A combination of not feeling comfortable travelling outside the country this summer and wanting to make the most of my Passe Navigo have led to a sharp increase in day trips around Paris recently. This week, a friend and I decided to discover the medieval town of Provins, a UNESCO World Heritage site less than two hours from the French capital!
How to get to Provins From Paris
Getting to Provins from Paris is very straightforward: you simply need to take the RER P from the Gare de l’Est. Trains tend to depart every hour throughout the day, so if you miss yours, there should be another one along shortly. Also worth noting: there are a couple of different terminuses on this line, so be sure to take the one that ends in Provins.
The ride is approximately an hour and a half, and is free for holders of the Passe Navigo. If you do not have the metro card, you will need to pay around 11.50€ each way.
What to do in Provins
Upon exiting the train station, you will find a tourism office right outside. I would highly recommend stopping by the office they have free maps (very useful for finding all the main attractions, in addition to historical information and event calendars) and will be happy to give any recommendations.
While there is a bus that departs from the station straight to the medieval part of the city, my friend and I opted to walk. It only took approximately 20 minutes and gave us the chance to see the “modern” part of the city, which was full of restaurants, shops, coffee shops, and a beautiful city hall along the way. It was also interesting to see all the ancient buildings that are still used as apartments today!
Medieval Fortifications and City Walls
At the edge of Provins are the fortified city walls, which include well-preserved towers and gateways. They contain the historical city centre, a stunning area that makes you really feel as if you’ve gone back in time.
The main attractions include: Place du Châtel, an open area full of restaurants; la tour César, an ancient dungeon used during the Hundred Years War; la collégiale Saint-Quiriace, a cathedral from the 12th century where St. Joan of Arc herself came to pray in the 1400s; la Grange aux dîmes, a former covered market turned permanent exhibit that thats how merchants used to work; and more!
My friend and I did not plan much in advance when visiting the old city, instead walking through and visiting whatever struck our fancy. With no shortage of ancient sites, we really felt as if we were walking through an open air museum.
The Provins Museum or Musée du Provinois is housed in la Maison Romane, one of the oldest houses in Provins. If you are looking to learn more about the history of the area, it is the perfect place, housing artefacts from everything from the prehistoric to Gallo-Roman times, in addition to sculptures, ceramics, weapons, and other items from different periods throughout history.
While it does not take long to go around, I believe it’s worth a visit, and at 4€ for an adult ticket, and 2€ for children, it is very reasonably priced.
While this attraction was sadly closed due to COVID-19, I have heard that the underground galleries or souterrains de Provins are interesting to visit. Used as everything from quarries, to hiding places, to storerooms, and even perhaps a place for freemasons to gather throughout the centuries, it has a rich and fascinating history. I will be sure to go back and visit sometime in the future once they reopen.
The Eagles of the Ramparts
By the main gates of the city walls is a theatre where you can discover birds of prey and the world of falconry. The show lasts around an hour and is accompanied by music and historical lessons, after which guests can visit the bird’s aviary.
The show runs from mid-June to the 1st of November and costs 12.50€ for an adult ticket, and 8.50€ for children.
Rose Garden – and Rose-Flavoured Products
During our visit, we discovered that the rose is the symbol of Provins and a mainstay in local products. Items such as rose jams and rose infused syrups were available for purchases at shops, while in restaurants you could find rose ice cream, rose cider, and more.
There is also a large rose garden by the medical town called la Roseraie de Provins, which boasts a tearoom, boutique full of rose-flavoured and rose-scented products, and a beautiful garden full of different kinds of roses. It is worth noting that the gardens are not free to visit, and cost 7€ in high season.
While there weren’t any medieval reenactments taking place the day of our visit, my friend and I read in the guidebook that there are a number of them throughout the year. The biggest one happens during a weekend event in June, accompanied by shows, markets, and other entertainment that take visitors back to the Middle Ages. More information can be found on those here.