Provins: the Jewel of Medieval France

Provins Tour Cesar Autumn
Tour César gives us an excellent example of medieval defensive architecture.

Nestled in the heart of the Champagne region lies one of the most significant, beautiful, and well-preserved Medieval towns in France. Stepping through the gates of Provins feels a little like stepping back in time as it’s not only the buildings that have been preserved, but the medieval traditions too.

Believed to have been medieval France’s third largest city, in its heyday Provins was a commercial hub, envied for its wealth and famed for its biannual Champagne fairs which attracted merchants from the length and breadth of Europe. These fairs doubled up as celebrations, complete with singing and dancing, and served as a cultural melting pot where ideas could be shared and connections made. Flourishing in the spotlight of European global trade, Provins even minted its own coinage, which was recognised and accepted throughout Medieval Europe.

Discover ancient architecture…

It is said that the Champagne fairs of Provins owed their success in part to protection that the Counts of Champagne offered to journeying merchants as they travelled through the region. Whilst highwaymen are certainly less of a concern on today’s roads, it’s not difficult to imagine the impression that the Provins skyline would have made upon a visiting merchant. Possibly the most striking feature of this skyline is the Tour César. Built between 1152 and 1181 as a symbol of the Count’s power, the Tour César was originally used as watch tower and prison and is an excellent example of medieval defensive architecture.

The Tour César also offers panoramic views of the defensive walls that surround Provins. The innovative design of these ramparts served as much to showcase the skill of Provins’ craftsmen as to protect the town. Built between the 11th and 13th centuries, the 1200m town walls are made up of rectangular, octagonal, and trapezoid (among other shaped) towers which were a true feat of medieval engineering.

Provins Saint Quiriace Collegiate Church Autumn
The enormous blank walls of Saint Quiriace Collegiate Church are eerily beautiful.

Whereas the Tour César evokes the wealth of the town, the church just metres aways tells a different story. Begun in the 12th century, the Saint Quiriace Collegiate Church remains unfinished to this day as its constructionwas halted due to financial problems throughout the French kingdom. Now the starkness of this colossal building adds to its beauty, and it is an unmissable monument to the fascinating history of this extraordinary town.

Experience medieval customs…

The traditions of Provins are as well-preserved as its monuments and, in tribute to its medieval history, activities such as Equestrian Falconry are still practiced, and it’s not uncommon to see knights galloping within the city walls in the daily shows put on by the town throughout the spring and summer. The Champagne Fairs may have seen a decline in the 14th century, but the tradition has been upheld all the same and Provins plays host to Champagne Fairs, nocturnal celebrations and musical events which celebrate the customs of the region.

On top of the excitement and drama of the medieval shows, peace and tranquility can also be found in Provins by visiting its rose garden. Here you’ll find a quiet place to relax whilst learning about the history of the rose, its contribution to Provins’ success and, of course, its place in French cuisine!

Just 50km from our hometown of Fontainebleau, Provins is one of our favourite places to explore. We especially recommend tasting Confit de Pétales de Roses: a delicacy of the region!

Fontainebleau : the True Home of Kings

Just a stone’s throw from the capital, Fontainebleau is a favourite weekend destination for Parisians looking to escape the hustle and bustle of the big city and to breathe in that fresh countryside air. If you have already visited #Fontainebleau this will come as no surprise, nestled in the centre of a tranquil forest it’s hard to believe that you’re only an hour from Paris. It is also home to #Kinderexchange HQ and when we’re not busy organising exchanges we enjoy discovering the hidden treasures and exploring the rich history and culture of our town.

castle of fontainebleau

Fontainebleau’s history boasts as many exciting tales as a BBC period drama, many of which revolve around the beautiful palace in the town centre. A former hunting lodge transformed into a one of the largest French royal châteaux, the Château de Fontainebleau served as the home to the kings and queens of France and witnessed many momentous historical events over the ages, even hosting Pope Pius VII (be it for an involuntary visit) during the French Revolution. These days the Palace of Fontainebleau is open to the public, including its throne room, allowing you to immerse yourself in the extravagant and meticulous decoration and furnishings of the French monarchs. In every direction stretches innumerable gardens, courtyards and parkland, providing the perfect setting for enjoying a picnic or for basking in the splendour of French renaissance architecture.

Surrounded by forest, it’s easy to understand why Fontainebleau became « The True Home of Kings ». (Napoleon in Saint Helena)

Whilst the building has medieval origins, French Monarchs were later compelled to develop the site in order to benefit from the abundance of game in the surrounding forests. Although the eight centuries of sovereign residence in Fontainebleau have long since come to an end, the forest still plays host to a thriving population of game and other wildlife and the tradition of hunting is still practiced. In addition, the forest plays an important role in the history of mountaineering and is now known the world over for walking, horse riding, climbing, and mountain biking.

forest of fontainebleau

In order to make the most of the diversity of foliage and the extraordinary rock formations which comprise the unique landscapes of the forest, many walkers take to the « sentiers denecourts ». These walking paths, traced in the 19th century, were initially created to allow visitors to explore the massif. Now maintained by volunteers, these routes are signposted by blue marks on the rocks and trees along the route and guide visitors through areas of remarkable beauty throughout the forest. Although these footpaths are reserved for walkers, a myriad of trails and paths throughout the forest provide a source of adventure for mountain bikers and horse riders alike.

Choosing to view the forest from an entirely new perspective, climbers flock to #Fontainebleau from the world over to test their strength on the boulders of the forest and to make their mark in climbing history. Whilst Fontainebleau is celebrated among the climbing community for its powerful and technical style of climbing, it is also renowned for its accessibility and you certainly don’t need to be Tarzan to enjoy climbing here! Climbing circuits and painted onto the rocks and range from absolute beginner (marked in yellow) to world-class athlete, and offer an alternative way of exploring the forest.

To find out more about our charming town, you can visit Fontainebleau’s Tourist Information Website.

Written by Hati Whiteley for Kinder Exchange