Visited: Summer 2018
Recommended length of stay: Day Trip
An easy day trip from Paris, this navigable town is a must if you have already powered through all of the highlights in the City of Light. About 14 daily trains run between Paris’ Gare Montparnasse and Chartres; however, the trains run less frequently during the weekends. Make sure that you take a photo of the return train schedule to Paris at the Chartres station after you arrive so you can plan your sightseeing accordingly. See to it that you are at the train station about 5 minutes before the set departure time as you do not want to miss the last train. If you want to tick off all of my recommended highlights, you would need about 5-6 hours in order to explore this gorgeous town at a comfortable pace. Chartres has stunning architectural treasures and an amiable downtown located by the Eure River that should not be missed.
a. Rick Steves’ Paris includes a chapter on Chartres, complete with train instructions, a walking tour, and its usual historical overview.
b. Join the walking tour being offered by the Chartres Cathedral (and highly-recommended by Rick Steves) in order to get phenomenal insights on how to read the cathedral’s stunning stained-glass windows as well as have the opportunity to access the cathedral’s crypt.
c. Bring a picnic. There are lots of incredible spots around the cathedral where you can sit and munch on a packed lunch or snacks.
a. Chartres Cathedral – There has been a cathedral on this spot since the 12th century. Rick Steves labels this structure as one of Europe’s best examples of pure Gothic. Learned from the walking tour that the cathedral possesses one of the most well-preserved medieval stained glasses anywhere. Also gained knowledge on how to decode the stories depicted in these marvelous windows. During the middle ages, the Cardinals used stained-glass windows to educate the masses about the stories in the bible. The majority of the impressive facade and choir also miraculously escaped the ire of vandals. The crypt is well-worth the detour as this is where Mary’s veil is kept hidden (Access to crypt is only offered during guided tours). The cathedral’s claim to fame and the principal reason why it is constantly on pilgrims’ radars (just like Santiago De Compostella in Spain) was due to a piece of cloth from the 1st century that was allegedly a part of Mary’s veil that she wore when she gave birth to Jesus.
b. Walking Tour/Lecture by a Cathedral Scholar – Offered daily, this is money well-invested. It is almost inconceivable to decipher the fascinating architecture and multi-layered stained-glass biblical stories independently. Make a beeline for the gift shop located to the left of the cathedral as you enter to book your tour. They hold it at 12 noon and 2:45pm daily except on Sundays when they only have the 2:45pm tour available. I joined the Sunday 2:45pm tour.
c. Walking Tour of the Cathedral and Chartres created by Rick Steves – His recommended tour takes about an hour but it did provide a brilliant snapshot of the town. The tour includes pitstops in two lesser-known cathedrals (Church of St. Aignan and Church of St. Pierre), some atmospheric half-timbered houses, and the charming Eure River.
Have you ever been to Chartres?