Paris, the city of Light and Love, promises to charm visitors with decadent buildings, rich food and romantic sites. However, when the swathes of tourists dressed in red berets begin ascending the steps of Montmartre, or the cars start to clog the Champs Elysee, and the offer of fresh baguette gets too much, I know the solution. Take yourself away from the arduous atmosphere of Parisian streets to Fontainebleau, Giverny or perhaps Versaille.
The numerous train stations from Gare du Nord to Saint Lazare make it more than simple to flee the city for a day or perhaps a night. Why visit Monet’s paintings when you can visit his home; the genuine origin of his creations? Instead of wandering the congested streets, gasping for breath in the congested street, run away to a whimsical ghost town just outside of Paris where there remains only one resident. There is far more to discover in France than just Paris.
1. Château de Fontainebleau
Originally built as a hunting lodge, Château de Fontainebleau is a 16th-century château that has been the home and meeting place for many French royalty. Some residents even include the young Marie Antoinette and the short Napoleon. As you wander through the gold-plastered and corniced hallways, you will begin to understand how immaculately designed this historic site is and why it is so celebrated. The grand ballroom, which gives The Hall of Mirrors in Versailles a run for its money, depicts frescos of vivid hunting scenes throughout the room, a treasure hunt for the eyes.
Despite the magical castle being the main inspiration for visits to Fontainebleau, the surrounding countryside is equally luscious. You can take part in outdoor activities such as walking, horse riding, and even climbing during your visit. Book tickets here and avoid queuing, just as if you too are french royalty! From Gare du Lyon, take the train towards Montargis, Montereau, or Laroche-Migennes, getting off at Fontainebleau-Avon in less than an hour!
Where to Stay
Budget - La Carpe d’Or
A modest hotel located a mere 200m away from the main square! Mid Range-Le Richelieu Bacchus is a spacious hotel that faces the famous Fontainebleau castle, making it the perfect location for a short stay!
Luxury - La Demeure Du Parc
If you are looking to treat yourself during your trip away, stay at the beautiful La Demeure Du Parc. Located right in the heart of the old town, this hotel is fully equipped with a terrace and sleek bedrooms.
The Palace of Versailles needs no introduction. The great palace was Louis XVI, the Sun King’s, personal haven away from Paris during the French Revolution. Despite being originally built as a hunting lodge for Louis XIII’s, it was his son Louis XIV who turned the Chateau into the decadent residence that we know today. Walk in the shoes of iconic resident Marie Antoinette whilst you waltz through the famous Hall of Mirrors. The room itself stretches 73 metres in length with frescoes decorating the entirety of the walls and ceilings.
Don’t forget to tour the famous palace gardens that are equally as grand as the palace. Freshly manicured lawns and extravagant fountains line the gardens. The simplest way to get to Versailles is through the RER trains that run regularly from Chateau Rive Gauche station in East Paris. With the journey only taking around an hour, there is no excuse not to visit! Pre-book tickets here in advance to ensure a relaxing day strolling around Marie Antoinette’s former residence and soaking in the glamour.
Where to Stay
Mid range - Royal Hotel Versailles
Just a nine-minute walk away from the famous Chateau, making it the perfect location for your royal visit!
Luxury - A l'Hôtel Des Roys
A sleek and smooth hotel just a five-minute walk from Versailles!
Located an hour and a half outside of Paris, the medieval city of Rouen is the ideal location for a quick trip. Take the train from Gare Saint Lazare straight to the historic town. Despite appearing to be a sleepy provincial french town, Rouen is where the heroine Joan of Arc was burned at stake for rejecting the church. Visit the famous Place du Vieux Marché to commemorate the famous heroine.
During your day trip, you must also visit the Abbatiale St Ouen, a medieval Abbey. The 16th-century church is covered in rich stained glass windows that stretch great lengths. The looming arches of the abbey, alongside the stained glass, compete with Paris’s own Sainte Chapelle. Be sure to check the events in advance as there are often concerts held in this magnificent site.
Where to Stay
Budget - Les Initiés
Wake up to the best view of the medieval city - This hotel is located in the heart of Rouen less than a 10 minute walk from all the main sites.
Mid-range - Hôtel Littéraire Gustave Flaubert
A beautifully decorated hotel inspired by the writing of Gustave Flaubert. The elegant rooms are the perfect place to rest your head after a long day of exploring.
Luxury - Mercure Rouen Centre Cathédrale
Amedieval building with modern interiors. Being only 160m away from Notre Dame, it is the perfect location in the heart of Rouen.
Only an hour away from Paris lies the forgotten town of Giverny, a French commune most famously known for being the location of Monet’s home. From Gare Saint Lazare in the West of central Paris, take the train to Vernon-Giverny and arrive in less than an hour. Upon arriving at Giverny, it is clear to see why it was the inspiration to the impressionist painter.
