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We will spend a couple of days in Paris early fall and would like to spend at least one day visiting a castle or small town with old city centre. What options are there?

We have already done Versailles twice so we are looking for other places now. I think at most 2 hours one direction on a train or bus would be bearable (maybe a bit shorter on a bus). We are staying in the south of inner Paris in arrondisement 13 so I guess southwards would be preferable.

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How close are you to Gare Montparnasse? If it's not too far, then heading to the Loire to see the many fine Châteaux there could work within your time limits, either by TGV+Bus or TGV+Local Train –  Gagravarr Jul 10 '12 at 10:48
    
not that far! an interesting option - have been curious about loire for a long time. –  froderik Jul 10 '12 at 11:14

4 Answers 4

up vote 5 down vote accepted

I'd suggest you give some consideration to visiting the Loire Valley. Depending on your exact definition of Castle or Châteaux, the number there varies, but it's in the 25-50 range!

The best way to get to the Loire from Paris is probably to head to Gare Montparnasse and hop on a TGV. It takes about an hour to Tours, or about 1.5 hours to Angers, which are two of the big towns in the region which both have regular TGV services. That's towards the top end of your travel time, but not impossible. You can also drive - there's the A10 to Tours or the A11 to Angers. Driving would be quicker for getting around when you're there, but the TGV will beat the car hands-down for getting out there!

This question has some good suggestions on places to visit in the Loire, I'd suggest you start there for ideas.

If you want something more medieval looking, then the Château d'Angers (in Anger) was built as a fortress, with the main parts dating from the 9th and 13th Centuries. It's a formidable looking building, even today with the lovely ornate gardens that surround it! It's possible to walk around most of the ramparts, which offer stunning views out, and it now features a museum with a fine collection of medieval tapestries. It's a 10-15 minute walk from the main railway station in Angers, so you 1 hour 45 minutes after leaving Paris you can be stood inside!

http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/File:Loire_Maine_Angers2_tango7174.jpg

Tours itself doesn't really have an impressive castle, but it does have a great Cathedral, and some large bridges across the river. There are two places fairly near by that have some great Châteaux. The first is the famous Château de Chenonceau. This is 20 minutes by train from Tours, and the station is just outside the carpark of the Château so you're there very quickly.

http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/File:Chateau_de_Chenonceau_2008E.jpg

Another one fairly near by is the Château d'Azay-le-Rideau, that's about a 30 minute train ride from Tours then a bit of a longer walk. I've not been inside, only peered through the railings, but it looks pretty good from the outside! There are a number of other very nice ones too, but I think most of the rest will either need a bus, or will be outside your 2 hour limit.

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There are some good opportunities, for example:

Fontainebleau (outer suburbs to the south-east, about 45 minutes by train from Gare de Lyon + 30 minutes of bus from Gare de Fontainebleau-Avon to the palace)

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Vincennes (inner suburbs to the east, terminal of metro line Ⓜ①)

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Chantilly (northern suburbs, about 1 hour: take a train from gare du Nord (or the slower RER line D) to Chantilly-Gouvieux, then a bus or a fixed-rate taxi for the remaining 2km)

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Breteuil (outer in the countryside to the south-west, requires a car, or ~40min by RER B to Saint-Rémy-les-Chevreuse then a 6km bicycle ride)

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Vaux-le-Vicomte (south-eastern suburbs; 30 minute train ride to Melun, then bicycle or taxi, or buses some days)

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Pierrefonds (north near Compiègne, about 1½ hour by train + bus)

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Thoiry, best known for its drive-through zoological garden (out in the countryside to the west, only accessible by car, or by bus tours some days)

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Saint Jean de Beauregard (southern suburbs near Les Ulis, about 1 hour by train + bus + a short walk)

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Monte-Cristo (western suburbs near Saint-Germain-en-Laye, about 1 hour by train + bus)

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Awesome edit by @Gilles who added all the travel directions! –  RoflcoptrException Jul 10 '12 at 21:39
    
You may also consider Compiègne en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Compi%C3%A8gne, 50 minutes from Gare du Nord: palace + old town. –  Eric Bréchemier Oct 10 '12 at 17:06

Roflcopter already covered a lot, I can add: Giverny which has Claude Monet's house and gardens. If you are interested in impressionism, this is a mustdo

Other destinations doable in one day if you have a car are: Vezelay and Honfleur

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None of these have castles (Vézelay has an old church). There are a few old buildings in these towns, but hardly worth the trip on their own. –  Gilles Jul 10 '12 at 21:34
    
The OP asked for castles OR small town with old city centre. You can debate about Vezelay. It was one of my favorite daytrips from Paris, but taste is by definition personal. Giverny and Honfleur are quite touristic and the number of tourists visiting Giverny and Honfleur disagree with "hardly worth the trip" –  andra Jul 11 '12 at 5:39
    
People visit Giverny for the Monet gardens and museum (and now the American art museum as well), and Honfleur for the harbor. Your answer makes sense, but it's not answering the question here. –  Gilles Jul 11 '12 at 7:29

I would really recomend Rambouillet.

From Wikipedia:

Rambouillet [...] is famous for its historical castle, the Château de Rambouillet, which hosted several international summits. Due to its proximity to Paris and Versailles, Rambouillet has long been an occasional seat of government.

[...]

Rambouillet is served by the SNCF Rambouillet train station on the Transilien Paris – Montparnasse suburban rail line to Chartres.

It's really easy to get to there from Gare Montparnasse using Mobilis ticket (14 euro/day normal fare or 7 europ/day if youre less than 25 y.o.).

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