Beauvais may be best known as the site of a modern airport that serves the French capital but, in fact, Paris is a hefty 60 miles drive south on the A16. If you're hiring a car in Beauvais, however, you'll find that there is an interesting small and historic city to explore. It stands in the Picardy region of northern France, midway between Amiens and Paris. Its site is close to the junction of two rivers at the foot of a wooded hilly area and is surrounded by rich agricultural land, farms and villages. Drivers will find that the airport does bestow one unexpected benefit on the city – excellent road connections with the rest of France.
Like many cities in northern France, wars have left Beauvais with a residue of ancient landmarks mixed with modern rebuilding. Rent a car in Beauvais and you'll be able to tour this compact city and see for yourself how it has combined the old and new. Happily, it's not over-run with visitors – most airport arrivals simply head straight for Paris. Start at the heart of the old historic centre, where you'll find Beauvais Cathedral. The city's highlight is a fabulous example of medieval religious architecture, the equal of many of France's more famous cathedrals. It's worth peeping inside to see the towering 150ft-high vaulted ceiling. Elsewhere in Beauvais you'll soon see the striking twin-towered Bishop's Palace – you can even drive through the original gatehouse archway as a public road passes through it now. Wander the old cobbled quarter around the Cathedral to spot many fine old houses, shops and pavement cafes too. Look out for traditional gifts here: tile-shaped slabs of chocolate or fine porcelain figures are regional favourites. You'll soon forget that the busy Beauvais-Tillé Airport is just to two miles to the north-west of the city.
Opening hours:Mo-Su 0700-2300.