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Chartres
Chartres

A WEEKEND IN CHARTRES

CHARTRES

 

If the ancient city of Chartres in the Eure-et-Loir department is not on your itinerary when visiting the Centre region of France then you are making a serious omission. Located about 90km south west of Paris, this historic city has a spectacular cathedral that has been awarded the status of a UNESCO World Heritage Site & together with a wide variety of medieval buildings this does make it a really good stopover.

We decided  to stay for a couple of days in August at the very well run municipal campsite "Camping les Bords de l'Eure", which although does not offer many facilities, is clean, quiet & is probably the best located site for exploring this medieval city.

Camping les Bords de l’Eure
Camping les Bords de l’Eure
The site (as its' name suggests) is next to the Eure River which passes through the city & there is a footpath/ cycle trail that links the site with the city centre. After having claimed our pitch (the friendly manager lets you select your own spot) & made a quick brew, we made our way towards the centre & the awe inspiring cathedral that was soon in view.

The construction of this masterpiece of Gothic architecture was commenced in the 12th Century but was not completed

Chartres Cathedral
Chartres Cathedral
until the 13th century from when the wonderful stained glass windows are thought to date. Legend has it that the famous Ark of the Covenant was brought here from Solomon's Temple in Jerusalem by one of the Knights Templars & was deposited in the crypt where it remained for a few hundred years. Although it has since disappeared, one relic that does remain on display is the Sancta Camisia (a tunic believed to have belonged to the Virgin Mary), having been housed on this site since 876.

After having spent a fascinating couple of hours inside the cathedral we decided to find a local hostelry for lunch which we soon

Doorway to Cathedral
Doorway to Cathedral
found within 100 yards of the main cathedral doors in a narrow side street named Rue Serpente. The charming "Crep'Salads" has an excellent menu of (yes, you've guessed it) crepes & salads all freshly prepared & at very reasonable prices in an intimate café atmosphere & judging by its popularity amongst the locals, was obviously a good choice for lunch.

The afternoon was taken up with a visit to the nearby International Stained Glass Centre where you can see the history of stained glass together with demonstrations showing how the windows are created. If this wets your appetite for the art, then there is a Gallery of Stained Glass next to the cathedral where you can even purchase very own stained glass masterpiece -- it'll certainly make your campervan stand out from the crowd!

We returned to the campsite for an evening meal, but our night was far from over, as every evening throughout the summer (13/04 to 22/09) in Chartres there is a spectacular "Lights of Chartres" laser display centred around the cathedral. At sunset the cathedral is illuminated by a colourful display of various images which are aligned with the

Chartres illuminations
Chartres illuminations
contours of the architecture & accompanied by the sound of classical music - & all this is for free! Not only are two sides of the cathedral painted with coloured light, but other old buildings & churches around the city centre are also lit up in a similar manner offering a completely different perspective to these magnificent examples of French Gothic architecture. The various displays can be incorporated into a leisurely evening walking tour of the heart of Chartres, stopping to draw breath (possibly a beer) at the many bars & cafés en route. Having had our fill of this magical event we returned at midnight to the campsite where they had luckily left a side gate open -- my pole vaulting days being just a distant memory now!

The following day (a Saturday) was commenced with an early morning cycle ride into the city centre where we found not one, but three separate markets to visit. A food market is held in the morning in Place Billard -- opposite the cathedral, where most varieties of French food are on offer, whilst a short walk away, in Place de la Poissonerie, a colourful craft market can be enjoyed & if that was not enough for all you market fans -- there is also a flower market in Place du Cygne. Having successfully plundered the various Chartres market stalls we retuned to our trusty motorhome with our Gallic goodies for a light lunch before returning once again to the centre where we visited the helpful Visitors Bureau in Place de la Cathedrale. Here we availed ourselves of a couple of tape recorders complete with headphones (- if we didn't already look like tourists, then we certainly did now) & proceeded to "discover the secrets of the old town" -- an interesting tour on foot which you can enjoy at your own pace & only cost 8.50€ for the two audio systems. We ended our afternoon with a visit to the Fine Arts Museum housed in a former bishop's palace in Cloitre Notre Dame, close to the cathedral, where there is a well presented collection of works of art.

The day was rounded off nicely with a fine "quatre saisons" pizza & salad at La Passacaille, an Italian restaurant in Rue Sainte Meme, followed by a couple of Ile Flotantes which was then washed down with a bottle of their very reasonable house wine. A pleasant end to an interesting couple of days.

River in Chartres
River in Chartres
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