10 Things to do in Chartres besides the Cathedral
Let’s be clear. If you are going to Chartres, you are making the trip to visit its incredible cathedral. It truly is something special and deserving of your time and focus while in town. It’s perfectly acceptable to treat Chartres as a stop to see the Cathedral and then move on. But should you choose to hang around longer, there is plenty more to do.
I spent the weekend (a full day and a half) in Chartres. With more than enough time to see the Cathedral, I had plenty of time to explore. Let’s follow my route around town so I can show you what else the city has to offer:
Near the Cathedral in the center of town:
If you’re in Chartres on a Wednesday or Saturday morning, there is a food market held outdoors under the covered area of Place Billard from 7am-1pm. It’s small but if one of your happy places is strolling through a market (mine definitely is!), then it’s worth a look. It’s not notable enough to rush into Chartres early to catch it but if you are there already, it’s not far out of the way. (There weren't stands selling prepared food to-go so don’t plan on picking up lunch there.)
There’s also a flower market on Tuesdays, Thursdays, and Saturdays that runs all day at Place du Cygne. Again, it’s very small but a pretty detour in the center of town.
2. Jardins de l'Évêché
If you are in Chartres, you are clearly going inside the Cathédrale Notre-Dame de Chartres. But don’t leave after looking at the facades of the building. Take a walk around the back of the church to have a look at the view and the Bishop’s Palace Garden. (The Bishop’s Palace now houses the Musée des Beaux-Arts - see the next activity on the list.)
3. Musée des Beaux-Arts
The fine arts museum is located behind the Cathedral. In my opinion, it’s worth a look at the outside but not necessarily a visit to see the collection. I’m really one of the last people to discourage going to art museums and if you love them like I do, you’re going to disregard this caution anyway and have a look for yourself. But I'm going to be honest anyway. The collection was mediocre and with very little curation (and the scant information that is there is in French only).
In its defense, there is a beautiful chapel to see and the top floor had some pretty paintings of the Chartres Cathedral, which I enjoyed. This one was my favorite:
Le Musée des Beaux-Arts de Chartres
29, cloître Notre-Dame, 28000 Chartres, France
Open Wednesday-Saturday (closed Mondays and Tuesdays) from 10:00am-12:30pm / 2:00pm-6:00pm (until 5pm from Nov 1st - April 30th) and Sunday from 2:00pm-6:00pm (until 5pm from Nov 1st - April 30th)
Admission to permanent collection: €3.40, reduced rate is €1.70; free the first Sunday of the month except for the months of July and August (prices as of September 2014)
4. Look into what events are on in Chartres
Before you visit Chartres, it’s worth taking a look to see if any special events will be going on while you’re there - especially if you are planning a summer visit. The Chartres Office of Tourism is a good place to start the investigation. Discover-Chartres also has helpful information, which is where I read about a little medieval festival going on while we were in town.
Not to mention at night we enjoyed a free jazz concert and walked through the town to experience Chartres en Lumière (a light show throughout town). But that's a whole other story for tomorrow.
The gist I got of this event is that local merchants dress up in costumes reminiscent of medieval times and either sell their wares or show off their skills.
Even if you're in Chartres and there are no medieval characters to witness, take a walk down Rue de la Porte Guillaume anyway. These pretty timbered buildings will still be there, and as you cross the bridge over the river look back to see the Cathedral towering high over the city.
Across the river heading to eastern Chartres:
As we crossed the bridge (mentioned above), we made our way to the attraction Maison Picassiette. But before we reached our destination, we made two stops.
5. Jardin de Sakurai
I read that the Jardin de Sakurai (a small detour en route to Maison Picassiette from center of town) offered a great view of the cathedral. This would be true if it weren’t for all the trees! Stop by the next place on the list for a better view.
6. Cimetière St Chéron
Forgo the above Jardin de Sakurai and cut through the cemetery on the way to Maison Picassiette for a better picture of the cathedral. It offers a clearer view of the Cathedral, and more artistic photo opportunities.
I assume this could very well be the cemetery Raymond Isidore worked at when he wasn't tiling his house - but let's not get ahead of ourselves. More on this interesting character next...
7. Maison Picassiette
A museum that you definitely must see if you have time is the Maison Picassiette. It’s a little out of the way on the other side of the river, about a 25 minute walk from the cathedral. But it is well worth the walk. If you don’t have time to explore these other sites over the river, at least make an effort to see this.
Raymond Isidore was born in Chartres. He built a house in town in 1930 and then decided to start decorating it in 1938. His decorating style involved creating mosaics and painting artwork all over the house. Little by little, he covered the walls, gardens, furniture, and every surface in between with pieces of ceramic and glass.
