Chartres is famous for its Gothic cathedral, a majestic masterpiece which totally surpasses expectations in real life. But there’s more to do and see in this ancient town.
The best way to visit the ancient streets of Chartres is on foot. A good place to start is the tourist office which is in a Renaissance building with some impressive wall carvings. Pick up a map of the town and seek out its charms…
Must-sees in Chartres
Aside from the Cathedral, there are more than a dozen churches in the town and close by. They date to between the 11th and 17th centuries and details are available from the tourist office. If you love visiting ancient churches, you’re going to be very happy here!
In the 13th century the Bishop of Chartres fell out with the count of Chartres. The Bishop enclosed his part of the city around the cathedral to keep the count and his men out. Today the place where the entrances once were, are marked in the road. For instance Porte d’Horloge, the Clock Gate, which is in front of a remarkable 16th century 24-hour clock.
One of the most interesting buildings in Chartres is the 13th century Miason Canoniale opposite the cathedral. Look up and you’ll see ornate carvings showing vines, fighting and gambling followed by hell and dragons breathing fire. It was designed to be a sobering message for pilgrims of years gone, a warning of the dangers of drinking too much!
If you’re a fan of Renaissance buildings, you’ll spot plenty in Chartres. You can recognise them by their mushroom shape, smaller at the bottom and spreading out from the 1st floor. The design reflected an attempt to save money on taxes as owners paid according to how much ground they took up.
Cultural attractions in Chartres
The International Stained-Glass centre is the only one of its kind in France. Next to the Cathedral it’s housed in a listed monument. You can get up close to ancient panels of stained glass, join in workshops and discover the history of stained-glass.
Maison Picasiette, a little bit out of the centre, but well worth the detour and fans of Naieve Art will adore it. The house was decorated with pieces of broken china between 1930 and 1962 by Raymond Isidore, an iron foundry worker. His decades of laborious love are astonishingly bright and vibrant. Every inch of surface covered and sparkling, like an enormous mosaic jewel box.
Top tip: Pick up Le Pass from the tourist office for 10 euros. You’ll get discounts and saving at 50 of their partners including shops, hotels, restaurants cultural and tourist sites and more.
You can take the little tourist train with an audio guide to see the historic districts from spring to autumn. Take a guided tour via the tourist office or visit with a Greeter, volunteers who are locals who love to share their knowledge of the city they love.
www.chartres-greeters.com; Chartres Tourist Office, 8 Rue de la Poissonnerie
Where to eat and drink in Chartres
Locals love: Les Feuillantines – it’s authentic and friendly. The chef creates his own house cocktails. The one I had was concocted of limoncello, sparkling local wine and lemon liqueur – deliciously decadent…
Tea and cake: La Molière has gorgeous gardens in a historic building. Famous for its 17th century owner, a miser who inspired the French playwright Molière to write Le Misor. It was based on the meanie’s penny pinching by commissioning a grand house but scrimping on the brick work. When you see it today, you may wonder why the lovely local white stone first level is topped with red brick. It was cheaper in the 17th century!
Wine and dine: Michelin starred Le Georges restaurant, the Grand Monarque Hotel. A la carte or tasting menu, the chef’s dishes are innovative and truly delicious.
Snack – Maison Monarque in front of cathedral serves a delicious brunch, sandwiches, patisseries and macarons. They also make “le Pèlerin” (the pilgrim). A soft cake with an almond and fruit paste marked on top with a design symbolising the labyrinth of Chartres Cathedral.
Awesome aperitifs: L’Academie de la Bière, rock music, buzzy with a feel good atmosphere. It’s hipster say the locals, French for a cool, rocking place to go.
Gourmet specialities in Chartres
Bake my day: Head to Maison Ioos for great breads and pastries. Don’t miss the chance to munch on a Mentchikoff! A sweet made of praline chocolate covered with Swiss meringue! Close to the Cathedral at 2bis rue du Soleil d’Or
Ice ice baby: Ice cream heaven awaits at La Chocolaterie, hand-made ice cream and macarons!
Market day: In the centre of Chartres you’ll find the covered market on Place Billard near the Cathedral. From 7am to 1pm Wednesday and Saturday mornings, the place buzzes as stalls piled high with delicious local produce tempts the locals to buy! On Wednesday evenings there’s an organic market – don’t miss the bread stall, it’s excellent!
Chartres is perfectly doable as a day trip from Paris with the train taking from 59 minutes. Chartres station is very close to the Cathedral.
Getting around in Chartres is easy. You can walk to most of the sites in Chartres or hire a bike. You can also jump on the free shuttle bus (Monday to Saturday), or the Flilibus network (MyBus Chartres app gives you all the bus timetables, schedules and status).
There’s plenty of choice for hotels and B&Bs in Chartres. If you’re looking for luxury, splash out at Le Grand Monarque – pure indulgence and utterly lovely. By the way, you may see the name Grand Monarque everywhere in France, it refers to Louis XIV!
Chartres Cathedral – a Gothic masterpiece