Paris is located in the Île-de-France region, which mostly consists of the suburbs of Paris. However, there are dozens of towns on the outer limits that are destinations in their own right. This means that you don’t need expensive train tickets for a wonderful day trip from Paris. All you need is your monthly Navigo card. One of the furthest towns away is the beautiful medieval town of Provins. This town has been on my list to visit for years, so this past weekend, I decided the time had come. It may have taken an hour and a half on the train to get there, but it was more than worth it.
Today, Provins is part of the Île-de-France, but for centuries it was part of the powerful County of Champagne. Because of this, Provins was a major thoroughfare in the trading routes connecting western and central Europe. In the 12th and 13th centuries, the County of Champagne hosted the annual Champagne Fairs, which were central to the economy of medieval Europe. Provins was one of the six host cities, hosting the annual May Fair. For six weeks, merchants from all over the continent would descend upon this small town to trade and hawk their wares. At one point, Provins was considered so important, it commanded its own currency.
Unfortunately, the decline of the Champagne Fairs in the late 13th century led to the decline in the town’s prominence as well. The medieval architecture, however, still remains as a testament to Provins’ former glory. Today, visitors can marvel at the beautiful Saint Quiriace Collegiate Church, walk along the ramparts of the border walls, and take a train through the narrow cobblestone streets. A personal highlight was the Tour Cesar, a 12th century keep. It’s located at the highest point of the town, so the views from the top are spectacular. You can also climb right to the top of the belfry, but we forewarned, the narrow stairwells to access it are not for the faint of heart.
After a truly wonderful day, my friend and I returned to the train station, looking forward to a nap on the way home. However, this is where the stranded part of this article’s title comes in, because there was a bit of a mix up regarding the train schedules. And by mix up, I mean the transport app failed to mention that the trains would not be running that evening due to scheduled maintenance on the tracks. Provins may be beautiful, but my friend and I were suddenly a very long way from home and facing one hell of an Uber bill to get back to Paris. Provided we could even find an Uber driver.
In a bold moment of optimism, I began wandering through the bus stops next to the station. I was hoping that one could take us to another train line, but there was no such luck. However, as I turned around to head back to my friend, ready to make the decision between a car or a hotel, my eye caught something wonderful. Off to the side was a bus with a sign that said, “Paris”. I hurried over to confirm that this bus was in fact heading to Paris, and my optimism paid off when the driver responded, “Oui.” I asked him when he was leaving, and his response was, “Tout de suite!” Immediately! I turned to wave over my friend, but she was already on her way. Less than a minute later, we were safely ensconced on the bus, winding our way through the French countryside.
I’ve always said that traveling is an adventure. Things will always go wrong, even on simple day trips. If you want to travel, you have to be prepared for the unexpected. Last weekend, I almost got stranded in Provins, but in the end, we made it back to Paris. An hour later than planned, sure, but we got to see so much more of the countryside than if we had been on a train. And if we had had to spend the night? Well, I can think of worse places to get stranded than a gorgeous medieval French town. All in all, I had a wonderful time in Provins, and I’m looking forward to returning next summer. I’ll just be sure to triple check the trains times first!
Laura Moore is a professional storyteller who loves history and the many stories that make Paris one of the most fascinating cities in the world. Join one of her signature tours to learn the story of a city.