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Places Near Paris

Easy day trips to Vaux-le-Vicomte, Rambouillet, Fontainebleau and Disneyland Paris are possible from Paris. The region is easily accessible by car and regular RER service. You could attempt to club some sights together. Versailles, Rambouillet and Chartres are all on the Paris-Chartres train route, while Fontainebleau, Barbizon and Vaux-le-Vicomte are all within a few miles of each other. Private companies also organize half-day and full day trips.

Versailles is the location of one of the world’s grandest palaces, and the town of Versailles itself is breathtaking. Broader than the Champs-Elysees and with colossal mansions on the border, Versailles has wide, tree-lined avenues leading up to the palace. From the imposing Place d’Armes, one can enter the sprawling cobbled forecourt of the Cour d’Honeur. The statue of the Sun King stands triumphant right in the middle, surveying the town built to house his noblemen, servants and hangers-on. The Chateau de Versailles took half a century to complete. Water from the Seine was channeled from several miles away to the grand fountains. The State Rooms that made up the royal quarters and the famous Hall of Mirrors where the Treaty of Versailles was signed in 1919, stating that Germany was responsible for World War I, are a treat to see. The Petits Apartements or Private Apartments are also available for touring. The royal family and friends lived in relative intimacy. One of the first oval rooms in France was the magnificent opera house, built in the north wing for Louis XV in 1770. The park of the chateau is a masterpiece of formal landscaping. The Grand Trianon is a scaled down palace, and the Petit Trianon is a tastefully furnished 18th century mansion. Nearby Marie Antoinette built a model village where she and her companions led a make-believe rustic life.

Rambouillet is a small town but boasts of a chateau, a park and more than 30,000 acres of forest. This chateau is now the home of the French president in summer. It is also the meeting place of heads of state or ministers for international summits. Of interest is the Countess’s Dressing Room, the Marble Room that dates from the Renaissance and Napoleon’s Bathroom with Pompeii-style frescoes. The Water Garden and the Queen’s Dairy named for Marie-Antoinette are included in the park.

Even before you reach Chartres, you will see its lovely cathedral towering over the plain. Winding medieval streets dating from pre-Roman times make this old town steeped in religious history, even more attractive. The Gothic Cathedral Notre-Dame is the sixth built on the site, despite a series of fires that razed it to the ground. The cathedral has remained basically the same since the 12th and 13th centuries. The Royal Portal on the main façade has remained one of the finest Romanesque sculptures. The formula of the deep blue of the stained glass inside the cathedral remains a mystery as the windows come alive even in dull weather.

Giverny is the place where Claude Monet worked and lived for 40 years. The kitchen is particularly striking with its cool blue tiles and so is the yellow dining room. The lily pond with its Japanese bridge however, is the picture-perfect and it is not difficult to judge why it was one of Monet’s favourite subjects.

Fontainebleau is the site of a magnificent Renaissance palace built by Francois I who transformed a medieval hunting lodge for this purpose. His successor Henri II covered the palace with his initials, woven into the D for his mistress Diane de Poitiers. It was Napoleon who spared no money or effort to bring the chateau to its present glorious state. When Napoleon was exiled he bid farewell to his Old Guard in the Court of Farewell, marked by a horseshoe staircase. The Cour Ovale or Oval Court is the oldest and most interesting. The State Rooms include the Francis I Gallery and a covered bridge. The grand Ballroom is about 100 feet long with wood panelling, frescoes and gilding. A splendid parquet floor matches the striking ceiling of the ballroom. The Private Apartments used by Napoleon and Josephine and the leader’s imperial uniform in the Napoleon Museum can be viewed on weekdays.

Barbizon was put on the map of fame by landscape painters Camille Corot, Jean-Francois Millet and Theodore Rousseau. The Barbizon School Museum was an inn frequented by the painters, and now has a few original works by them. Painting also graces some of the walls and furniture in the museum. Today, Barbizon is a delightful village lined with boutiques and restaurants.

Vaux-le-Vicomte is famous for its Chateau de Vaux-le-Vicomte. The owner of the chateau was Nicholas Fouquet, the royal finance minister to Sun King Louis XIV who threw a housewarming party in 1661 and invited the envy of his imperious king. With Fouquet thrown into jail on trumped up charges, the Sun King began building Versailles with a vengeance.

Disneyland Paris is east of Paris and accessible by RER from the city. The theme park is about one and a half kilometres across and has whistling steam engines connecting its ‘villages’. In the center of the Park is the Sleeping Beauty Castle. Disney Village is an entertainment centre with everything from restaurants to theatres, shops, a tourist office and even a post office.

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