If Paris can’t be done in a lifetime, let alone a week, the city’s density and intensity can nonetheless leave you feeling the need to get out of town. In about an hour, the national rail network can take you to a number of inspiring destinations—palaces, artist homes, charming villages, where you can breathe some fresh air, and see some sights.
Paris is surrounded by villages, each with its own rich history, going from the former seat of Royal power the exceptional town of Versailles and its palace; quiet and pretty Giverny where the artist Monet had a home; Chartres, and its Gothic cathedral; Fontainebleau with its château and forest; or the exceptional former palace at Vaux-le-Vicomte. No matter which direction you go, or which destination you choose, you will likely be glad you made the trip. One of the many great things about Paris is its proximity to so many interesting spots within an easy day’s travel.
The town is quaint, but you’re probably here to visit the famous palace. The monumental building and its gardens were the seat of royal power from 1682, when Louis XIV moved from Paris, until the French Revolution in 1789. Don’t miss the charming smaller Trianon palaces and Marie-Antoinette’s picturesque hamlet. This extremely popular monument is typically very crowded, so it’s best to visit after 3 p.m., and we recommend buying your tickets online, which means you can skip the queues at the cash desks and head straight for entrance A. The easiest way to get to Versailles from central Paris is to take the RER C train to Versailles Château/Rive Gauche.
The famous Impressionist painter Claude Monet’s house and gardens in the town of Giverny, 45 miles west of Paris, are open to the public between April and November. Monet settled in Giverny in 1883. He created two gardens there, a flower garden called Clos Normand in front of the house and a Japanese inspired water garden he built from scratch on the other side of the road. Monet found inspiration for his painting in this water garden for more than two decades. P.S. The Orangerie museum in Paris is the permanent home to eight of Monet’s incredible Water Lilies murals.
Fifty-six miles southwest of Paris, and easily accessible by train from the Gare Montparnasse, this pretty French town is home to the Unesco World Heritage listed cathedral of the same name, a high point of French Gothic art. The cathedral’s extraordinary stained glass windows date from the 12th and 13th centuries. Make sure to explore the old town’s narrow winding streets, too.
The town of Fontainebleau was home to François I’s hunting “lodge,” and every subsequent King up to Louis XV also left his mark on the 1,900-room château, largely built in opulent Renaissance style. Visit the château, then hire a bike and tour through the lovely gardens, or the adjacent Barbizon forest, which lent its name to the 19th-century Barbizon school of art. Artists such as Millet, Corot and Thomas Rousseau came here to paint outdoors, en nature. Trains depart from the Gare de Lyon.
Thirty-four miles southeast of Paris is this Baroque style castle, built in the mid-17th century by the superintendent of finances to Louis XIV and still privately owned today. The château and its formal French garden were designed by architect Louis Le Vau, landscape architect André le Nôtre, and the painter-decorator Charles Le Brun; the trio who went on to work together a second time, this time for Louis XIV on the Versailles Palace.