Considered one of the finest examples of Gothic architecture, Chartres Cathedral lies in a small village about 50 miles south of the capital. The flying buttresses and twin “spires” (one is actually a pyramid) were constructed between the 12th and 16th centuries, and served as inspiration for countless buildings that came after it. Seeing it all through the eyes of English historian Malcolm Miller is nothing short of transformational. The scholar has been in residence for more years than he cares to count, and the cathedral, with its remarkable stained-glass windows and stone statues, is his life’s passion. Miller is fond of comparing the cathedral to an inexhaustible library and delights in decoding its iconography. He never gives the same tour twice, so taking two of his tours in one day is not a bad way to spend your time in Chartres. The tours, which last an hour and 15 minutes, begin at noon and 2:45 p.m. Monday through Saturday, from March through December. Tickets are $15.50.
Getting There: In order to catch the 12 p.m. tour, take the 9:30 a.m. train from Montparnasse station, have lunch in the village, and sign up for another tour at 2:45 p.m. before returning to Paris (trains heading back to the city run hourly).