Chartres is only about 50 miles from Paris, but with its charming back streets and massive cathedral it feels like a different world.
People come to Chartres for one reason: the Cathedral.
Built in the 1100s and 1200s, the Chartres Cathedral is both massive and considered “the high point of French Gothic art.” Since 1979, it has been a UNESCO World Heritage Site, but people have been flocking to the area for much longer than that; even before the church was built pilgrims visited Chartres. By the time the Cathedral was actually finished Chartres had grown into one of the most significant pilgrimage sites in Europe, and it remains a religious destination today.
And it really is impressive. During my visit, I wandered a labyrinth on the floor and caught glimpses of a spectacular wedding that happened to be taking place. Outside, I read that the cathedral was once an economic center as well as a religious one, with vendors setting up shop around the site for medieval markets.
The Chartres Cathedral is an ideal destination for travelers wanting to escape the fray of Paris. It’s as historically and architecturally rich as anything in the bigger city, but has vastly fewer crowds and is just a short train ride away.
The same could be said for the town of as well; though the cathedral is the big draw, Chartres offers a laid back and friendly glimpse into a smaller-town version of France that’s hard to find in Paris.
During my visit, for example, I experienced a local fair, a light show, and a delicious but inexpensive restaurant. I wandered for hours and popped into other old churches.
After leaving Chartres, I couldn’t help but long to return. It was a charming and relaxed city with an incredibly convivial atmosphere. And perhaps best of all, it’s so close to Paris that visiting is a breeze.
— Jim Dalrymple II