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Images and text by Gabrielle (and some images by Ben Blair, too).

We’re in our last 5 weeks of living here, and though we have no big trips on our schedule (until the big trip home), we’ve been considering a couple of Saturday day-trips to local destinations. No matter how much we’ve seen, it seems like there is always another intriguing place to explore! For example, we haven’t been to the white elephant rock of Etratat yet, and we’ve heard Bagnoles de l’Orne is definitely worth a visit.

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Anyway, we started talking about our favorite spots that are within a couple of hours of our town, and it reminded me that I never shared our photos from our field trip to Chartres — the world-famous cathedral that’s about an hour away from Paris.

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So I thought today would be a perfect day for a little report.

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We drove to Chartres on the last Saturday of February of last year (2012). We really didn’t know what to expect, but we brought our trusty Rick Steve’s Guide to France and read what he had to say as we drove. What we gathered is that Chartres is a huge draw for two reasons especially: 1) The birthing veil said to be worn by Mary when she gave birth to Jesus is on display there, and 2) The current cathedral was built relatively quickly — in less than a century — so it’s said to be Europe’s “best example of pure gothic architecture.”

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By the time we visited, we had lived in France for over a year, and our kids were a little bit cathedral-ed out. So we spent more time walking around the charming town, and the grounds of the cathedral, than we did exploring the interior. We were there at the peak of off-season, so both the grounds and the town were virtually empty. We had a lovely time roaming around snapping photos, and stopping for a bite to eat at a bakery.

Man oh man is the cathedral enormous. I remembering thinking I’d never seen anything quite like it. It feels simply massive. And it’s just shocking to such a structure sitting there in the middle of the not-very-big town.

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Speaking of the town, it’s a little jewel! You can walk along the river. Peak into the tiny shops. Stop for crepes or gelato. And see the variety of architecture that France has to offer. We loved our day there! It’s the sort of destination that’s not overwhelming. You see the cathedral, and then you wander. There’s nothing else specific you need to see or visit. And there’s no wrong way to do it. My kind of place!

 

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Living in the countryside, we’ve had many chances to visit smallish French towns, but before we moved here, the only place in France I’d seen was Paris. Believe me, I know it’s hard (practically impossible!) to leave that magical city if you only have a few days in France. But if you do want to get out the city, and get a feel for life outside of Paris, Chartres makes such a great destination!

Using the train, you can easily come and go from Paris in one day. You get to visit one of the wonders of Europe, and you can also wander around the town in a way that you simply can’t in a big city.

For those of you who have visited France, I’m curious: Did you make any visits outside of Paris? Maybe to Chartres or Giverny or the Loire Valley? I’d love to hear about your favorite spots!

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