Thiepval, around a 50-minute drive away.
Parc de Sceaux
For a quick and easy day trip from Paris, pack a picnic and head out to the Parc de Sceaux, a stunning park lying just six miles south of the capital’s center. Complete with an attractive chateau, the gardens were designed by Andre le Notre, who also worked his magic at Versailles. Look out for The Cascades, a system of fountains that lead to a grand canal. There are a number of cafés dotted around the leafy park that offer delicious rewards for burning all that shoe leather.
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