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Step back in time with a visit to Provins

Posted by Katy Peck on 12 June 2019
Related property: Le Mont De St Simeon
Step back in time with a visit to Provins

An often-overlooked gem within 2 hours of Paris and just 35 minutes from St Simeon, Provins is a real highlight for history lovers, or anyone with a taste for architecture. Filled with charming timber-framed houses amongst medieval ramparts, it’s a town that has hardly changed in centuries.

You may not guess it, but Provins used to be one of the most important cities in medieval France. This is because it was once home to one of the most influential fairs of the era. These grand markets took place on a scale which was unheard of anywhere else in Europe and were attended by tens of thousands of people. All would descend on this single city to trade their wares - usually champagne, which is why these gatherings gained the name 'champagne fairs’.

Today, Provins is a charming traditional town bursting with half-timbered houses, pretty waterways, cobbled streets and a lovely local market. It’s easy to lose yourself among the brightly painted houses, winding alleyways and charming selection of shops and creperies. Before you know it, you might have spent a whole day simply following your feet!

Unlike many of the pretty towns surrounding Paris, Provins tends to be overlooked by the majority of tourists, making it a delightful and unspoilt place to visit even during peak season – something which seems even more unusual considering it’s been a world heritage UNESCO site since 2001.

Although we think the best way to discover Provins is simply getting out on the cobbled streets and seeing what you can find, there are some highlights which are definitely worth a visit. Firstly, Tour Cesar: a medieval tower dating back to the 12th Century. Visitors can enter for a fee (an adult ticket cost 4.30€ at time of writing) and climb the steps to enjoy a beautiful view over the old town. Please note that the stairs can be very steep and claustrophobic.

Other medieval sites include the Musée de Provins et du Provinois, which showcases the history of the town and how it changed from a prosperous medieval powerhouse to a more typical French town. There’s also the lovely La Grange aux Dîmes, a storage merchant’s house that’s one of the most impressive buildings in Provins, with some beautiful examples of traditional architecture. Today, a series of permanent exhibitions demonstrate the main crafts and the merchant activities of the 13th Century.

Another must-see is the Saint-Quiriace Collegiate Church, where Joan of Arc herself is said to have attended mass before doing battle in Champagne. First built in the 12th Century and expanded in the 17th Century, it’s a stunning example of Romanesque, Gothic, and Classic architecture, complete with elegant pillars, open spaces and delicate carvings. This is made all the most impressive by the fact that the church was never fully completed, due to the French kingdom’s difficulties under Philippe le Bel’s rule. Only a couple of stained-glass windows are completed, and there are very few paintings and statues. 

No trip to Provins is complete without a walk along Saint Jean’s Gate Ramparts. Remarkably well-preserved, today there are few kilometres and a couple of gates still standing. You can enjoy a stroll along the wall and look down at the charming rooftops the town.

For those who would rather descend, don’t miss the remarkable Les Souterrains de Provins, or medieval tunnels. Found in the lower part of the medieval city, these interconnecting tunnels form a winding maze beneath the streets. You’ll find centuries of history scrawled on the walls, providing a real insight into the lives of the people who lived and worked in the tunnels all those years ago.

In actual fact, the tunnels are divided into two ‘sets’. The first, which dates back to when Provins was a centre for trade, were most likely used to store food. The second, deeper set are older still and no’ one really knows their origins, giving them a real air of mystery - some suggest that they may go back as far as the Bronze and Iron ages. Guided tours through the tunnels take place throughout the year, available in both French and English.

When it comes to places to eat, one recommendation is Mammy Gâteaux, which can be found beside the town square. Set in a pretty timber-framed building, this creperie serves great crepes as well as a variety of rose-infused products, including a unique beer! Another recommended restaurant is La P'tite Savoie, found in the lower town. Serving traditional home-cooked food, it’s a great place to refuel before your return to St Simeon.

Just over a half hour’s drive down the D204 from Provins, our St Simeon property is a fantastic place to relax after a long day of exploring. With 38 holiday units, indoor pool, sauna and much more, there’s something for everyone to enjoy during your stay. You can find out more about how you too can stay here, as well as all of our other charming holiday properties, here.

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Katy Peck

Katy Peck

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