Visit Chartres (Loire Valley, France)
Who goes to Chartres? Spiritual seekers compelled by the labyrinth below the Gothic cathedral…shoppers addicted to chic fashions and luscious cuisine…day trippers seeking some a quiet haven away from Paris….history buffs with a penchant for flying buttresses…
Whether you fall into one of these groups or none, Chartres will have something to offer you. This unprepossessing but captivating town, so easily accessible from Paris, is often passed over by first-time travelers to France. Once you've paid Chartres a visit, you will find yourself eager to return and explore more of its cobbled hills and quaint neighborhoods.
Once you reach Chartres, the entire town can be explored on foot. The steep cobbled streets on the outskirts and tumbling stairways might be challenging for older travelers or for those with physical difficulties, so in that case, opt for a hotel located in the center, from which you can reach all the main sights without having to go up and down hills.
To see the rest of the old quarter of Chartres, you can follow your fancy and discover as you explore, or you can purchase a 1 hour self-guided audio tour from the Tourism Office.
If you've come to Chartres to relax, you'll want to stroll over to the Parc des Bords de l'Eure, a lush park on the bank of the Eure river. (The park is open every day, but during the cold months it closes in the early evening.) Before you go, pick up a rétrodor baguette from a shop in town to munch on while you drink in the riverside view. This traditional baguette, famous throughout France, is made from Beauce wheat flour with no additives, and is appreciated for its light, fluffy middle and golden crust.
After you finish your snack, you can rent a boat or canoe, play golf, or gaze at peacocks and goats in the animal park. The Parc des Bords de l'Eure is a perfect place for families - in addition to the ever-popular animal park, there's also a games area especially designed for children.
Children will also get a kick out of the Agriculture Museum and the Museum of Natural Science and Prehistory. The Agriculture Museum offers interactive workshops every Sunday morning on topics such as science, multimedia, history and visual arts. Tickets are around 1.5 euros and children under six enter free. The Museum of Natural Science and Prehistory also offers interactive workshops; children can bake biscuits following a prehistoric recipe, extract fossils, or learn about local flora and fauna.
No visit to Chartres would be complete without a taste of the gourmet delights for which the town is famous. Parisians have been known to make special visits to Chartres to stock up on mentchikoffs - praline chocolate sweets covered with Swiss meringue. This addictive sweet recipe was created in the 19 century at the time of the Franco-Russian alliance. Chartres also produces delicious almond macaroons with a seemingly endless assortment of fillings and colors. Mentchikoffs and macaroons make perfect gifts for friends back home.
Another can't-miss place for buying gifts and souvenirs is the Saturday market held in the town center. You can browse manufactured goods of all kinds, and the atmosphere is lively. If you happen to be in Chartres in December, stop by Christmas market in the 'place des Epars'. All year round, you can enjoy hours of window-shopping and decadent purchases in the downtown boutiques. If you're into antiques, search out the dozen or so antique and second hand dealers in Chartres. The best ones are located in Boulevard Chasles, Rue des Changes, Cloître Notre-Dame and the Rue de la Porte Guillaume.
The main attraction of the town is the Chartres Cathedral, listed by UNESCO as World Heritage site and rivaling Notre Dame in fame. Nearly 140 meters long with a height of 37 meters, the cathedral is the focus of the town and draws hundreds of visitors every year.
All that remains of the original 11th century structure is the crypt, and several extensions and additions were made to the cathedral over the centuries, some more interesting than others. For example, in 1836, the wooden roofing was demolished by an accidental fire and then reconstructed in cast iron with a copper plate covering.
You can always wander through the cathedral on your own, but many tourists flock to the Chartres Cathedral guided tour in hopes of scoring Mr. Malcolm Miller as their tour guide. The author of the definitive book about the Chartres Cathedral, this courteous and charming man brings Chartres to life with humor and eloquence. Even if you usually eschew guided tours, a tour with Mr. Miller may well be the keynote memory of your trip to Chartres.
