World explorer and writer for LifeForExperts.com
A street lined with old houses in the medieval town of Provins. (Shutterstock.com/Kiev.Victor)
Paris is where every tourist goes in France. Little do they know that less than two hours away from Paris they could find themselves in another town with a whole different vibe.
Geographically, Paris is a part of a bigger region called Île-de-France. Most of the areas within Île-de-France are easily reachable from Paris by public transportation, making any one of them a perfect choice for a day trip for those looking for a short escape from the City of Lights.
Among the flood of choices, Provins was definitely the one for me.
Known as the medieval town of France, Provins is indeed extremely ancient to its core. The town was originally built to accommodate an annual trading fair linking northern Europe with the Mediterranean. Most of the buildings here are still in their original form, like they were during the Middle Ages. The town has been beautifully preserved by the people and the government. The fortified center within the medieval walls has even been a UNESCO World Heritage Site since 2001.
If exploration of rustic and unconventional destinations is something that sparks your interest, this article is for you. The following is a list of places you can't miss while visiting Provins. Since it is rather small, basically this list includes most of the main attractions you can find throughout the town. The good news is: I walked pretty much the whole town and I managed to cover the entire place in just half a day.
Aerial view of the city walls of Provins, a town of medieval fairs and a UNESCO World Heritage Site. (Shutterstock.com/Leonid Andronov)
Eglise Catholique Collégiale St Quiriace
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Other than the obvious architectural heritage, the religious legacy of Provins is something worth noticing, represented by collegiate churches such as Saint Quiriace, which was built in the 12th century.
The building is a perfect example of an authentic French Gothic style church. Saint Quiriace has sometimes suffered extensive damage, mostly during World War II, and has been occasionally renovated. Once you get inside the building, you will be greeted by the vast area typical of an ancient church, extremely chilling with all the holy ambiance within its walls. It was really cold when I was there.
Walk all around the whole area and pay attention to the small details in every spot in the church. Get your mind blown by the elegant transepts and tribunes.
César tower is a landmark and emblem of Provins. (Shutterstock.com/Nadiia_foto)
A few minutes away from the church you will stumble upon the glorious César Tower. The tower stands high up from the road, establishing a kingdom-like feel.
Visitors have the option to climb all the way up inside the tower in exchange for a fee. You will find the heavy wall around the base known as the Pâté aux Anglais, the guard room and the governor's chamber. But most of all, enjoy the view of Provins from the altitude and grand design of a Middle Age tower.
Rempart De Provins
If you are coming by train, then the Rempart De Provins is best to be your last destination, simply because it's located a bit farther away from the railway station. Provins is specially known for its medieval ramparts. Built in the 13th and 14th centuries, the walls contain more than 20 towers and stretch more than 1,200 meters long.
At a glance, the ramparts appear like the ones you can see in movies, but the entire ambiance of the area will make you feel like you're actually in a film. If you're lucky, you can witness flocks of birds flying above your head.
However, what struck me most is the extensive grass field outside of the wall, where sunlight lands on a shiny golden reflection and a flag of France.
Cafés... basically any café in Place du Châtel
It would be wrong to waste the pretty view and calm setting by not taking some time to sit and enjoy a cup of coffee. Along the little streets of Provins lies dozens of cafés to chill and refresh.
My choice went to Le Glacier Des Remparts, a place that specializes in gelato, but turns out to have a great coffee for my taste. Grab an outdoor seat and soak in the breeze. In the Place du Châtel, you can also buy a lot of things to bring home, including a selection of local cheeses and ciders, as well as handmade Middle Age crafts.
If you come during a specific time of the year, you can even witness performances on the streets and at the Théâtre des Remparts.
How to get there
The easiest way to reach Provins from Paris is by train. Hop on at the Gare de l'Est (eastern station) departing to Gare de Provins. You will arrive at Provins in a little less than two hours. Make sure to check out the schedule beforehand (this is where Google Maps becomes handy) and plan your round-trip wisely to give yourself enough time to explore the town and get back in time.
The French government has made it a lot easier for visitors to discover the country by offering multiple choices of public transportation to use all around France. Particularly for Île-de-France region, I would strongly suggest you to buy a Navigo Découverte card. With just a single card, you will receive the privilege of unlimited train travel throughout the whole Île-de-France region.
I bought the card for just 5 euros, and loaded a one-week pass in it for just 20 euros, enabling me to travel anywhere in the region (including Paris) without any additional cost. The card is available for purchase in most of the main train stations in Paris; therefore, having the ability to engage in basic French conversation with the locket staff can surely do wonders.
France has long been one of the ultimate destinations for travel, yet it's not all because of the glamorous city lights and modern living of Paris. When in France, make sure you allocate some time to explore the smaller parts of the country. Each of the hundreds of towns and districts in France has its own character and speciality. Once you step outside of busy Paris, you will experience the real feeling of what living in France is like and how it is a place with a strong cultural uniqueness. (kes)
Harya Danniswara is an avid traveler and writer for Life For Experts, a website for travelers to share their experiences, insights and tips on travel, food and life values. Find him on Instagram and Twitter.
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Disclaimer: The opinions expressed in this article are those of the author and do not reflect the official stance of The Jakarta Post.