Although not exactly on the Loire Valley itineraries, the wonderful city of Chartres is worth a diversion or a stop coming from Paris for its architectural and artistic beauty.
A trip to Chartres will lead you to discover a city full of ancient buildings and parks that quietly overlook the banks of the Eure River. With the cobbled alleys of the medieval town centre, the colourful half-timbered houses, the colossal Gothic cathedral that lights up with the evening sound and light show, the antique shops and the numerous cafés, it becomes a must-see stop during your trip to the Loire Valley.
This lively town on the outskirts of Paris enchants visitors with its beautiful cathedral, picturesque and cosy old town with a medieval atmosphere and romantic riverside promenade on the Eure.
Declared a UNESCO World Heritage Site for its incredible architecture, Chartres Cathedral was built over 30 years on the ruins of a Romanesque cathedral.
In addition to the artistic sumptuousness that makes it one of the most beautiful Gothic cathedrals in Europe, the royal portal, magnificent in its decoration, the two bell towers, one Romanesque and the other Gothic, from which there are stupendous views of the city, the solemn nave and the labyrinth inlaid in the floor, which pilgrims used to walk through on their knees, are all striking.
But the real jewel of the cathedral are the stained-glass windows, true works of art of the master glassmakers, who have created scenes of great effect, using colours that are set alight by the external light. Of particular splendour is the blue, a unique shade, the mixture of which remains a mystery to this day: it is so intense and brilliant that it is considered unique in the world. In addition, at 2600 square metres, the cathedral’s stained glass windows are a veritable history book, recounting the Bible and the books of the saints, with over 5000 characters depicted.
The old town of Chartres is built on two levels and should be toured on foot, to discover all its ancient and medieval charm: the old town is full of stone bridges, colourful and picturesque half-timbered houses, drawbridges and water mills. Moreover, with its terraces and cafés, it is a real pleasure to experience it in all its liveliness in summer.
If you want to trace an ideal itinerary, starting from the Upper Town and the cathedral, follow Rue du Cardinal Pie2
Continue to Rue des Changes3, to admire a beautiful half-timbered house dating back to the 13th century and 29 Rue Chantault4, the steepest street in town, which houses the oldest French house.
Go further to Place de la Poissonnerie5, where you can photograph a beautiful architectural complex that includes the Maison du Saumon and the Maison de la Truie qui file: two enchanting buildings, completely carved in wood, with images related to the world of fishing. It was here that the day’s fish arrived in the boats that sailed up the Seine and Eure rivers.
Also not to be missed is Place Billard6, with its covered market made of glass and iron: every Wednesday and Saturday morning it is filled with scents and colours, the best place to buy everything for a picnic or to stock up on local produce.
After strolling down rue du Soleil d’Or and rue Ballay, packed with beautiful shops, you will arrive at Place des Épars7, famous for its fun water games. Here you will find the sumptuous façade of the Grand Monarque, the city’s gastronomic institution: the hotel bar is one of the main venues for Chartres’ nightlife.
After passing the cathedral, head down to the lower town to stroll along the banks of the Eure. Cobbled streets, small gardens, vegetable gardens, stone bridges and wash houses await you along the way. It almost feels as if you have been catapulted into the countryside. Don’t miss the magnificent Rue des Écuyers8, a succession of half-timbered houses: some are entirely carved with animals, objects and fantastic figures.
Following in the footsteps of the city’s great glassmaking tradition, the museum brings together an impressive collection of both Renaissance and contemporary stained glass, illustrating the cathedral’s stained glass windows and working techniques.
Colourful and original is the section on contemporary art, illustrating the use of glass in modern times.
At nightfall, every day from April to October, the town of Chartres becomes an immense light show: it is the world’s largest heritage operation, with no fewer than 24 illuminated sites.
With Chartres en lumière, the spectator is invited to stroll through the streets of Chartres to discover the unmissable sites of the city, enhanced by the images and music of numerous stage designers.
The entire tour, entirely free of charge, lasts about three hours and will take you on a discovery of the city by night, taking a step back in time. Take your time to savour the set designs and poetic games and don’t be afraid to get lost: to discover the illuminations, just follow the blue lights on the ground.
If the magnificent historic centre of Chartres has enchanted you, then we also recommend a couple of stops outside the city centre that are worth a visit in the name of art.
Just a 15-minute walk from the heart of the city is this phantasmagorical house, covered entirely in mosaics composed of pieces of broken pottery. The mad genius of Raymond Isidore, a former foundryman, spent 34 years of his life building and decorating his house and garden, using no less than 15 tonnes of debris, taken from broken dishes and glasses.
Every single element of the house, from the bed to the bench is covered with multi-coloured shards, an operation very similar to the Italian Tarot House in Capalbio.
To redevelop a suburban district in Chartres, an ambitious urban revitalisation project was launched: street artists and young designers from Cité-Création, with almost 300 litres of paint and 9 months of work, created 4000 square metres of trompe-l’oeil.
The murals, which adorn the facades of several buildings in the area, have four themes: the architecture of the city centre, the identity of Beauce, the banks of the Eure river and perfume.
In the following map you can see the location of the main places of interest mentioned in this article
The large historic centre of Chartres invites tourists to stay, either to admire the sound and light show at night or to appreciate the pleasant evening atmosphere and gastronomic panorama of the city.
The most obvious choice is to find accommodation in the heart of the old town: this way you can enjoy every corner of Chartres and admire it in all its nocturnal charm. Chartres offers several boutique hotels nestled in the alleys of the centre in beautiful historic buildings.
If you rent a car, you can reach Chartres in about 1 hour and 20 minutes, following the A10 and A11 motorways.
To get there by train from Paris, you will have to leave from Gare Montparnasse: there are regional trains that take between 55 and 70 minutes, with frequent connections.
What's the weather at Chartres? Below are the temperatures and the weather forecast at Chartres for the next few days.
Chartres, crossed by the river Eure, is the capital of the department of Eure-et-Loir, in the Centre-Valley of the Loire region: it is only 90 km from Paris.