Paris is a great destination to visit, there is the Eiffel Tower and the Moulin Rouge to check out but there are times where we wanted to get away from the hustle and bustle and do something different. With the fantastic public transport on offer in the French capital, there are plenty of day trip options on offer. The main ones are Versailles and EuroDisney but there is a hidden gem in the small town of Provins to the south-east.
Taking a train from Gare de l’Est, the journey takes about one hour and twenty minutes before arriving on the outskirts of the town centre. We came here for one reason, to see all the medieval buildings and find out why the town was enlisted to UNESCO world heritage sites list back in 2001. Arriving was simple, at the train station there is a visitor centre (as well as good cafe selling a great range of hot and cold food/drinks) then it was simply a case of following the pedestrian signs (signposted for the medieval city) which follows one road until a hill is reached. This will take about ten minutes but on the way there are some pretty buildings and a couple of small rivers which are especially nice in the summer months as locals put out a lot of flowers in their baskets to brighten up the place.
The walk up the hill (which is on Rue de petits lions where the road turns into a huge staircase), is a little bit steep but a short affair. We kept following the road, path, road until we reached the summit where we came across La collégiale Saint-Quiriace, a Catholic church which has stood here since the 12th century. Checking out the inside of the church was a pleasant affair but it’s the area outside the main entrance where there are a few trees and benches dotted about which makes this a very peaceful place to sit down and recover from the walk up the hill. This is a good idea for visitors before heading to the next sight we saw.
Across the road is the Tour César (Caesar’s Tower) which has also stood here since the 12th century and has been used as a prison, military use and a lookout tower. Paying a small fee we walked into the lower parts of the tower where museum displays greeted us but the further up we walked, the narrower the staircases and the steeper the steps. Half-way up we were able to walk out onto the balcony and take in views from all angles of Provins and the surrounding countryside. The views are amazing but what caught our eye the most is the amazing view of the church across the public square. It just stands out and it is the symbolic symbol for the town.
At the top of the tower we could go inside the bell room where they are sometimes used (we are lead to believe) but we didn’t stay in there too long as there was a lot of pigeon waste all over the woodwork and floors. The birds sure have found a good resting place to get away from the heat of the summer sun.
Nearby is Place du Châtel, a nice small square where there are a few restaurants and bars to enjoy where you can eat and drink but more importantly, to relax after walking up the hill and tower. This is a good stopping off point before doing the walk down Rue Saint-Jean (which is a two minute walk away) which took us to the northern outskirts of town. Here there is the Porte Saint-Jean, a medieval gateway and one of a few entrances into the city. We took a walk up the nearby staircase and stepped onto the old city walls (which join onto the gate) and took on the views to the west. There is quite a few parts of the city walls which visitors can walk on but we decided to stay on this section.
The reason why we returned to ground level was to take in the city walls from outside the city. There is a road from the gate heading northwards (signposted to a cemetery) and this took us to the northern side of the city (about a ten – fifteen minute walk). There are some great photography opportunities to be had but there are also a few benches to sit on and take a view of this side of the city. Above all, it is a pleasant walk around with not a sound to be heard and a soul in sight.
We entered the city again via the northern gate (Porte de Jouy) and followed the road which took us to the main square, passing this which took us down a hill into the newer part of town. At the bottom of the hill is Les Souterrains, a series of underground tunnels where the exact use of them is unknown but properly stored a lot of wine. We didn’t go in as we missed the last tour of the day but is worth a mention as it is one of the highlights of the town.
Our day ended by chilling out in a bar before heading back to Paris. In the small new centre there are very few bars and restaurants to check out if visitors fancy a meal. Provins is a fantastic day trip to do when exploring Paris and we were surprised as well as shocked on what this little town has to offer. There is so much history here but even coming here for a walk, there is a hidden gem around every corner to explore. We are so pleased to make this trip and we recommend this to anyone in the area.
Tips to make your day pleasant:
Provins is in the Paris transport region zone 5. We were lucky to have the Paris Visite travelcard zones 1-5 which includes this stunning town and is on the train line from Gare de l’Est as previously mentioned. Otherwise a ticket is around €11 for a return journey. Make sure you have planned out the day and find out the train times as there is only one train an hour in each direction. The journey takes about one hour and twenty minutes which involves going through the suburbs of Eastern Paris and then the countryside comes into view. Before Provins the railway line skirts the edge of a forest which gives the journey a view before arriving on the southern side of the town centre.
Make sure you have good footwear – there is a lot of walking on the cobbled streets, a hill to the tower and the church and walking along the stone city walls. The more comfortable the footwear, the pleasant the day will be.
Do try to arrive early to allow more time to visit all the sights. We arrived around mid-morning and like we mentioned, we missed out on the underground tunnels tour which we were gutted about. Plus they also do tours in English at certain times but most of the tours are conducted in French.
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