Bring along a set of binoculars so you can examine the intricate stained-glass windows, more of which have been preserved than in any other French cathedral. Inside the cathedral, the labyrinth can be viewed as an interesting historical icon, or as the heart of a thriving modern Christian spiritual practice (you can find information about labyrinth retreats and workshops on bulletin boards around town). The second labyrinth in the gardens behind the cathedral is also worth a peek.
Chartres hotels and restaurants
If you're visiting Chartres in the offseason, it's worth waiting until you get there to book a hotel, to give yourself a chance to explore the town first. The tourism office in Chartres is excellent, and offers a wealth of information about nearby hotels. You can also pick up a handy map. From four star luxury hotels to a youth hostel, you'll have no shortage of options.
On the other hand, if you want to reserve a hotel before you arrive, skip the chains like Ibis or Mercure and opt for the Hotel Chatelet. The rooms in this charming and comfortable hotel are priced between 90 and 130 euros. The pricier rooms have a view of the Cathedral. Service is friendly, and although the hotel doesn't have a restaurant, there are plenty of dining options nearby.
One excellent choice is Le Moulin de Ponceau, located in the old quarter of the city at the bottom of a steep hill. The restaurant is a converted mill on the banks of the Eure River, with wonderful views of lovingly restored 13th century homes. The food is tasty and attractively presented - don't skip dessert. For a leisurely lunch, the ambience is priceless.
La Vieille Maison also comes highly recommended. Housed in a historic 14th century building, the dining room centers on a narrow ceiling vault crafted of chiseled white stone blocks. You can enjoy a diverse offering of modern French cuisine, from crayfish roasted in Indian spices to profiteroles stuffed with snails and frogs' legs and topped with parsley-flavored cream sauce.
Getting to Chartres
Chartres is found about 100 km south west of Paris. The easiest and most pleasant way to reach Chartres from Paris is by train. The train departs from Gare Montparnasse, and you can purchase your ticket the same day for between 13-21 euros. If you are driving, there are two possible routes. You can take the A10 motorway and then get off on the A11, or if you want to avoid tolls you can take the RN10.
Places to visit near Chartres
Now that you have an idea of the variety of activities and pleasures to be found in Chartres, the only thing left is to decide how much time you can spend in this memorable idyll. If you only have a few hours, visit the cathedral and stroll around town. If you have a few days or weeks, explore the town thoroughly, starting with the highlights mentioned in this article. If you have time, visit a few nearby attractions, such as the cereal-growing Auneau region, the valley district of Courville, and the medieval city of Gallardon. Whatever your pleasure in Chartres, you may find yourself returning again and again to enjoy the lively atmosphere, refreshing riverside idylls, and diverse activities.
Photos taken within 10 km
Tourist classifications for Chartres
Chartres has received the following tourist classifications: ; historical protected town centre' (secteur sauvegardé); village in bloom (ville fleurie) 4*
Address: Chartres, Eure-et-Loir, Loire Valley, 28000 || GPS: latitude 48.42, longitude 1.487
Map of Chartres & places nearby
Highlights close by
Suggested tourist attractions to visit near Chartres, France
- Chartres Cathedral - heritage site (3km)
- Cathédrale de Chartres (Chartres) - religious monument (3km)
- Le pré Catelan - remarkable garden (22km)
- Moutiers - ville fleurie 4* (26km)
- Domaine national de Rambouillet - remarkable garden (35km)
- Rambouillet - town of art and history (35km)
- Rambouillet Chateau - national monument (36km)
- Chateaudun - recommended detour (40km)
- Abbaye Notre Dame des Vaulx de Cernay (Cernay-la-Ville) - religious monument (44km)
- Haute Vallee de Chevreuse - regional natural parc (46km)
Market days in Chartres: Regular market(s) are held in Chartres each Saturday. (Markets are held in the morning unless stated.)
The French version of this page is at Chartres (Francais)