Visiting Paris is an adventure upon itself with a myriad of cultural, historic and bohemian attractions to see. However, outside the city of light’s boundaries are a number of incredible trips easily reachable by car, places that are a once in a lifetime experience. Here a few of some of the most historic and beautiful places to visit if you hire a car in Paris.
Just over 44 km away lies the historic grounds of the Palace of Versailles. There are four main attractions here, the place itself, once France’s main seat of power, which is now an exquisite museum to the history of France. Nearby is the Estate of Trinian, or ‘intimate places’ – these were beautiful mansions first built by Louis XIV and followed by such rulers ad Marie-Antoinette. They were built to function as peaceful places for retreat.
There are of course the incredible gardens also built under Louis XIV. The project was so large that thousands upon thousands of men, including entire army regiments, assisted in its massive construction, levelling acres of land and bringing in different tree types from all over France.
Louis XIV was also sure to build some of the biggest and grandest stables the modern world had ever known. Lavished with separate buildings, ornaments and incredible architecture almost 1500 men worked there to care for the resident horses – almost 2000 at any one time. Now visitors can visit the Gallery of Coaches in the Great Stables.
The Champagne Region of France is a two-hour drive (about 144 km) from Paris. The historic area dates all the way back to the days of Emperor Charlemagne, making it one of the oldest established regions in all of France.
Of course, nowadays it is best known for being the only place on earth that makes authentic champagne – technically, any ‘champagne’ not made in this region is just a form of sparkling white wine.
However, the world-famous delicacy is not said to have been invented here, in fact, it is believed monks had crafted the drink further south but found the climate and soil quality of the Champagne region better for producing the high-quality substance.
There are many things to enjoy at Champagne as there are a host of towns and villages with medieval roots and architecture. Some standouts are Abbaye de Clairvaux Monastery, a beautiful monastery in Bayel, and the Cathédrale St-Pierre et St-Paul in Troyes – a piece of stunning gothic architecture that was visited once by Joan of Arc and Charles VII.
There’s a lot of wine tasting in the region of course, but it’s recommended to visit Musée de la Vigne et du Vin. The family that owns the farm have been producing champagne since 1872 and have a fascinating collection of equipment and tools for making Champagne that stretches back centuries. Call ahead for tours either in French or English.
Back in 1894, there was a competitive motoring competition from Paris to Rouen that many believe to be the world’s first. Hiring a car and driving to Rouen you can understand why they picked this route as the racing track. As you pass through the Seine Valley you’ll marvel at the beautiful natural splendour as you approach the picturesque Norman Village. The drive today takes about two hours (136 km).
The city itself is something straight from the Medieval era with its architecture holding an affinity to Gothic Anglo design found in the UK. William the Conqueror had a deep love for Rouen as did Richard Lionheart who was crowned Duke of Normandy in the town centre. The city is also famous as the funeral pyre of Joan of Arc as it was here she was brought to die after her capture by the English.
With such significance behind the city, one of the first things to discover is Rouen’s historic quarter. Victor Hugo described Rouen as the city of ‘a hundred spires’, and it’s no surprise once you see the sheer amount of religious buildings. Many of them were commissioned by rich merchants in the medieval era who also built grand mansions for themselves, which still stand today alongside the sweeping churches, cathedrals and museums (including the biggest collection of Impressionist paintings in France).
As historic as Rouen is if you look to the Rive Seine you’ll find a host of modern innovations including new parks and gardens on one side but many nightclubs, restaurants and bars on the other. There are sometimes maritime shows on the river too. Be sure to also check out the Panorama XXL – a gallery where you can stand in huge 360-degree paintings, photographs, and other images.