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Visit Provins, a Beautiful Medieval Town near Paris
Looking for pretty small towns near Paris? Then consider Provins, one of the easiest day trips from Paris by train.
Provins, in the region of Ile-de-France, is one of the most beautiful medieval towns near Paris. Provins medieval town is well known for its medieval architecture and well-preserved walls, constructed between the 11th and 13th centuries.
Medieval Provins has an interesting history and heritage and there are many things to do in Provins. In addition, la Cité Médiévale de Provins (medieval city of Provins) hosts perhaps the best medieval fair in Europe – Les Médiévales de Provins -, an event that we recommend to see by yourself if you are around.
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
Medieval Provins is a town located 70km 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 of 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 always located close to a 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.
Medieval Provins had an urban layout built specifically 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).
Top Things to Do in Provins Medieval Town
Here are the best things to do in Provins to enjoy a fantastic day trip Paris – Provins.
1. Provins Medieval Ramparts and Tour César
In order to protect the town and its wealth, Provins got fortified. Provins’ ramparts were built between the 9th 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 medieval city of Provins.
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 during some years also as a prison.
The Tour César’s 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, an ancient covered market from the 13th century where different objects and mannequins show visitors how life and customs were in Provins medieval town 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 the most 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€ adults and 3€ children under 12) but 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 at your arrival in the town.
TIP: If you are traveling on a budget, there’s a beautiful medieval bookshop (9, rue de Jouy) 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
During spring and summer but also during Christmas Provins organizes beautiful medieval fairs, just like in old times!
If you are visiting Paris in June, don’t miss Les Médiévales de Provins, perhaps 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 past. Also, live bands play medieval music in the main streets and squares. Les Médievales de Provins is a fun and colorful festival great for kids and adults.
Next Médiévales de Provins: TBD
Paris – Provins by Train
Paris to Provins by train is a very easy day trip. SNCF trains Paris – Provins – Paris leave from Gare de l’Est train station (1,5 hrs direct train, hourly).
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.
Where to Sleep in Provins
With such an interesting heritage and things to do in Provins, you may think that one day is not enough to visit Provins, and well, we agree! At nightfall in summer, a thousand candles light the streets and musicians are on every corner so staying in Provins overnight is more than recommended.
Unfortunately, Provins has a lack of budget accommodation but there are cute little 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 historical 12th century-building. Each of the 5 rooms available is unique and spacious and most of them have garden views.
This is a fantastic B&B accommodation located close to the Cesar Tower, a kind of château in Provins. The 19th century-building has 5 uniquely decorated guest rooms inspired by classic fairy-tale themes, designed by the fashion designer 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.
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 proposing French cuisine (vegetarian-friendly) has always great reviews
Hostellerie de la Croix d’Or: this is the oldest hostellerie (hotel trade) in France, proposing good traditional French food
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