Chartres, Eure-et-Loir: tourism & sightseeing
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Who goes to Chartres? Spiritual seekers compelled by the labyrinth in 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.
Visits will be centred around 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 Chartres Tourist Office.
At the centre of the historic old town is the cathedral of Chartres and surrounding this some fine buildings. Next to the cathedral are two museums, the Museum of Fine Arts is in the impressive Episcopal Palace, and the International Centre for Stained Glass Windows is in a traditional tithe barn.
This part of Chartres has some exceptional colombage houses such as the Maison du Saumon: start exploring in the place de la Poissonnerie.
As well as the old town around the cathedral, Chartres has a historic centre further down the hill next to the Eure river: 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. You can rent a boat or canoe, play golf, or gaze at peacocks and goats in the animal park.
France This Way comment: 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 enjoy visiting the Agriculture Museum and the Museum of Natural Science and Prehistory.
Other highlights to look out for include the impressive Porte Guillaume over the river Eure and leading to the eastern side of town. Various buildings in Chartres are covered in tromp-l'oeil.
Note that Chartres is particularly worth seeing on a night as from the 14th April to the 13th October there is a fabulous light show illuminating more than 20 monuments. It takes place every evening and is completely free.
The main attraction of the town is Chartres Cathedral, listed by UNESCO as a World Heritage site and rivaling Notre Dame de Paris in fame. Nearly 140 meters long with a height of 37 meters, the cathedral is the focus of the town and draws thousands of visitors every year.
The main cathedral was built between 1194 and 1225, a period of transition between the roman style and the gothic style, and elements of both can be seen.
Inside Chartres cathedral the principal highlights include the extraordinary carving around the choir section, the statue of the Assumption in the main altar, and the stained glass windows. Bring binoculars so you can examine these intricate stained-glass windows, more of which have been preserved than in any other French cathedral.
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.
Underneath the cathedral is a Romanesque crypt that is one of the longest in Europe and houses some original frescoes as well as some contemporary glass works.
Although the cathedral is the most famous religious monument in Chartres, you will also want to visit the Church of Saint-Pierre: an impressive gothic style church that was once part of an abbey complex and also has impressive 14th century stained glass windows.
The Saint Aignan church is still covered with the patterened paintwork that once covered the interior of many churches. This and its 16-17th century stained glass windows make the church well worth a visit.
Shopping and specialities
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 19th century at the time of the Franco-Russian alliance. Chartres also produces delicious almond macaroons with a seemingly endless assortment of fillings and colors. Both Mentchikoffs and macaroons make perfect gifts for friends back home!
All year round, you can enjoy hours of window-shopping and decadent purchases in the downtown boutiques. 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'.
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.
Places to visit near Chartres
On the edge of town the Maison Picassiette is a house and garden which has been entirely covered with pottery mosaics - it really is quite extraoridinary.
A little further out the charming Chateau de Maintenon and its formal gardens designed by Le Notre is worth visiting.
If possible visit a few nearby attractions while you are at Chartres, such as the cereal-growing Auneau region, the valley district of Courville, and the medieval city of Gallardon.
Map of Chartres and places nearby
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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, Loire Valley, 28000, France || GPS: latitude 48.42, longitude 1.487
Plan your visit to Chartres, Eure-et-Loir
Sightseeing & tourist attractions to visit nearby
- Chartres Cathedral: heritage site (3 km)
- Cathédrale de Chartres (Chartres): religious monument (3 km)
- Le pré Catelan: remarkable garden (22 km)
- Moutiers: ville fleurie 4* (26 km)
- Château de Sauvage: site of natural beauty (26 km)
- Domaine national de Rambouillet: remarkable garden (35 km)
- Rambouillet: town of art and history (35 km)
- Rambouillet Chateau: national monument (36 km)
Market days in Chartres, France
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)