Lily ponds and lush gardens fill this region, making it the ideal spot for plein-air painting. Wander around Monet’s home, admiring the bold colours and quaint cottage aesthetics. The gardens of his home do not disappoint either. Weeping willows line the edges of the pound, and quaint bridges arch over idyllic lily pads. After admiring Monet’s water lilies in Paris, escaped to Giverny to admire his true inspiration.
5. Loire Valley - Chateau Chambord
Perhaps you recognise the name Chambord as the famous French Martini Liqueur. However, the region has more to offer than just raspberry-flavoured aperitifs. Chateau Chambord is a 16th-century castle located in the Loire Valley region of France. This french renaissance style building was only completed in the 17th century under the reign of Louis XIV. The chateau has a over 400 hundred rooms, and the surrounding land is over 13,000 acres. During the second world war, It became a hanger for famous art pieces that once hung in the Louvre.
Immerse yourself in French history and imagine the various masterpieces that once lay in the rooms of this chateau as you explore the grand palace. Take the day to fully immerse yourself in the ground too, marching on the same ground as King Louis and his hunting companion did. Take the train from Paris Gare Austerlitz to Blois-Chambord, where you can then get a shuttle to the famous castle. Book tickets in advance here to plan your visit stress-free.
Chartres is a beautiful gothic town that has a variety of sites to visit. To start, visit Chartre Cathedral, respected as a UNESCO world heritage site. The old town is lined with medieval timber-framed houses, reminiscent of Beauty and the Beast. As you wander through the quaint cobbled streets and buzzing squares, you’ll start to feel like Belle herself.
Grab a croissant at the local boulangerie and rest by the banks of the River Eure. Imagine the city as the busy marketplace it once was as you admire the architecture and groups of tourists gathering at this spot. Just an hour and 15-minute train ride away from Paris Montparnasse, there is no excuse not to visit this Disney-like town!
The classic day trip location is normally a bustling little town, buzzing with travellers and locals. Except, Goussainville has a very different selling point. Located just 25 minutes away from Paris Gare du Nord, lies a forgotten ghost town. Once a thriving part of Paris, the buildings of Gouissaineville now lie empty and dishevelled. Instead of following the crowds and visiting the usual sites, spend your day exploring Goussaineville and its rich past. The main spectacles in the sleepy town are the Mansion and Cathedral, which remain shadows of their former selves. Despite falling apart brick by brick, visitors can comprehend the extent to which Goussainville was a thriving town in respect to commerce and population.
The town's fall came when the construction of Charles de Gaulle airport began nearby, forcing residents out of their homes on the basis of noise pollution. Those who could stand the noisy air traffic were finally driven away after a plane crashed near the village in 1973. The village remains a time capsule of a once bustling suburban town… Now, only a bookshop remains open in the whole town, which is more frequently closed than open. If you are keen to explore a little ventured part of Paris, Gouissainville is the perfect location for you!
Surround yourself with vineyards and historical castles in Bordeaux, the wine capital of France. In just two hours, you’ll be transported from the busy streets of Paris to the vineyards of Bordeaux with the speedy TGV train, which you can take from Montparnasse station. Once you arrive in the sunny southern city, visit the UNESCO-credited old town to get your bearings.
The main event of your visit has to be the exceptional wine tasting that Bordeaux offers. Book tickets here to secure a knowledgeable guide that will lead you around the finest vineyards, letting you taste the richest wines that Bordeaux produces. After taking in the scenery and a few glasses of vin, return to the main town to visit the famous sites such as the Cathedral and the Opera house!
Where to Stay
Budget - Hotel de la Presse Bordeaux Centre
500m away from the city centre and a short jaunt from the river banks
Mid-range - Maison du Lierre Bordeaux Centre ville
Is an 18th century mansion just a 10 minute walk from the Grand Theatre. The ivy covered terrace and chill interior promise you a restful stay!
Luxury - Hôtel La Maison Bord'eaux
Is ideally located next to the tram stop making traveling to the centre so simple. The classy interior and rooftop terrace make for a luxurious stay.
9. Champagne region
It is here where true, authentic, fizzy champagne is created, in the heart of the Champagne region. The most important location in this region is the town of Reims which is a mere hour away from central Paris by high-speed TGV train. Much like the majority of the French town, there is a stunning cathedral and main square that is not to be missed. Firstly, you must indulge in the delicacies of the region; champagne. Book tickets here to take part in an expert-led masterclass of wine tasting. The guide will lead you through the Avenue de Champagne in Epernay, and you will enjoy lunch in a winemaker's house or local restaurant. Immerse yourself in winemaking knowledge and take in the luscious green scenery of the region. You won’t believe that you are just an hour away from Paris on the rich hills of Reims!
