Located towards the north of the country and part of the Centre region, Eure-et-Loir is a quaint, predominantly agricultural department, which nevertheless carries a significant appeal to tourists due to some genuinely exceptional sights and its proximity to Paris.
Eure-et-Loir is middling in size, with well over 400,000 inhabitants across a land area of 5,880km². The largest proportion of denizens reside in the prefecture of Chartres, but there are a few other notable communes:
One of the 83 original departments established in March 1790 during the French Revolution, Eure-et-Loir was born as a mixture of the former regions of Chartrain, Orléanais and Perche.
However, the territory's history reaches back to the Carnute Celtic tribe, who were rapidly supplanted by the Romans. This theme of takeover has defined Eure-et-Loir's history as part of France, with Chartres falling into English hands in 1417, suffering attacks by the Protestant Huguenots during the 16th century religious wars (the Battle of Dreux in 1562 was the first major battle of the wars) and coming under German overlordship following France's capitulation in Franco-Prussian war of 1870-71.
Despite the tumultuous past, further coloured by incessant bombing during World War II, Eure-et-Loir has preserved much of its heritage as the heart of the Beauce region. Such survival instincts, coupled with its fortuitous location, explain its enduring, if admittedly limited, appeal to visitors.
Eure-et-Loir's climate can be best described as maritime, being comparable to the weather of southern Britain. As such, you can expect pleasant, if not especially hot, summers and relatively wet winters. Chartres is representative of average quarterly temperatures:
Average temperature in Chartres
Situated in Chartres, the single most important and spectacular monument in Eure-et-Loir is the Cathedral of Our Lady of Chartres. A UNESCO World Heritage site, the Cathedral is one of France's great works of architecture and arguably the finest example of Gothic style in Europe. Originally built in 1145, but rebuilt between 1194 and 1220 after a fire, the Cathedral's façade is lit up by the intricate detail, particularly on the two awe-inspiring spires, reaching 105 and 113 metres respectively. Alongside the spires, the visual of the Cathedral is defined by its beautiful 13th century stained glass windows, numbering 152 and each one imbued with symbolic meaning. The windows light up the interior, which is already remarkable for its 11-circuit labyrinth, the largest crypt in France, the 200 statues composing the rood screen and the Apsidal Chapel, purportedly home to a tunic of the Virgin Mary (the Sancta Camisia) bequeathed by Charlemagne. Quite simply, the Cathedral is an example of architecture at its very finest.
There are a number of other notable religious edifices in Chartres, such as the 11th century Church of St. Pierre and the Church of Saint-Aignan, also notable for its fine 16th century stained glass windows. Quirkier in its appeal, the House of Picassiette is worth a visit as well, remarkable for the covering of mosaics across the exterior and interior displaying various scenes.
The sights don't end there either, with Eure-et-Loir home to a number of excellent chateaux. The best of these is the Château de Chateaudun, built between the 12th and 16th centuries in Gothic-style and incorporating a 12th century keep, the 15th century Sainte-Chapelle Chapel, a fine bell tower and providing great views of the Loir. If that's not enough, the Château Saint-Jean in Nogent-le-Rotrou and the Château de Maintenon in Maintenon reflect the range of great sights in the department.
There is a wide range of activities in Eure-et-Loir. Opportunities for sailing, canoeing, kayaking and other watersports can be found at the Centre Nautique du Pays Drouais in Dreux. Fishing is also available if you take a trip to the Château de Vert-en-Drouais lake. You can even take to the skies at the Dreux and Vernouillet Flying Club or have a trip to the Les Félins zoo in Auneau.
Museums, galleries and culture
The majority of museums and galleries can be found in Chartres. A good place to start is the Musée des Beaux-Arts, with collections of European, French and Oceanic art. There are more regional-specific museums in the city such as Le Grenier de l'Histoire Musée (looking at local military history) and Le Centre International du Vitrail (focusing on the art of stained glass).
Outside of Chartres, Dreux is the prime alternative location. This is largely thanks to the Marcel Dessal Art and History Museum, mixing local history with archaeology (particularly stained glass) and housing a surprisingly good art gallery, with works by Monet and Gerard Garouste.
There are a number of festivals and events throughout the year, such as 'Les Flambarts' parade in Dreux during mid-December, and Fete de l'Eau during May in Chartres, reflecting the thriving culture within the department.
Chartres plays host to many markets during the week. These include an arts and crafts market on Saturdays in the place de la Poissonnerie and a food market on Saturdays in the place Billard. Interestingly, auctions are also held each weekend on various goods at the Church of Sainte-Foy.
Alternatively, it is well worth visiting the market towns of Nogent-le-Rotrou and Chateaudun.
Eure-et-Loir isn't the best place for hikers, but you will find some trails around the Dreux Forest and the Avre and Eure valleys. La Perche natural reserve is another option.
For something a little more relaxing, try the gardens of the Château de Maintenon and Château Saint-Jean.
Situated in proximity to the Loire Valley region, you can expect to find plenty of superior quality wines like Saumur, Vouvray, Chinon and Cabarnet Franc.
Reflecting the department's interest, Dreux's Le Musée du Vignoble Drouais surveys winemaking's history and even contains its own vineyard.
There are five courses in Eure-et-Loir. These are Golf du Bois d'O in Saint-Maixme-Hauterive, Golf de Nantilly in La Chaussée d'Ivry, Vaucouleurs Golf Club, Golf Club de Brou in Brou and Golf du Perche in Souancé au Perche.
Food and drink
The best restaurants in the department, and the widest choice, can be found in Chartres and Dreux. There are a number of regional and local specialities, including poule au pot (boiled chicken), Chartres paté (made from game and packed lie a pie) and l'Eurélien (a type of pastry). Interesting desserts are also on the menu, such as Cochelin puff pastry (with chocolate or marzipan) and the Mentchikoff praline-meringue.
All of this is washed down by some special Chartres beer, following a recipe from 1880 based around Beauce's own wheat and a long maturation process.
Ease of access
If travelling from outside France, your best option is Charles de Gaulle International Airport in Paris. If you head to Paris-Montparnasse station, the train journey to Chartres is just 60-80 minutes. The only other viable alternative is Tours Loire Valley Airport, some 150 kilometres away.
Once inside Eure-et-Loir, the rail network, which centres around Chartres, is good and the terrain makes car travel less problematic.
Value for money
There is a great selection of hotels, B&Bs, gites and campsites in Eure. Prices can be a little high though (due to the easy travel to Paris), with the average price per night for a single room at a 3-star hotel around 80 Euros, and it can go up to as much as 200 Euros.
Eure-et-Loir could be described as a one-trick pony because of the Cathedral of Chartres. However, there are a number of reasons to visit the department. If you want to experience some fine French countryside, good food and have the option to enter the bustling French capital, you can't go wrong with Eure-et-Loir.