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Paris – Provins, France is one of the easiest day trips from Paris by train. Provins Medieval City has an interesting history and heritage and there are many things to do in Provins. In addition, la Cité Médiévale de 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. Here are our best tips to enjoy a fantastic Paris to Provins day trip.
Provins, in the Ile-de-France region, is one of the most beautiful medieval towns near Paris. Medieval Provins is well known for its medieval architecture and well-preserved city walls, constructed between the 11th and 13th centuries. Today you can walk along more than 1 kilometer of restored ramparts that still circle the Upper Town, though in medieval times they used to stretch for more than five kilometers. You can also see two fortified gates that were constructed in the 14th century and other interesting constructions. Go on reading, we tell you everything you need to know to spend a great day in Medieval Provins, France.
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MEDIEVAL PROVINS FRANCE: A LITTLE BIT OF HISTORY
READ MORE – Cute Small Towns near Paris that you cannot miss
Medieval Provins is a city 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 its 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 XI and XIII centuries. While other European city-fairs were always located close to a harbor, Provins’ location was very central, but in the middle of nowhere.
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). Today all those years of history are still palpable and Provins is one of the most beautiful medieval towns near Paris, with its winding streets, and medieval timbered houses.
THINGS TO DO IN PROVINS MEDIEVAL CITY
Provins Medieval Ramparts and Tour Cesar
In order to protect the town and its wealth, Provins got fortified. Provins’ ramparts were built between IX and XIII 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 Cesar (XII century) is the most emblematic symbol of Provins medieval city. Legend says it was built by the same Julius Cesar (hence its name) but there’s no proof that the Romans were in Provins. The Tour Cesar was used as a keep and during some years also as a prison. The Tour Cesar architecture is quite interesting, with a square base which 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.
Grange aux Dîmes and other Historical Buildings
Provins has 58 sites registered in the French inventory of Historical Buildings so the city can keep you busy for a while. We recommend strolling around the winding streets, with their beautiful architecture of timbered houses. We especially enjoyed La Grange aux Dîmes, an ancient covered market from the XIII century where different objects and mannequins show visitors how life and customs were in Provins Medieval city during the medieval fairs.
Les Souterrains de Provins (Provins Underground Tunnels)
People 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 times) 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 XIII 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 to the town.
TIP: If you are traveling on a budget, at 9, rue de Jouy there is a nice medieval bookshop 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: 15th and 16th June 2019
via Flick CC @Julien Magne
PARIS TO PROVINS BY TRAIN
Provins, located in Seine et Marne Department, is a very easy day trip from Paris. SNCF trains Paris Provins leave from Gare de l’Est train station (1,5 hrs direct train, hourly). If you have a Navigo Pass 5 zones the ride is included 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 but of course it’s up to you.
WHERE TO SLEEP IN PROVINS
With such an interesting heritage 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:
A B&B accommodation in a historical XII century building surrounded by beautiful gardens. Quiet hotel with excellent location. 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 de Provins. The XIX century building has 5 uniquely decorated guest rooms designed by the fashion designer Stella Cadente and inspired by classic fairy-tale themes.
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. The beautiful rooms have views of the church or the town.
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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Cover picture via Flickr CC @Guillaume Speurt