Where to Stay
Budget - Hotel Azur
In the heart of Reims before venturing into the vineyards for your winetasting!
Mid-range -Hôtel Porte Mars Reims Gare
A clean and bright hotel just 500m away from the centre of Reims.
Luxury - Stay at Grand Hôtel Des Templiers
To escape the hustle and bustle of central Riems. The grand exterior and interior of the mansion are simply exquisite, you wont want to leave.
If you are looking to escape the stress of central Paris, Courance may be the perfect location. Located just an hour south of Paris, Courance is a beautiful rural town. The star here is the Chateau de Courance which is the most notable site to visit. The 17th-century castle is an architectural delight, not to mention that the surrounding gardens are simply exquisite.
Wander around the castle and admire the historical furniture and artwork. Why not pack a picnic full of baguettes and croissants to enjoy in the romantic gardens. The land features 200-year-old trees, a tranquil Japanese gardens and woods of wildflowers.
After visiting Monet’s personal residence, why not visit another artist's favourite location in Auvers-sur-Oise. This Parisian suburb was the home to many French painters, such as Paul Cézane and most notably, Vincent Van Gogh. The location featured a lot in Van Gogh's work and it is clear to see why. Quaint stone cottages fill the quiet town, and golden fields of barley swirl around the periphery of the town. Old farmhouses and wild gardens give this region the look of being untouched for hundreds of years.
When visiting, stop by Van Gogh’s former residence to admire the simplicity of his studio- you can even see where he hung nails to perch his freshly painted masterpieces in his home. It is in auvers-sur-Oise where Van Gogh’s body remains in an understated grave alongside his brother. Book tickets here to visit this magical location and channel your inner impressionist. Take the train from Gare du Nord or Saint Lazare in the direction of Pontoise and arrive at this picturesque village in an hour!
Saint-Denis is a region located just above central Paris, making it perhaps the most accessible Parisian day trip. Metro Line 13 will take you straight to the historic region in a matter of minutes. Saint-Denis is often forgotten about, even though it’s an important resting place for French royalty. The famous plot is only home to a medieval Abbey, revealing some of France's finest religious architecture in the form of ornate stained glass windows and intricate stone carvings. Despite only being a short metro ride away from central Paris, the spacious suburb of Saint-Denis gives the illusion of being away from the small town. If you are a history fanatic or simply an admirer of intricate architecture, Saint-Denis is not a place to be missed!
13. Domaine de Chantilly
Perhaps you’ve heard of Chantilly in reference to the famous cream, though the area has far more to offer than pastry filling! In this region, you will find the Chateau de Chantilly, perhaps one of the most architecturally exquisite castles in all of France. Take the train from Paris Gare du Nord to Chantilly and arrive at this paradise. The castle is filled with suites, reading rooms and art galleries, thanks to the Henri d’Orléans exquisite taste.
Henri d’Orléans was the son of the last king of France and collected some of the finest pieces of art and furniture during his life. Stroll around Henri d’Orléans personal gallery, which is said to be the second largest collection of art after the Louvre! Once you have exhausted yourself with the decadence of the building, escape to the gardens for some fresh air. The gardens themselves span 115 acres and include several elaborate outbuildings, such as the stables. Spend the afternoon meandering through the castle’s English Garden, and the Anglo-Chinese garden and finish with a cycle around the vast grounds. Book tickets here to plan to ensure a smooth sailing trip.
14. Château de Vincennes
Chateau de Vincennes is often forgotten about for the more famous chateaus outside of Paris, such as Versailles. However, Chateau de Vincennes is a gothic castle that has been used as a royal sanctuary, prison and military headquarters all throughout its history. The Royal residence includes various buildings outside the grand castle, including the Chapel and the King and Queen’s Pavilions, meaning your visit will last all day!
Once you've inspected the rosy stained glass, the carved gargoyles and the grandeur of the fortress, take yourself to the surrounding woods of Bois de Vincennes. The former royal hunting ground now includes an English landscape garden, an arboretum, and a botanical garden, amongst much more. Hire the paddle boats on a sunny day and sail atop the calm waters of this exquisite garden and soak in the history of your surroundings. Take metro line 1 from central Paris and arrive at your destination in less than 20 minutes! Despite only being a short distance from Paris, you will feel transported back to medieval France! Book tickets here in advance and enjoy your day out in one of Paris’ finest castles!
Where to Stay
Hidden away from central Paris and a short walk from Chateau de Vincennes
Mid-range - Le Home
Just 200m away front Vincennes Metro Station! This humble abode is the perfect place for an escape from Paris
Luxury - Hotel Daumesnil-Vincennes
A rive minute walk away from Chateau de Vincennes. You’ll feel as though you’re staying in a royal residence yourself with the sleek interiors of this hotel!