My time in Paris during the last week in March wasn’t just limited to the capital– in fact, I’d planned to do at least one day trip within the île-de-France region. After considering several possibilities, I settled on Provins, a town about 91 kilometers away. With that said, I spent a half day there exploring the place, to discover a bit more of this particular region in France
Although situated within île-de-France, Provins is quite far out. It’s actually the last stop on the Transilien ligne P, which takes about an hour-and-a-half to reach. Provins actually is right near the border between île-de-France and the Champagne region, so I wasn’t too far from where I’d gone last October (to Reims, that is).
Provins is a small town, but it’s known for being a UNESCO World Heritage site dotted with plenty of half-timbered houses and medieval fortifications. I was reminded somewhat of Normandy (particularly Caen) while visiting, and I suppose it’s common to have such types of architecture in France, let alone Europe.
In any case, I headed to Gare de l’Est in the early morning on my last full day in Paris. I purchased my round-trip ticket (about 22€) and soon enough hopped on the P line. I’ve only ever used the Transilien trains once before, which was to visit the château de Fontainebleau over two years prior, but essentially, they’re smaller, regional trains that are quite clean and efficient, which made my 90-minute journey to Provins all the smoother.
I made it to Provins around mid-morning, where I set off on-foot into the historic center. It happened to be a sunny, albeit partly-cloudy day, but the sight of the pre-spring nature and sparking Voulzie river with its myriad of canals made for a beautiful sight as I headed into town.
After hitching up an incline, I reached my first stop of the day, which was the église Catholique Collégiale St Quiriace, a church with a dome that’s easily seen all over town. Just adjacent to it was the imposing tour César, a 12th-century tower in which one can get great views from the top. Unfortunately, I’d arrived too early– both in the day and the season– for it to be opened, so I just stopped to admire the structure before continuing on.
Soon enough, I arrived at the place du Châtel, which is the main square of Provins. Many of the restaurants and touristy attractions are situated here, including the colorful, half-timbered houses, one of them including the distinctive maison aux Quatres Pignons. Again, I’d came too early for anything to be opened, but it was pleasant to have the main square all to myself, virtually.
Just behind the main square was the grange aux Dimes (“the tithe Barn”), a former 13th-century merchant’s home that now houses un atelier, i.e. a theater workshop that offers historic re-enactments of the medieval era sometimes. I wasn’t allowed to enter, since apparently the performance was reserved for a school field trip that day, so after a quick tour around the building, I headed out.
It was a pleasant stroll along rue Saint-Jean to the ramparts of town. I especially visited those near porte Saint-Jean, even climbing on top and walking a little bit to see what it was all about. From the top, I could see not only Provins, but also the sweeping acres of countryside for miles and miles. For someone who’s so used to growing up in the metropolitan city, seeing the vast stretch of fields (and more fields) still boggles me today.
The tourism office was only a few meters from porte Saint-Jean, so I bought myself a postcard there before I headed under the gate once more and back into town. I passed through the main square again, and then I continued downhill to the modern part of the city. My walk to the historic center had been uphill, so it was a relief to be heading down this time around.
On my way into town, I came across les souterrains de Provins, which are sort of an underground cellar with archways inside. Their mysterious interested me enough for a visit, but unfortunately, I’d visited Provins in late-March, and such tourist places wouldn’t be open until April. Guess that’s the drawback to visiting places off-season, but perhaps I’ll return someday…
I arrived at the bustling town center, where there were plenty of restaurants, bars, and boutiques for people to eat and shop at. My final stop was at the église Saint-Ayoul, which traces its origins all the way back to the 9th century. Unlike other churches I’ve seen in France, this particular one was notably shorter in stature, more Protestant-looking than Catholic (even though it’s marked as a Catholic church). In any case, I ended my visit of Provins there, grabbing a sandwich at a boulangerie for lunch before making my way back to the gare and catching the next train back to Paris, arriving back by mid-afternoon.
My visit to Provins had been brief– although many places weren’t open for tourist season yet, I still found the town very picturesque. It’s easily accessible from Paris, being only a regional train ride away. Its architecture and atmosphere reminded me much of a combination of Norman and Alsatian buildings, and I’d say that Provins is worth going for a glimpse into what île-de-France has to offer (besides Versailles and Fontainebleau, that is).
That concludes my time in Paris (and Provins) this March. Overall, it’d been a short, but much-needed getaway from work. It was also my birthday weekend, and I found it perfect to be spending it in one of my favorite cities in France. Cliché as it is, Paris isn’t a touristy city for nothing, as it’s rich in architecture, sights, history, and food that’ll keep one busy for years to come– I plan to return again very soon!
Thanks for reading, and more adventures of my April vacances will be up in due course. Until then!