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Visit Provins Medieval Town (Cité Médiévale de Provins)
Are you looking for pretty small towns near Paris? Then consider a day trip from Paris to Provins medieval town.
One of the easiest day trips from Paris by train, Provins is one of the most beautiful medieval towns near Paris, well known for its medieval architecture and well-preserved walls constructed between the 11th and 13th centuries.
The Cité Médiévale de Provins is located in the Ile-de-France region, 90 km south-east of Paris. There are many fun things to do in Provins France for all the family, but the town is mainly known for its Les Médiévales de Provins, the best medieval festival in France (and perhaps all of Europe). If you are in Paris in June, don’t miss the Provins Medieval Festival, it’s fantastic!
Provins is one of the most popular day trips from Paris. Click here for the list of best day trips from Paris.
The History of Medieval Provins
The Cité Médiévale de Provins is a town located 90km south-east of Paris, well known for its medieval fairs. A long time ago, Provins was the capital of the powerful Counts of Champagne. Thanks to the Counts’ protection and Provins’ strategic position, the town became one of the main actors in the early development of international trade fairs and the wool industry in Europe during the 11th and 13th centuries. While other European towns or city-fairs were located close to a sea or river harbor, Provins’ location was very central but in the middle of nowhere.
Provins’ medieval past is still palpable in the town, with its winding streets and half-timbered houses. Provins medieval town had an urban layout built to host fairs and related activities. Merchants from all over Europe and the Orient came to Provins to do business in its busy streets and squares. Provins’ medieval fair was so important that the town became very prosperous, and it was minting its own coinage, the ‘denier provinois‘(Provins penny).
Best Things to Do in Provins, France
If you are considering a Provins day trip from Paris, here are the best things to do in Provins for all the family:
1. Provins Medieval Ramparts and Tour César
To protect the town and its wealthy inhabitants, Provins got fortified. Provins’ ramparts were built between the 11th and 13th centuries, with different towers and fortified gates. Today we can still see 1,200 meters of the original ramparts and 22 towers.
Inside the walls, the Tour César (12th century) is the most emblematic symbol of the Provins Medival Town. Legend says the tower was built by the same Julius Cesar (hence its name), but there’s no proof that the Romans were in Provins.
The Tour César was used as a keep and – for some years – also as a prison. Its architecture is quite interesting, with a square base that changes into an octagonal body on the upper floor. From the top of the tower, you can enjoy fantastic 360º views of the surrounding plains.
2. Grange aux Dîmes and other Historical Buildings
Provins has 58 sites registered in the French inventory of Historical Buildings, so the town can keep you busy for a while.
We recommend strolling around the winding streets of medieval Provins, with their beautiful architecture of timbered houses. We especially enjoyed La Grange aux Dîmes (2 Rue Saint-Jean, Provins), an ancient covered market from the 13th century turned into a museum. Here, different objects and mannequins show visitors how life and customs were in Provins during the medieval fairs.
3. Les Souterrains de Provins (Provins Underground Tunnels)
Locals say that in Provins there is the Upper Town, the Lower Town… and the Underground Town. Les Souterrains de Provins (Provins’ Underground Tunnels) is a unique part of medieval Provins. Under the street level, there are kilometers and kilometers of underground galleries, vaulted halls, and even crypts! But why?
In medieval Provins, all the houses had an underground part consisting (most of the time) of a beautiful vaulted hall usually built 3/4 below the ground level. This part of the house had independent access from the street and usually was rented to merchants to install their shops or warehouses during the medieval fairs.
The vast network of underground tunnels and passages is mainly from the 13th century. These galleries are divided into three categories:
» civil passages used for people’s communication or shelter
» military passages used as warehouses
» private passages to store sheets and woolen clothes warehouses, when Provins was an important center of production of these goods.
Provins Tourisme organizes different tours to visit part of these galleries (4.5€ for adults and 3€ for children under 12). There is only one tour in English at 2.30 pm on Saturday, Sunday, and public holidays. Because the guided tour is limited to 25 people, we recommend booking in advance here or on your arrival in the town.
TIP: If you are traveling on a budget or the guided tours are sold out, there’s a beautiful medieval bookshop (9 Rue de Jouy, Provins) located in one of these typical underground vaulted rooms that you can see for free.
Les Médiévales de Provins, the Best Medieval Fair in France
If you are visiting Paris in June, don’t miss Les Médiévales de Provins, considered the best medieval fair in France. During a whole weekend, people in Provins welcome visitors dressed in traditional costumes.
There are medieval markets and other activities and shows related to Provins’ glorious medieval past. Also, live bands play medieval music in the main streets and squares. Les Médiévales de Provins is a fun and colorful festival great for kids and adults.
Next Médiévales de Provins: 25 and 26 June 2022
Provins also hosts a medieval Christmas market which only lasts one weekend (last year was on 11 and 12 December). We have listed the Provins Medieval Christmas Market as one of the best Christmas Markets in France.
Paris to Provins by Train
How to get to Provins from Paris? A Paris to Provins day trip is very easy to organize. SNCF trains Paris – Provins leave from Gare de l’Est train station (1,5 hrs direct train, hourly), and there’s no need to book train tickets in advance.
If you have a Navigo Pass (5 zones), the ride Paris Provins is free on weekends and holidays.
When you arrive at Provins’ train station, there is a tourist shuttle bus waiting right at the exit of the station (4€ day ticket, 2.5€ single ride). This bus goes through the main sights located in the high town. We did not use this bus because we like walking and the sights are not that far from the station.
For your way back Provins – Paris, it is helpful to take a picture of the train schedule once you arrive at Provins’ train station.
Where to Sleep in Provins
With such an interesting heritage and things to do in Provins, you may want to extend your stay in Provins. A thousand candles light the streets at nightfall in summer, and musicians are on every corner, so staying in Provins overnight is more than recommended.
Unfortunately, Provins lacks budget accommodation, but there are cute boutique hotels and historic hotels in the Upper Town for reasonable prices, especially if you book in advance. Here are our favorite proposals:
This beautiful and quiet hotel with an excellent location is set in a historic 12th-century building and offers B&B accommodation. Each of the five rooms available is unique and spacious, and most of them have garden views – Click here to book your stay at Demeure des Vieux Bains
This is a fantastic B&B accommodation located close to the Cesar Tower, a kind of château in Provins. The 19th-century building has five uniquely decorated guest rooms inspired by classic fairy-tale themes, and they were designed by the fashion designer Stella Cadente – Click here to book your stay at Maison d’Hôtes Stella Cadente
With the best possible location (right in the town center), modern facilities, and contemporary design, Le César Hôtel Provins has everything you need for a unique stay in Medieval Provins – Click here to book your stay at Le César Hotel
Where to Eat in Provins
Le Banquet des Troubadours: 14 Rue Saint Thibault, for a medieval meal in a medieval atmosphere.
La P’tite Savoye: 11 Rue de la Friperie, offers French cuisine (vegetarian-friendly), and it always has excellent reviews.
Hostellerie de la Croix d’Or: 1 Rue des Capucins, is the oldest hostellerie (hotel trade) in France and it offers good traditional French food.
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Cover picture via Flickr CC @Guillaume Speurt