Paris is one of the densest cities in the world, so it’s no wonder its residents head en masse to its green spaces on summer weekends. This of course leads to packed parks with much less relaxation value. However, with a short trip from city center you can surround yourself in gorgeous greenery, as well as some history and culture. Here are some of the best day trips from Paris for those seeking a peaceful and beautiful escape to nature.
Located only 40 minutes from Gare de Lyon station, Fontainebleau offers the perfect combination of history and nature. Home to one of France’s most important castles, le Château de Fontainebleau, it also has a huge forest which was once royal hunting grounds.
Pack a picnic (or if visiting on Tuesday, Friday, or Sunday you can pick up some supplies at the local food market in town), then visit the castle first. Here you can marvel at the Renaissance decor commissioned by King Francois I as well as a set of apartments refurbished by Napoleon Bonaparte in his Imperial style.
After an amble through the castle’s classic gardens, spend the afternoon connecting with real nature as you discovering the forest’s extensive hiking trails (see some suggested hikes here).
If you’ve already been to Fontainebleau, then perhaps you would prefer a day trip to the neighboring medieval village of Moret-sur-Loing. A 45-minute train journey from Gare de Lyon (line R), you can start by exploring this well-preserved town and its stone fortifications, ancient churches, timbered houses, and mills along the river.
Be sure to pass by the tourist office where you can pick up a free map of the hiking trails (more info here). There are 16 different trails that start from the village, ranging in seven to 20 kilometers long. You can also enjoy this verdant setting by bike (rentable at the tourist office), or on the river via canoe or kayak (available through Apikopa).
Les Etangs de Corot
Located near Versailles in Ville-d’Avray, these bucolic ponds (etangs in French) are both beautiful and historically significant.
Accessible by the L train line from Saint Lazare, Ville-d’Avray became a popular nature getaway with the artists, writers, and musicians of the 19th century. Among them was the Impressionist painter Corot, now the area’s namesake, who immortalized its forest and ponds in his paintings.
You can relive this Impressionist experience in painting classes offered by the hotel Les Etangs de Corot on Sunday mornings (advance booking required), or you can soak up this gorgeous setting over a gourmet lunch at their Michelin-starred restaurant.
Vallée de Chevreuse and Vaux de Cernay Abbey
Further southwest of Versailles and within the Rambouillet Forest is the enchanting Chevreuse Valley, a haven of nature and home to various unique historic sites. A protected natural reserve, the Vallée de Chevreuse is reachable from central Paris via the RER B to the Saint-Rémy-lès-Chevreuse station.
From April to October there is a special bus, the Baladobus, which can take you to various sites and hike starting points around the park. You could spend the whole day in the park, but if you would like to do “shorter” day, then you could start at the Vaux de Cernay Abbey.
The largest Cistercian monastery in France, the complex dates back to the 12th century. Although it has since been converted into a hotel, you can still visit the remains of the impressive gothic abbey (paid entrance).
The hotel also has a lovely restaurant or you can bring your own picnic to have during your hike. You can do a three-hour long wander through the surrounding forest via this route here (in French) or explore other hiking options in the park at this link.
Chateaubriand’s Estate, la Vallée-aux-Loups
This excursion is perfect for lovers of nature and French literature. Take the RER B south to Robinson and you’ll be a short walk away from la Vallée-aux-Loups, the large former estate of François-René de Chateaubriand. One of the most prominent writers of the early 19th century Romantic era, Chateaubriand was forced out of Paris in 1807 due to his open criticism of Napoleon and retreated to this estate which he nicknamed “Wolf Valley.”
The charming manor home is now a museum in his honor (note, it closes over lunch from 12-1 pm). If you don’t bring your own pique-nique, you can have a light lunch or snack in its salon de thé found in the Orangerie. The 56-hectare estate is populated by mature trees, romantic pathways, an “Ile Verte” and an Arboretum with over 500 species of flora—all of which offer just the right dose of greenery for those seeking a more leisurely natural outing.
- Read about French countryside living.
- Learn the ropes of social life in rural France.
- For more of the best day trips from Paris, head to TimeOut.