Having visited nearly all of the major sites that Paris has to offer on their first and second trips to France, when my parents came to visit this spring, we were looking for something to do outside of the city. We had visited Versailles last year, so that was out. We discussed Fontainebleau or Chantilly or Vaux le Vicomte but my dad just wasn’t interested in more chateaux, no matter how impressive.
What he wanted was something not too museum-y. Something old. Something village-y.
The village of Provins
We settled on Provins, a medieval walled city located just an hour from Paris. Not to be confused with Provence, this village is a World Heritage Site known for the 13th century walls surrounding it and its 12th century tower. It’s also a very easy train ride from Gare de l’Est for a few euro (or included in your Navigo!)
We arrived at the station in Provins, which is located down in the modern part of town, and hopped on the little shuttle bus that takes you up to the old city. In theory, this bus makes several stops, and we had planned to get off in the lower city for lunch, but the bus never stopped and never gave any indication that getting off was an option. SO directly to the old city we went.
The shuttle drops you off at the tourist center, where you can buy tickets to the various activities, including falconry shows and jousts. We skipped that and walked up to the gates of the walled city.
We soon found a place to stop for lunch to fuel up before exploring for the afternoon. We set out to wander around, admiring the beautiful old buildings and hidden corners of the village. We lucked out with a gorgeous sunny day, so the greenery, roses, and blue sky made the village stand out.
We made our way around to the old tower of Provins, the Tour César, built somewhere in the early to mid-1100’s. This tower has, over the years, served as part of the city ramparts, as a military stronghold, as a prison, and as a warehouse. Set up on the highest part of the old city, the tower offers gorgeous views of the rest of the village, and the landscape beyond. Up we went!
Next, we meandered over to the Église Saint Quiriace, a church which also dates to the 1100s, or perhaps earlier. A text published in 1062 refers to the “Collegiale Saint Quiriace” founded between 1019 and 1032, which was later expanded though never finished. The dome was added in the 1600s by the wealthy families of the village.
Afterwards, we meandered around more of the village, making our way out to the walls surrounding the old city. Frenchman and I had planned to walk along the top of the wall, while my parents took the path at ground level. We climbed up the very steep stone steps to a platform, and we quickly realized there was no wall path. You climbed up, then climbed down, then up, and then down… We took a few photos for posterity then abandoned the wall for the less athletic path.
We wrapped up our walk and headed back to the tourist office to catch the shuttle, then the train back to Paris.
All in all, an excellent, easy day trip that allowed us to see something completely different. Provins is a beautiful little village, and I never expected to find something like it so close to Paris.