Charming timber-framed houses are surrounded by the remains of medieval walls. A vibe of stepping back in time fills the air, and the place isn’t overrun with tourists as is so common with pretty French towns near Paris. Provins is filled with mysteries, oodles of history and picture-perfect scenes straight off a vintage postcard.
For a world heritage UNESCO site that’s so visit-able within the context as a day trip from Paris (the town has been listed UNESCO since 2001), I’m always shocked that the historic town of Provins is suggested so little in comparison with other obvious day trips from the city such as Versailles and Fontainebleau. But if you love medieval history, with a hint of mystery, then a Provins day trip from Paris is the place for you…
Tour Cesar (Medieval Tower)
The medieval tower Tour Cesar dates all the way back to the 12th century and can be visited for a fee. However, be aware that the steps inside the tower are steep at times, and the inside of the tower is incredibly claustrophobic.
Other medieval points of interest in the town include the Grange aux Dîmes (a storage barn and marketplace), and the Musée de Provins et du Provinois which documents the history of the town from prosperous medieval city to a standard French town. Just like in Paris, there’s a ‘Château de la Reine Blanche‘ in Provins, after a medieval queen.
But if I’m honest, Provins is easily explored by foot, and the best way to uncover the city’s secrets is to simply wander around and see where the cobbled alleyways take you. After all, you can never be sure what kind of architectural gem is hiding around the next corner.
Saint Jean’s Gate Ramparts
Well preserved and akin to stepping back through time, today a few kilometres worth of walls and two gates still remain from the original medieval fortified ramparts. You can wander along the tops to your heart’s content and a stroll along the fortified wall provides picture-perfect views over the rest of the medieval town. Plus, the ramparts and two surviving ancient gateways date back to the 11th and 14th centuries and are surprisingly well preserved given their age!
Medieval Tunnels (Les Souterrains de Provins)
There is no doubt in my mind that the highlight of our day trip was most definitely visiting the Medieval Tunnels of Provins. Located in the lower part of the medieval city, an interconnecting set of winding underground tunnels forms an intricate maze below the cobbled streets. Scrawled across the walls, you’ll see centuries worth of history, providing an intimate connection to the people who lived, breathed and worked in the tunnels centuries ago.
But, in actual fact, there are two sets of tunnels in Provins. One set dates back to the middle ages when Provins became a hub for trade and hosted annual ‘champagne fairs’. The other underground tunnels are even older still, and no one knows their exact origins. Hosted tours of the tunnels take place throughout the years (though the tunnels are only accessible at the weekend during the winter months).
Saint-Quiriace Collegiate Church
Free to wander inside, visit a basilica where Joan of Arc herself attended mass. (You know, the French heroine who was reportedly burned at the stake in Rouen). The Saint-Quiriace Collegiate Church was first founded in the 12th-Century and added to again in the 17th Century. However, despite improvements in the 1600s, the church was never completed due to the French kingdom’s difficulties under Philippe le Bel’s rule.
New(er) and Lower Part of Town in Provins
While visiting the older parts of the city is fascinating, sometimes it’s nice to get away from the more ‘touristy’ places in town, and see modern French culture at its best. Wander the new town (the bit of Provins right by its main train station) to find cheaper prices for food, a shop dedicated to local beer, and plenty of independent boutiques.
Where to Eat in Provins
Head into the main square and there are plenty of sweet eateries and cute cafés to choose from. On both occasions, I visited Provins, I ate at the Creperie, Mammy Gâteaux with a view overlooking the town square. Set in a pretty timber-framed building, they serve great crepes there, and you can also enjoy a variety of rose-infused products which are a speciality of the region (including beer!)
Provins day trip from Paris: How to get to Provins from Paris
For those who don’t have a car (and I’d recommend going by train even if you do have a car), the best way to reach Provins from Paris is by train. Head to Gare de l’Est to take one of the hourly trains that take you straight to the medieval city.
The train is about one hour fifteen and can be validated on your Navigo pass (if you have one). Otherwise, the train will cost just over €10 each way. If you do want to take a car, then you’ll head straight down the N4 and the car journey takes approximately the same time as the train.