History lovers, head for Laon! Over the centuries, the former royal city has retained the buildings that made it great in the Middle Ages.
With its steep wooded paths, mansions and preserved mediaeval buildings, Laon, in Picardy, will delight seasoned historians and curious walkers alike. Built on an inlier and surrounded by more than 5 miles of ramparts, the town is crowned Notre-Dame Cathedral, a Gothic masterpiece that was used as a model for the cathedrals of Paris and Chartres.
A town of art and history, Laon has more than 80 listed building, making it, according to some, the French municipality with the largest number of protected buildings per square mile. The upper part of the town has the lion's share, with the Episcopal Palace, adjoining the cathedral, or the Chapel of the Templars, built in a Romanesque style that is reminiscent of Provençal churches. But that's not all! You can also explore the town's three abbeys, one of which, the Abbey of Saint-Martin de Laon, is flanked by a superb 12th-century church. Finish your visit with a walk through the shaded streets of the plateau.
Looking for something to keep the kids occupied? Head underground in search of the town's famous underground passages, dug out of the hillside. The guided tour will let you discover the mediaeval quarries, as well as the more recent powder magazine and bunkers.
Once you’re on the continent, Laon can be reached by car from Brussels or Paris via the N2 motorway. Those coming from Reims or Calais can take the A26 motorway. Or if you prefer to travel by train, Laon has direct links to Paris, Reims and Calais. After you’ve arrived at the station, a shuttle service will take you to the town centre.
If Laon has aroused your curiosity, be sure to visit Reims, which is just 40 miles away. As another town synonymous with the history of French royalty, it too is home to prestigious buildings, not least its famous cathedral.