When in Paris, visit Chartres...

Why leave the City of Light?

To troll the medieval streets of a handsome, ancient town on a hill, overlooking the River Eure, a scenic hour by train from the capital.

Chartres, the sacred: France’s second-greatest cathedral, after Notre-Dame de Paris, visited by about 8 million people a year for the magic-lantern of stained glass windows, and the 2-mile long labyrinth, a pattern in stone on the cathedral’s ornate floor. Plus the crypt, set atop the well sacred to Druids, then Romans, then the medieval French cathedral-builders who made the site sacred for Christians.

It’s said Chartres is the most atmospheric, “spiritual” places on the planet. That could well be, though lovers of Vezelay, one of the places we visit in northern Burgundy, might not agree.

And what about Chartres the profane? There's plenty to satisfy even the most skeptical freethinker: half-timbered buildings, tilting, cobbled streets, a great open market, cafes, restaurants and gourmet shops, wonderful walks on the banks of the Eure. We can also arrange for you to stay overnight in a B&B or simple hotel and see the cathedral and medieval buildings at dusk, or spotlit by night. You'll be back in Paris painlessly the following day.

Read my travel feature on Chartres published by the San Francisco Sunday Chronicle Travel section. It includes 11 photos of the cathedral and village.