I wanted to do at least one day trip away from Paris while we were in France, but I had no idea where to go. So I went to trusty TripAdvisor, and Provins kept popping up with many rave reviews. So I thought…why not! And it did NOT disappoint!
By train, Provins is about 1.5 hours outside of Paris. It is known for important rose cultivation. They produce all sorts of foods from roses, and the main specialties are rose petal jam, rose honey and rose candy.
This trip ended up probably being both the worst and the best trip of our entire vacation to France. It started off by us trying to figure out the HUGE train station, and not being able to figure out where to buy our train tickets to get to Provins. Once we figured that out, we were supposed to get a hefty discount on our tickets due to having purchased Paris Metro passes at the beginning of the week….both our travel agent said we would get this discount, and it was stated on the website as well. It didn’t happen, and not being French, it was too hard to argue. We just bought the tickets and found our train, but we noticed no one was getting on it. We began to realize that they had changed the train to a different one…luckily is was just the next one over. So we boarded the train, and thankfully nothing went wrong onboard the train.
We finally arrived in Provins, only to find that we had just missed our shuttle to get up to the visitor’s center – which was completely uphill and about a mile away. The shuttle didn’t come for another hour, so we just decided to walk. It was nice because we ended up seeing some lovely things along with way that we would have otherwise missed.
Provins is a medieval village that has its original architecture inside the still standing walls. About 300 original medieval houses are within the city walls!! All around Provins is relatively flat land, and the village was set up on a plateau over looking the land. There was a “dry” moat that went all around the city walls – it was never filled with water. They were working on the walls, and refurbishing a section of it when we went…hence the shiny new white part of the wall. The walls of Provins are still intact because this city never got invaded.
If you look closely in the rounded turrets, you will long vertical slits. This is where archers could use their bows and arrows without getting hit.
We had a private tour guide who gave us all the history surrounding Provins, and she showed us some really neat things. She took us down to the bottom of the dry moat so we could really get a feel for how tall the wall really was. It was huge! She then took us inside the city walls. See that little black hole down at the bottom of the wall in second picture? That was a “secret” entrance that used to be used by soldiers…and that’s how we got in too!
It’s so interesting, because you think it’s just a wall that surrounds the city. But in reality, you climb up some steep stairs, and you arrive up on top of the plateau!
The medieval village looks just as it did back centuries ago. It was fall holiday in France, so there weren’t many villagers during our time there. This first building with the white door was a hospital back in the day.
Provins didn’t burn much during the French revolution because most of the buildings and houses were made of stone. You can see the exposed wood beams below, but the mortar used in between was a clay like substance that resisted the fires.
Our guide (on the left) is telling us how tall Dutch people used to be even up to about 100 years ago. The houses and buildings here have seemingly very short doorways! In the middle picture, the door on the right with the yellow sign above it, is the entrance to a book store. Back in medieval times, markets would go on down in these passages.
Continuing on our walk towards the main square of the small village…
As with most all villages in Europe, at the heart of it is a church. Provins is no exception. This church is rather plain, and you can tell that this village was not rich by any means. The original plans for this church had it expanding out where the trees and benches are in front of it…but they ran out of money, and the church remained the size it is today.
Inside the church is beautiful, but not the take-my-breath-away kind of beauty. But more of an old-world-now-lost kind of way. It’s not as ornate, and doesn’t have the details like other churches and cathedrals we have seen. But it did have gorgeous stained glass windows!
The main focal point of Provins isn’t actually the church. It’s the bell tower – Tour Cesear. It was here the sentries could see for many kilometers all around Provins to help keep a watchful eye for invaders.
It also was a place they kept prisoners. We went into some of the cells they had for the prisoners….and even centuries later it still smelled awful. With a space of about 6′ x 6′ of cold stone, and a tiny barred window that didn’t keep out the winter cold – I am not sure how prisoners didn’t go mad.
Continuing up into the bell tower was a VERY narrow and steep passage way that was claustrophobic (the picture of Oldest in the passage way was taken as we were coming down). But once at the top, the view was magnificent!! The fall colors just added all that much more to the scenery. The wood in the bell tower is over 700 years old!!
As you can see, the city of Provins has grown way past its original 300 houses inside the city walls. It’s a beautiful town.
Upon leaving the gates of Provins, you come upon this beautiful cemetary. I really wanted to take some time and explore the headstones, but a service was being held, and another family was nearby washing their loved-one’s headstone and I didn’t want to intrude.
I’m not sure how much the girls got out of the history surrounding Provins, or how much they could appreciate seeing this medieval village in its original state. But I am so glad that we all got the opportunity to see it. It is amazing to be able to see history right in front of you, and to be able to touch it. Some day they will look back and be able to appreciate it, because they will have the memories. And I cherish that thought.