Rick Steves

Enchanting Side Trips from Paris

Glittering with elegance and glamour, the City of Lights certainly has a lot to offer. But its surrounding Ã?le-de-France region is equally enchanting, and provides travelers a quick and worthwhile getaway from the Paris bustle.

Let's join travel guide Rick Steves on a side-tripping adventure outside Paris. During this episode of "Rick Steves' Europe," he takes us to four out-of-this-world destinations. And the best part is they're all easily accessible, within an hour from the Eiffel Tower. Here's a look at those stops.

Did you miss the episode? No worries, the full episode is available to you here. And for more exciting travel ideas, watch "Rick Steves' Europe" weekdays at 5:30 a.m. and 7:30 p.m. Take notes, Steves sure knows his stuff.

Versailles

The town of Versailles' grand royal palace is the crème de la crème of European palaces, making it an essential stop for any traveler exploring Paris' outskirts. During the late 1600s, King Louis XIV spent a fortune turning his family's hunting lodge into a lavish estate fit for the king of kings. Once finished, it became the gathering place where Louis distracted his noble counterparts with leisure and luxury while he ran the country.

Each room inside the chteau, the main attraction, is decorated with its own opulent theme. Notable rooms include the Hall of Mirrors and Louis' ceremonial bedroom. The palace's exterior is surrounded by a beautiful yard of gardens, fountains, and ponds. It's a great setting for renting a bike or rowing in the Grand Canal.

While visiting the Palace of Versailles can be a little daunting due to the crowds, Steves offers a few tips for a smooth and pleasant visit. He suggests avoiding the weekends and also buying your tickets in advance. Booking a guided tour is also a good way to see the estate.

Chteau Vaux-le-Vicomte

For a more intimate and less-crowded palace experience, check out the dwelling that was the actual inspiration for Versailles -- the Vaux-le-Vicomte. This magnificent mansion was the home of finance minister Nicolas Fouquet, who worked during Louis XIV's reign. He brought in France's top architect, landscaper and decorator at the time to make his dream home a reality. The end result is the perfect harmony of structure and design.

There are many ways to enjoy this place, whether it's taking a stroll by its moat, exploring the gardens or climbing to the rooftop cupola for the best view of Fouquet's territory.

Chartres

Another great day trip is the city of Chartres. For more than 800 years, its massive cathedral has attracted tourists and religious pilgrims. The cathedral of Chartres is most famous for its collection of medieval stained glass and statues. The town of Chartres, with its nice and inexpensive hotels and restaurants, is also charming enough to make it an overnight stay.

Chteau de Fontainebleau

For one last look at the famous French chteau heartland, head to fascinating Fontainebleau. Unlike the French-designed Versailles and Vaux-le-Vicomte, this palace was built a century earlier and with inspiration from the Italian Renaissance. Its sweeping staircase and collection of tapestries are impressive to see.

King François I oversaw the palace, but it has been beloved by just about every French royal since. Napolean Bonaparte, for example, spent a lot of time there. Today, visitors to the palace can see his personal apartment, throne room, and many other artifacts from his reign.

It's amazing how just stepping outside the metropolis of Paris today gives such a vivid picture of France's powerful past. Whether you make just one or all of these exciting Paris side trips, it's like taking a stroll through history.

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Chteau de Fontainebleau | Photo: nanabcn19/Flickr/Creative Commons License

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