A reasonably short train ride away from Paris is the charming town of Saint-Germain-en-Laye. As soon as you exit from the RER A station, manicured gardens and the large mansion stand in front of you. The Chateau has now been turned into the national archaeological museum for France, but the exterior remains just as regal as ever.
The gardens are active – runners, football players, and stroller-walkers meander throughout the expansive green spaces. The edge of the gardens end in a cliff, providing a view to the rest of the city.
View of the Town, June 2016
Gardens of Saint-Germain-en-Laye, June 2016
After a tour of the Chateau and grounds, the little shops and cafes in the vicinity retain the historical atmosphere, with architecture similar to the Haussmannian buildings of Paris.
Located two hours southeast of Paris by train, Provins is a UNESCO heritage site due to the historical architecture dating back to medieval times.
Particularly impressive were the massive ramparts that stretched for kilometers around the city. It was interesting to think about the history of these walls, with archer’s holes every other step, it used to stand strong against attacks. Now greenery grows in the cracks, birds nest in the holes and stones crumble from the top with age. Let’s also consider that these walls were built way before they had the tools we do today.. I couldn’t help but wonder how many builders toppled off the edge of these high walls. Thank goodness for modern safety precautions!
Venturing into the heart of the medieval town, the experience becomes a little more tourist oriented. Small trains loaded with a handful of tourists on this mild Monday drove through the streets and the main square’s restaurants and souvenir shops were bustling. Nearby you will find the Église Saint Quiriace, dating back to the early 11th century, and the Tour César from the 12th century.
A little architectural history fact about the Tour Cesar: It is the only known medieval keep that uses an octagon on top of a square base (or so says the plaque at the base of the tower!). The Tour César was used as a watchtower and prison, but now houses the bells of the church.
This was a nice day trip from Paris – it provided an escape from the busy city to travel back to medieval times. It was interesting to just walk down any street of the medieval part of town and see layers of generations past in the old houses, although I did feel slightly awkward taking photos of houses because I had the sneaking suspension the homeowners were looking on from inside.
With the beautiful weather, it was the perfect time to go on a day trip to the Chateau de Fontainebleau with two of my friends. We didn’t know much about the chateau but were intrigued enough to climb aboard the train for an hour to get there.
It turned out to the perfect day trip. A picnic lunch. A history lesson. And a bunch of laughs.
The Chateau de Fontainebleau was owned by many important figures throughout the centuries, and each had their own ideas of what it should look like. Notable owners include Francis I, Louis XII to Louis XVI, Napoleon and Napoleon III. The Chateau became a hodgepodge of all their ideas, with each addition denoted by adding their coat of arms or insignia.
The building itself contains many different styles, but so do the gardens. Although there are traditional French gardens, they also included an English garden and of course left a large swath of land untouched for hunting grounds.
I spent the day at the Calanques in Marseille (or more particularly, the Calanque Sugiton) and it was one of the best hikes I have ever been on, complete with scenic vistas, perfect weather, and sunburned shoulders.
In case you are wondering what a ‘calanque’ is exactly (a term I had never heard before this trip), it is a narrow inlet of the sea along the mountainous Mediterranean coast.
I’ll admit, I am hard to impress, but as I climbed the rocky trail and reached a peak overlooking the coast I was amazed. I hadn’t known what to expect but I guarantee this hike surpassed any preconceptions – pictures from Wikipedia didn’t come close to depicting the experience standing atop this rocky passage.
The beating sun, the gentle ocean breeze, the sound of crashing waves, the fear of toppling over the edge of the shear cliff.
Everything added up to a great adventure.
If you do venture to this great national park I would highly recommend bringing water, sunscreen, a map, and a picnic lunch – none of which I had the foresight to bring. I like to think of myself as an outdoors-woman, but clearly a very ill prepared one.