If a town is declared a UNESCO world heritage site, you know it’s probably worth a visit. And conveniently Provins, France was added to that list in 2001.
With roots reaching as far as the Gallo-Roman period, the town was built up in the 11th century around the castle and its fortifications. Provins was one of four host towns for many “Champagne Fairs” that took place in the region in the 12th and 13th centuries. These trade fairs were vital at the time for the French economy, and indeed the economy of Europe.
Provins used to be a quite prosperous commercial town and the envy of their neighbors and famed for its trouvères (Northern France troubadours). Safe behind its fortified walls, it shone brightly during the 12th and 13th centuries, when popular Champagne Fairs were celebrated.
Provins even had its own coins called denier provinois (Provins’ penny) and it was acknowledge all over Europe in medieval times.
The Counts of Champagne, who reigned around the year 1000 were aware of how fundamental long-distance trade was for the economy of the region and used Champagne's geographic location strategically to their advantage.
At that time, Provins was a major crossroads which made it an ideal location for trade fairs. The town was transformed into a melting pot of trade and intellect.
The fairs were not just an occasion for business but also a time for celebration, with music and juggling shows.
People from all over Europe flocked to Provins to be part of the trading not only in goods, but also in ideas.
The town was awarded UNESCO heritage status for "maintaining its original medieval fabric", preserving the architecture and urban layout which brought the town to fame, including the 12th century fortifications that still surround much of the upper town.
Today, in just over an hour from Paris, visitors can admire the remaining 2km of the medieval fortifications and climb Caesar’s Tower which is a high point - literally and figuratively - of a trip to the town.
The structure dominates the old town and has been employed as a watch tower, bell tower and even a prison since its creation in the 12th century. The tower commands impressive views of the surrounding town and countryside and allows you to fully appreciate the medieval architecture.
It’s worth visiting the Tithe Barn as well as it is now a museum dedicated to the Champagne fairs and offers an insight into what life was like in Medieval Provins.
There is a 12th century house in the town that hosts the Provins Museum. It is worth a visit as it will provide a historical feel of the town and the region, even from before the fairs enhanced Provins' situation in Europe.
Provins is also notorious for a web of underground tunnels and chambers. These spaces were used by secret societies when they wanted to hide their meeting from unwelcome eyes and ears. There are guided tours that can give you an alternative view of Medieval Provins and the lives of its inhabitants back in those days.
If buffing up on history is your thing, then make sure you visit Provins during the milder months as almost every day from April to November there are Medieval themed shows to enjoy.
The spectacular performances range from equestrian falconry to "The Legend of the Knights" - an awe-inspiring display of horsemanship and jousting told in the context of the true history of Provins.
Set in the shadow of the centuries old ramparts, every detail is attended right down to the period armour and costume which make the shows educational as well as entertaining.
To experience this wonderful step back in time just take the SNCF regional train from Gare de l'Est to Provins. It takes just over an hour and the price is very affordable.
You can also travel to Provins by car from Paris by car, take the highway in the direction of Metz/Strasbourg, to junction 13 and follow the signs that indicate the way to Provins. The journey should take about an hour and a half.