It’s a fascinating place. While small in size, it’s incredible to see the art of this little-known man. (I say little-known in the sense that the average person perhaps has not heard of him, but apparently his project did get recognition in the 1950’s. Picasso paid a visit in 1954.) It’s the work of the town’s cemetery-sweeper who made it his life’s project to decorate his home, and completed his work in 1962 just two years before his death.
There was so much to take in - the colors, the detail, the scale of how much work it took one person to create such a special space. I loved how he incorporated the Chartres Cathedral, other French monuments, and even a rendition of the Mona Lisa in his artwork!
If you’re wondering why the museum is called Maison (House) “Picassiette” and not “Isidore,” it comes from the nickname he earned in town. It’s either a hybrid from “Picasso” and “assiette” (which means “plate” in English) or a reference to the term “pique-assiette,” meaning "scrounger" in reference to the way he scavenged for materials to use. (More on this in an interesting read on The Joys of Shards.)
Regardless of the artist behind the work, this is a really unique place to visit. We had to walk through twice to take it all in, and I just wanted to take a picture of every inch to capture the gorgeous details and work that went into crafting this house and garden. If you have a little extra time in Chartres, this is a must-see after the Cathedral!
22 rue du Repos, 28000 Chartres, France
Open daily (excluding Tuesdays): April 1-30 from 10:00am-12:00pm / 2:00pm-5:00pm; May 2-June 30 and September 1-30 from 10:00am-12:00pm / 2:00pm-6:00pm; July 1-August 31 from 10:00am-6:00pm
Open for the weekends only: October 1-31 on Saturdays from 10:00am-12:00pm / 2:00pm-6:00pm; Sundays from 2:00pm-6:00pm
Closed: May 1st and 8th, Tuesdays all year round, Sunday mornings, and is not open from November 1-March 31st
Admission: regular price €5.50, reduced price €2.70
8. Parc des Bords de I'Eure
On the walk back to the center of town we walked through the Parc des Bords de I'Eure. This is a wonderful stop for children as there is a playground and miniature golf. It’s also a great stop if you have a husband who has a love of farm animals.
There’s also a part of the park known as La Petite Venise (because how could we be next to a river or canal in Europe and not have it compared to Venice?!). You can rent a boat for a cruise down the river. All in all, it’s a pleasant park to enjoy an outdoor activity and take a break from sightseeing for a little.
Back near the Cathedral to eat and drink:
Of course, it wouldn't be us if we weren't in town to partake in some food tourism as well! Here are our top two picks.
9. L'Académie de la Bière de Chartres
If you want to switch up your beverage from wine to beer, this is the place for you. We had quite the selection of about 150 beers to choose from (8 on tap). Not to mention the delicious little bite to eat of pickled veggies and olives we paired with the drinks. This is chill place to hang out, listen to some rock/heavy metal music, and enjoy good beer. We enjoyed our apero of Tripel Karmeliet Belgian beers on tap with the snack before getting to the real deal, Michael’s birthday dinner (#2).
L'Académie de la Bière
8 Rue du Cheval Blanc, 28000 Chartres, France
Hours: Tuesday-Thursday and Sunday 5:00pm-1:00am; Friday and Saturday 5:00pm-2:00am
Summer Hours (June-the end of September): Monday-Thursday 5:00pm-1:00am; Friday 5:00pm-2:00am; Saturday 4:00pm-2:00am; Sunday 4:00pm-1:00am
10. Le Tripot
I was expecting a good dinner in Chartres, but not a fabulous one. When we passed by Le Tripot, it looked cute and we noticed the “Fait Maison” symbol on the menu (a new designation that restaurants can put on their menus if it meets the homemade criteria). We didn’t have a reservation but arrived right at 7:30pm when it reopened for dinner. We were able to get a table, but it did fill up and people were turned away not long after - if you’re thinking of going I suggest you reserve ahead.
Let’s get to the meal. There were menus for €28, €34, and €44 and we both chose the middle one, “Terre et Mer.” There were options a la carte as well.
Everything was delicious. I started with a lobster and cherry tomato tart and Michael ordered foie gras that was some of the best foie gras I have ever had. (Over these past 2 ½ years I’ve had my fair share of sampling foie gras.) We both enjoyed our beef and lamb main courses. And dessert just as delicious as what had been served prior. Mine was an inventive chocolate “nems” that were dipped into a sweet sauce, and Michael went with a more classic baba rum cake. It was absolutely fabulous and I would certainly recommend working up a big appetite in anticipation of a great meal from start to finish. Which you should be able to do if you followed the above path and did all that walking around town!
11 Place Jean Moulin, 28000 Chartres, France
Hours: Lunch 12:00pm-1:45pm / Dinner 7:30pm-9:15pm
Closed Sunday evenings, all day Monday and Wednesday
And that’s the list! For more information on Chartres, take a look at my post on the shining star of the town, the Chartres Cathedral. And stay tuned - tomorrow I will reveal more on the reason I decided to turn a trip to Chartres into a weekend trip instead of just going for the day.