Chartres in the Loire Valley is an historic city on the river Eure, famous for its ornate cathedral and its reputation for producing fine perfumery.
A place of Christian pilgrimage, Chartres is the destination of a 50 mile route from the Notre-Dame de Paris (Paris Cathedral) to the Notre-Dame de Chartres (Chartres Cathedral), which is still travelled annually by pilgrims today.
The Gothic cathedral is considered the finest example of this architectural style in France and, though the rest of the city suffered serious damage, was saved from attack during WW2 by an American army officer who ordered US troops to cease firing at the building when he discovered no enemy hiding within.
The cathedral's stained glass was removed in 1939, and the majority of the windows, with 2,600m² of original windows dating from the 12th and 13th centuries, are on display in the cathedral today - the largest collection of original medieval stained glass on the world.
More medieval stained glass can be found in the churches throughout the city, especially at the churches of Saint-Pierre, Saint-Aignan and Saint-Jean-Baptiste. Also inside the cathedral is one of the largest labyrinths in France which has never been restored and was built at the same time as the cathedral.
Dominating the Old Town, the cathedral looms over the narrow streets of ancient gabled houses and 'Les Tetres', stairways leading down into the lower town, all casting their reflection in the river.
Named as the 'city of light and perfume', Chartres is at the heart of Cosmetic Valley and home to the world's leading perfume manufacturers. Chartres even has its own signature perfume - Autrica, which is available at the Tourist Office in the Maison du Saumon.
Throughout the summer over 29 monuments and major attractions in the city are illuminated at night with a musical score for a night-time tour of the city. The event culminates in the Festival of Lights in September when more locations are lit up with coloured lights and street entertainment abounds.
Other festivals that are worth a look are the Summer Evenings festival from the end of June to the end of August, a series of free performances and concerts, and Chartres en Parfum (Perfume Festival), which takes place on Mother's Day every year. The history and art of French perfumery is explored in the museum, L'Esprit du Parfum, with multi-sensory and interactive exhibits and worskshops as well as an exhibit of perfume bottles from between the two world wars.
Chartres has many excellent museums, including a Musée des Beaux-Arts, a Natural Science and Prehistory museum and a museum of agriculture called COMPA. Other places not to miss are the International Centre of Stained Glass, uncovering and teaching the art of stained glass painting, and the Maison Picassiette, an extraordinary house decorated inside and out with mosiacs made from broken ceramics.
Why not explore the city for less with the Chartres Pass for free entry and discounts at attractions, restaurants and more?
For a relaxing stroll, Chartres has some wonderful parks and gardens and great walks beside the river. Take the chance to get out on the water with canoes, pedalos and small boats all available for hire!
Watch some horse racing at the Hippodrome, the largest in the region, or take a different view of Chartres by going gliding or hot-air ballooning. The Odyssey complex is the largest pool complex in France with an Olympic-sized swimming pool, outdoor pool, therapy pool, and wave pool. It also contains an ice rink, gym, sauna and steam room with a magnificent view of the cathedral.
Don't forget to do some shopping whilst in Chartres - it has some excellent art galleries, antiques shops and auction houses as well as some great markets with Saturday as the main market day - the colourful food market, flower market and clothing market are all open on this day as well as separately at other times throughout the week.
Buy some culinary specialities at the market and in the local shops of Chartres paté, an 18th century game pie, Mentchikoff, a sweet made of fine praline chocolate covered in meringue and the local beer, L'Eurélienne, brewed on a family farm less than 6 miles away.
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