Chartres, in the department of Eure-et-Loir, region Centre-Val de Loire, in south west France is world famous for its UNESCO world heritage listed cathedral.
We look at this majestic church and tour the city to see what the best things for visitors to see and do…
The extraordinary and wondrous gothic Cathedral of Chartres has been a major pilgrimage for more than 1000 years. More than 1.3 million pilgrims a year still make their way to Chartres to visit the Cathedral, to walk its ancient labyrinth and to enjoy its ancient ambiance.
No matter how many cathedrals or churches you might have been to, this one stands out. It has the most beautiful stained-glass windows - 172 of them in total covering an incredible 2,600m². Incredibly, Some of them date back to the 12th century. You can’t help but love the colours, especially “Chartres blue”, a deep blue used on the oldest windows. There is also an extraordinary, ancient crypt, effectively an underground cathedral which in the summer months you can tour by candlelight, it’s incredibly atmospheric.
In 876, French King Charles the Bald gave the town of Chartres a holy relic, said to be a piece of the veil worn by Mary when she gave birth to Jesus. It was a major draw for pilgrims. The fabric survived a fire but not the French Revolution when it was cut into pieces and dispersed. A few pieces were returned though and you can see them displayed in the chapel.
The main building of the current cathedral, there has been a church on this site since the 5th century, was built between 1194 and 1221 and you really have to see the architecture for yourself. No photo does justice to the incredible buildings skills of the medieval builders, glass makers and masons.
What to see and do in Chartres
There are some beautiful medieval buildings, and, if you’re a fan of Renaissance buildings, you’ll spot plenty in Chartres. You can recognise them by their mushroom shape, smaller at the bottom and spreading out from the 1st floor. The design reflected an attempt to save money on taxes as owners paid according to how much ground they took up.
Chartres’ International Stained-Glass centre is the only one of its kind in France. Next to the Cathedral it’s housed in a listed monument. You can get up close to ancient panels of stained glass, join in workshops and discover the history of stained-glass.
Maison Picasiette, a little bit out of the centre, but well worth the detour and fans of Naieve Art will adore it. The house was decorated with pieces of broken china between 1930 and 1962 by Raymond Isidore, an iron foundry worker. His decades of laborious love are astonishingly bright and vibrant. Every inch of surface covered and sparkling, like an enormous mosaic jewel box.
Top tip: Pick up Le Pass from the tourist office for 10 euros. You’ll get discounts and saving at 50 of their partners including shops, hotels, restaurants cultural and tourist sites and more.
You can take the little tourist train with an audio guide to see the historic districts from spring to autumn. Take a guided tour via the tourist office or visit with a Greeter, volunteers who are locals who love to share their knowledge of the city they love.
http://www.chartres-greeters.com/en/ Chartres Tourist Office, 8 Rue de la Poissonnerie