Chances are, if you’re planning a trip to Paris, virtually everyone you know has sent you a list of their favorite restaurants, shops, and museums in the City of Light. But if you need a momentary escape from the Paris attractions, there are quite a few sights to see just a quick drive or train ride away. Whether you prefer a leisurely promenade through André Le Nôtre’s mazelike gardens at Versailles, a visit to the studio where Monet painted his famous water lilies, or a glimpse of the leopard-print room that Madeleine Castaing devised for her friend Jean Cocteau, there’s a day trip to suit every fancy. And you’ll return to Paris feeling refreshed and ready to resume your urban itinerary.
The quintessential day trip from Paris, Versailles is a must-see. The extravagant palace—just a short train ride from the city—was home to the royal family, from Louis XIV in 1682 until 1789, when Louis XVI and his wife, Marie Antoinette, were forced to return to Paris. Highlights include the dazzling Hall of Mirrors, Marie Antoinette’s mini-château, the Petit Trianon, and André Le Nôtre’s elaborate gardens, now enlivened by an installation of contemporary art each summer.
If you’d rather skip the crowds at Versailles, the Château de Fontainebleau is a great alternative. The palace, dating from the 12th century, was continuously inhabited for seven centuries and is where Napoléon famously abdicated his throne before being exiled. Be sure to explore the château’s verdant grounds and small pond, where you can rent a pedalo on a sunny day. If you’re up for a second stop, take the short drive to Milly-la-Forêt to see the quaint home of illustrator and writer Jean Cocteau, which was lovingly decorated by his friend Madeleine Castaing.
Le Corbusier’s Villa Savoye is the modernist’s mecca. Located in Poissy, on the outskirts of Paris, the concrete home built between 1928 and 1931 as a country retreat for the Savoye family was a sort of architectural manifesto of the 20th-century French talent. Embracing the five tenets Le Corbusier attributed to his new architectural style—elevated from the earth, with a functional roof, an open floor plan, long windows, and a freely designed façade—it came to symbolize a new way of thinking about architecture. The home, just a 40-minute drive from Paris and accessible by the RER, is open for tours Tuesdays through Sundays.
Photo: Julien Oppenheim/Coutesy of Louis Vuitton
In a dramatic contrast to its new Fondation Louis Vuitton, last year the company opened a petite museum called La Galerie outside Paris in Asnières-sur-Seine. The museum—where you can see Gaston-Louis Vuitton’s letters, Loïe Fuller’s dance accessories, and Frank Gehry’s design for the Fondation—adjoins Vuitton’s historic home and atelier, which is also open by appointment.
Get an inside look at the world of Impressionist Claude Monet by visiting Giverny, his home just over an hour drive (or 45 minute train ride) from Paris. Visitors can tour the Clos Normand, water gardens, house, and studio where he painted his famous water lilies in a brilliant panorama.