If you just have an extra day, check the 3 Day Trips from Paris. If you've seen Paris and are ready for some adventure, the Loire Valley is a great place to start visiting "the rest of France."
25.06.1996 - 18.06.2017
A Good First Trip out of Paris
You've seen Paris and now you want to explore. Hooray! There is an entire country just waiting for you. Rent a car or hop on the train and explore! If you only have a few days, choose one area and have a good look at it. A good first choice outside of Paris would be the Loire Valley, the Valley of Kings. You can visit Versailles as a day trip from Paris, but Versailles is not your typical château; that's why it's so famous. It is also not in the famous and lovely Loire Valley. Rent a car and stop in Chartres on the way or just hop on a train for a two-hour trip to Amboise which is a great central base for exploring the most famous chateaux.
For something a bit more normal than Versailles, there are many possibilities. My favorite is Château d’Azay-le-Rideau in the town of the same name. It is a small, perfect, white wedding-cake of a château set in the middle of a moat by a river. It is nicely furnished; there is adequate (or excellent) accommodation nearby, the grounds are fun to explore and in season there is a fun Sound and Light Show at night. The château is right in the small town so you can walk to shops and restaurants or even camp by the river if you like. Château Azay-le-Rideau web site
The Loire Valley is famous for châteaux and if you have a few days, you can visit several of them. My three favorites are Château d’Azay-le-Rideau, Château de Chenonceau known as the Château of the ladies and built over the river Cher, and Château de Villandry famous for its beautiful gardens and a labyrinth. Another one that is fun and easy to visit is Château d'Amboise with the nearby Château du Clos Lucé where Leonardo de Vinci spent the last three years of his life. If you only visit these five, you will have a very nice Loire experience. (Right click on the links below and choose "open in new tab" and when you are finished, simply close the tab and you will be right back here to continue your exploration.)
Chateau de Chenonceau web site
Chateau de Villandry web site
Chateaud' Amboise web site
Chateau du Clos Lucé web site
That said, there are many more if you have time. There is a wonderful garden festival at Château de Chaumont during the summer. Château de Cheverny has a fun feeding of the hounds. Château de Chambord is not only the largest of the Loire châteaux, they have a wonderful equestrian show. Château d’Ussé has a connection with the fairy tale of Sleeping Beauty. Château de Langeais is smaller but very interesting in a quiet village with a fascinating bridge over the river. Château de Chinon is where Joan of Arc was a prisoner and Chateau de Fougères-sur-Bièvre is a medieval masterpiece and set up to be an educational château so it has good exhibits for children. Farther west along the Loire are wonderful châteaux in Angers and Saumur set in busy vibrant cities.
Chateau de Chaumont web site
Chateau de Cheverny web site
Chateau de Chambord web site
Chateau d’Ussé web site
Château de Langeais web site
Château de Chinon web site
Chateau de Fougères-sur-Bièvre web site
If you get tired of châteaux, there are ancient churches and beautiful abbeys and several of the Plus Beaux Villages (Most Beautiful Villages) of France in the Loire Valley. We have visited Fontevraud-l'Abbaye three times, ten years apart. That has given us a good idea of the progress they’ve made in their restoration process of this largest abbey in Europe, and it has been amazing. They have several interactive exhibits ranging from a table where you can make models with Lego blocks to an Abbey mock-up that has moving parts you can manipulate. There is a snack restaurant and an excellent gourmet restaurant all on the Abbey grounds. My favorite interactive exhibit was inside the main sanctuary of the Abbey Church. There is a panel where you can manipulate colored lights onto the opposite wall to “paint” the abbey wall as it might have been when it was new. My husband had to drag me away from that. Fontevraud-l'Abbaye web site
The Most Beautiful Villages of France are always fun to visit. They can have a population of no more than 2000 and must have at least two historic sites in addition to going through an application process that involves the entire village. In warm months they are covered with flowers and there is usually at least one good restaurant in or nearby.
Plus Beaux Villages in the Loire Valley include Montresor, Crissay-sur-Manse, Candes-Saint-Martin, Montsoreau and Lavardin. Plus Beaux Villages of France web site
Three Day Trips out of Paris
Have an extra day and want to experience something of the rest of France? Here are three suggestions depending on your interests.
1) There is a lovely town called Provins northeast of Paris. It is a UNESCO World Heritage Site. There is Saint Quiriace Collegiate Church and the town is a charming cobblestone town that people think of when they think of old Europe. It would be a complete change from Paris and in the summer there are reenactors and all sorts of activities to enjoy. Here is the town web site that lists several transportation options. Official Provins Web Site
2) You can easily take the train to Chartres, one of our favorite towns in France. The cathedral is world famous and many people don't know about the labyrinth inside. It is covered with chairs except on Fridays when the chairs are moved and the labyrinth is open and you can walk it, or watch others do so. Also in Chartres are two more magnificent churches, the lovely Eure river with the Old Town along the banks and a very nice small art museum. There is a stained glass museum and you can take a little tourist train around town to get oriented for walking afterwards. The tourist office is right in front of the cathedral in a house. Stop there and they will give you a free map with walking tours of the town. Here's a web site to get you started. Official Chartres Web Site
3) If you want to do something very French and entirely crazy, go to Parc Asterix. Your children would love it and I suspect you would too. It is a theme park (think Disneyland with character) based on the historic comic character Asterix. It is great fun and you won't see a lot of American tourists there; perhaps not any at all. It is even educational if you need an excuse. Here's a web site to check. Parc Asterix Web Site
Finally, when you get some ideas, type the names of the towns into the TP Search Window above and that will take you to the TP Travel Guides for each place. There will be photos, hotels, things to do, transportation information and web links you can check.