As nice as Paris is, my favourite experiences in France are in the smaller towns and countryside. Life outside the big cities in France is still quite sophisticated with excellent food and art and life. But you also get some rusticness and relaxation.
I made a special trip to Chartres for a guided tour from Malcolm Miller. Mr. Miller is something of a legend; he's made a life's study of the famous cathedral and has been giving guided tours for nearly fifty years. His book about the cathedral was a revelation for me. It explains in brisk detail the iconography of the stained glass and sculptures. He argues that the cathedral is like a library; now I have a hint of how to read the books. The windows are no longer a blur of red and blue with funny faces to me, I now see the narratives and the artistic imperative. His tour was excellent, a 90 minute sampler of his life's work interpreting the cathedral delivered with delicious humour.
The tour alone was worth the trip, but Chartres turned out to be a revelation. The river is beautiful, the Saturday market is impressive, and Le Grand Monarque is a great old road hotel with excellent food. All in all a very pleasant overnight excursion from Paris. The train's only an hour, you could go just for the day. But better to settle in a bit and enjoy the rhythm of Chartres life.
As usual, I took some photos.