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Studying Abroad in Paris: Overlooked Must-See Locations of the Île-de-France

One of the most popular European cities for students studying abroad, and possibly the most iconic city in the world, is Paris, France. I spent the entirety of June in Paris with the USF Art & Art History Summer 2014 Paris Program, and it was the greatest experience of my life thus far. The city itself offers immeasurable opportunities for exploration, so one will always leave feeling that there is unfinished business, and look forward to the next time they find themselves in Paris. Although there is so much to see within the immediate area, many forget about the outskirts of the city, which are also worth exploring. Five nearby locations in the Île-de-France students studying abroad in Paris should visit include The Château de Vaux-le-Vicomte, Chartres, Auvers-sur-Oise, La Roche-Guyon, and Giverny.

Location 1: The Château de Vaux-le-Vicomte

The Château de Vaux-le-Vicomte is a seventeenth-century château that inspired the Palace of Versailles, a larger imitation that sought to surpass it in terms of grandeur. Versailles is actually a huge tourist attraction for students studying abroad, however I preferred Vaux-le-Vicomte due to its charm and relative lack of tourists, which made it far more easier to navigate the grounds and appreciate the site’s beauty.

The garden at Vaux-le-Vicomte is designed as an optical illusion, and the far end of the garden (between the trees on the horizon) appears closer than it actually is. It took my friends and I about two hours to walk all the way to the top of the hill and back, albeit at a leisurely pace with some breaks to admire the grounds.

Before nightfall two thousand candles are lit every Saturday, May through October, around the château and the gardens. This is a unique event to Vaux-le-Vicomte that is definitely worth waiting until evening for.

Location 2: Chartres

One of the more interesting locations is Chartres and its Basilique Cathédrale Notre-Dame de Chartres, a thirteenth-century cathedral that was a famous medieval pilgrimage site as it houses the Sancta Camisa. The cathedral boasts beautiful stained glass windows, three of which are originals from the twelfth century before the church was rebuilt. Be sure to try and sign up for a guided tour of the cathedral with Malcolm Miller before your trip! He is popular with tourists that visit this location.

La Maison Picassiette, a house that is decoratively covered with broken plates, is not far away from the cathedral. It is a neat little house that is fun to walk through and a must-see for anyone in Chartres!

While in Chartres, do not forget to climb the many stairs of the cathedral all the way to the top. The narrow, spiraling passage covered in cobwebs is borderline terrifying, but well worth it when you get to the top. Up there, you will have a better view than the fairy tale maiden Rapunzel.

Location 3: Auvers-sur-Oise

Auvers-sur-Oise is a small town where Vincent Van Gogh lived in the last few weeks of his life, making 70 paintings here alone. Many of his famous paintings of wheatfields were painted here, over and over again, yet each one is unique. The fields are expansive and dotted with poppies, and nearby is Van Gogh’s gravesite. There are also tours of his room in town and even a absinthe museum for those interested. For any art-lovers, I would highly recommend visiting this site, as one of my most treasured memories is seeing these fields.

Location 4: The Château de La Roche-Guyon

The Château de La Roche-Guyon is a very interesting in that it functioned as a medieval keep, or donjon, and is built into the side of a chalk cliff! The keep itself is at the very top, accessed by a staircase also cut out of the cliff. Don’t touch the walls – you will get chalk on them! Once you reach the top you will have a bird’s eye view of the little town below, the garden across the way, and the rest of the natural landscape that rivals a Lord of the Rings set with its rolling green hills and the River Seine.

Location 5: Giverny

Not far from La Roche-Guyon is Giverny, where Monet lived and where his famous gardens still thrive. It is not so much a garden as it is a floral jungle! This is also a treat for art-lovers, as they will get to see the water lily ponds that Monet painted as well as the artist’s house, filled with Japanese prints that he collected.

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