Day Trips from Paris
If you go hiking nearly every week, you can’t expect to hit the jackpot each time. Some hiking trips go awry (you get lost, it starts to rain), while others fail to meet expectations – and a welcome thing this is, too.
Otherwise, we would no longer have standards – all concepts of appreciation, such as “good” or “beautiful”, require an opposite: a dark background against which they can shine – and lose first our vocabulary and, ultimately, our capacity for joy.
Provins is one of the main tourist attractions of the Ile de France (the area around Paris), full of medieval buildings and monuments. And not only that: one of France’s main hiking trails, the GR11, passes right through it and continues into the surrounding countryside. Sounds great, doesn’t it?
A Hike in Provins
Walk out of the station (trains of the suburban RER network leave from Paris Est and take about 80 minutes) and cross the main road as well as the small creek behind it to step right in.
Early on, you have to make an important decision. Which way to go: left, for the medieval Old Town – or right? We decided, with a heavy heart, to leave the paint factory for our next visit.
The first thing you notice in the Old Town is that it must have been against some medieval belief to lay telephone cables underground.
This is the ancient Pilgrims’ hospital. People in the Middle Ages came to Provins in their hundreds – not only to do business (Provins was the area’s foremost market town) but also for pilgrimages because this was the place where they had found the earthly remains of St Ayoul. (Whose fame has since gone into something of a steep decline.)
There is little about the Middle Ages that modern people find as strange as the concept of pilgrimages – week-long travels to gaze at a pinky finger or some such.
Personally, I cannot help wondering which of our own travel habits will most amuse people a thousand years from now: Easy Hiking, perhaps, although my money is on our strange obsession of traveling half way around the world to watch our favourite sports teams play. (If we want to mock something, we do not usually have to travel very far either in time or in location.)
The name of this street translates – unless my French is failing me – as the “Climb of the Epic Pig”. I would love to know what exactly happened here, I really would.
Elsewhere in town, they have a place called the “Maison de Bourreau”, the Hangman’s Home, and a street called “Allee des Lepreux” – just in case you were thinking that life in the Middle Ages was all pageantry, fun and games.
Other places have out-of-town shopping malls, Provins has an out-of-town Tourism office. Yes, that is a wheatfield over there.
The funny thing is this: The only memory that I had from our previous visit to Provins was this image of my small family and myself standing forlornly somewhere in a place where faceless suburbia blends into farmland. Suddenly, it all came back.
No handrail! If a proper health and safety inspector saw this, these Frenchies would have to tear all of that down, historic town centre or not. (Yeah, you laugh, but wait until someone falls down and breaks a hip.)
After our walk through the Old Town, it was already afternoon, so we decided to skip lunch and to buy a sandwich instead, intending to picnic in a beauty spot along the way of our short afternoon walk, nearer to 5 than to 10 km, surrounded by bucolic scenery, somewhere between Dejeuner sur l’Herbe and Fete de Champagne. So we followed the GR11 out of town, from the back of the train station, in the direction of Poigny.
Here are some of the highlights from our short hike in Provins:
The local council estate.
The local waste recycling centre.
At least we did in the end find a place where we could eat our sandwiches, which was “bucolic” enough if slightly spooky. We felt a little like intruding into someone’s private garden (there was a house but no fence and no indication that this was a public building either), and I nervously expected – for the first few minutes at least – Smithers to release the hounds at any moment.
The windows of the stately home at the top left of the garden were probably shut, I reasoned, because the owners did not want to let any sunlight in – for fear of turning into dust. (In the end, however, you will be relieved to hear, we survived unbitten.)
From there to the nearest RER station (called Champbenoist-Poigny), it was only a 15-minute walk – down a busy road, of course, in keeping with the leitmotif of the trail – but at least, we were home early.
So if you go to Provins, you may well want to skip the hiking bit (with Easy Hiker’s express permission, for once) and concentrate on the medieval Old Town instead – but go you should, if you can find the time, because there is quite a lot to see. More than we could show you today, as a matter of fact. Which is why there will be more pictures of pretty Provins here.