In Northern Central France, Dreux is just over an hour west of Paris on the boundary with Normandy.
Although it’s a smallish town there’s a lot to see, like the burial chapel of the noble House of Orléans and an ornately sculpted belfry dating to the 1500s.
Dreux has a peculiar mix of museums too, dealing with everything from painting to medieval wine and even the art of making combs.
If you widen your radius to include Chartres and its stupendous World Heritage cathedral you’ll never be stuck for things to do.
Lets explore the best things to do in Dreux:
1. Chapelle Royale de Dreux
This chapel dates to 1816 and is the mausoleum for the House of Orléans.
It was built after the Revolution by the widow of Louis Philippe II, the Duke of Orléans who had been guillotined and was the father of the future King Louis-Philippe I. During the Reign of Terror the family crypt at Dreux’s Collégiale Saint-Étienne church had been desecrated and the bodies buried in a mass grave.
They were eventually dug up moved to this glorious chapel, where 75 members of the House of Orléans, including Louis Philippe I are interred.
It’s a suitably regal monument, with a ring of expertly crafted recumbent tombs and stained glass windows hand-painted at the illustrious Sèvres Manufactory.
At the old town hall, Dreux’s Belfry is the only building of its type in Eure-et-Loir and dates to the first decades of the 16th century.
One of the men to work on it was Clément Métezeau, Louis XIII’s royal architect, who was very active in Dreux and also helped design the seawall at La Rochelle.
What’s neat about the belfry is that it was built when the Gothic gave way to the Renaissance style: You can see a clear contrast between the sober lower floors and the upper storeys, which are very ornate with delicate filigrees and mullioned windows.
You can enquire at the tourist office about a guided tour.
3. A Walk around Town
Most of the centre of Dreux is pedestrianised, and you can pass a carefree couple of hours milling around.
On Rue Illiers, a quaint alley off Grand Rue Maurice Viollette, there’s a pair of corbelled timber-framed houses, joined together by beams spanning the way.
Several buildings aren’t open to the public but are worth a photo, like the Hôtel-Dieu, a hospital from the 1600s and the Pavilion Louis XIII from the same period.
And when you see the Royal Chapel, be sure to stroll the gardens around it, which used to be part of the lost Château de Dreux, the House of Orléans’ ancestral home.
4. Musée d’Art et d’Histoire
This compact but compelling museum is in a lively 19th-century chapel and has items uncovering the region’s history, and a superb collection of art.
The main event here has to be Monet’s Wisteria Study, painted in his garden at Giverny.
He is accompanied by a decent line-up of 19th and 20th-century artists like Montézin, Vlaminck and Le Sidner.
The archaeological galleries have decorative pieces and architectural fragments from churches, monasteries and châteaux.
There’s furniture from the Château De Crécy, owned by the Marquise de Pompadour, Romanesque carved capitals, a pair of Merovingian earrings and much more besides.
5. Église Saint-Pierre de Dreux
Begun in the 13th-century, this is one of those composite churches that has been adapted and extended many times.
Work didn’t stop until the 1600s, when the transept was completed, but the whole somehow remains uniform and harmonious.
Once again Clément Métezeau was involved in 1524 when he decorated the facade.
There’s some lovely ornamentation to see as well, like the organ case with polychrome sculptures from 1614, a 16th-century sculpture of Christ on the cross and a Romanesque capital from the lost Collégiale Saint-Étienne church.
6. Ecomusée des Vignerons et des Artisans Drouais
Stop by this museum in an 11th-century winemaking priory for a journey into the viticulture and artisan crafts around Dreux.
The monks cut cellars from the soft marl rock and the wine would be loaded onto boats on the Eure to be transported to Paris or even England.
The museum has a reproduction of one of these 13th-century boats, known as a cabotière, as well as lots of antique winemaking instruments like a press and a 7150-litre barrel.
Upstairs are tools for local trades like lacework, saddle-making and watch-making, while outside you amble through the vineyards and authentic medieval kitchen garden.
7. Château d’Anet
This palace is from the turn of the 1550s and was ordered by King Henry II for his mistress Diane of Poitiers.
The architect was Philibert de l’Orme who made his mark in Paris and the Loire Valley at the height of the Renaissance.
The property came through the Revolution unscathed but was sold off and fell into neglect before being partially demolished.
There was a big restoration in the 19th century and the château has appeared in a number of movies, like Thunderball in 1965 and The Pink Panther Strikes again in 1976. There’s also a Byzantine-style mortuary chapel for Diane of Poitiers, which still holds her remains.
8. Hôtel de Montulé
This handsome mansion is owned by the town and has been turned into a cultural centre: The Hôtel de Montulé puts on temporary art exhibitions, live demonstrations, classes, talks and fun workshops for kids in the holidays.
You’ll also be won over by the architecture, as the mansion dates to the start of the 17th-century and was designed by Jean Métezeau, nephew of Clément.
It’s in the Louis XIII style with quoins and dormer windows.
And the galleries leave you in no doubt that Dreux has a vibrant art scene; at the time of writing there’s video art, engraving, photography and surrealist sculpture.
9. Château d’Ivry-la-Bataille
This region of France is mostly known for its graceful pleasure palaces, but in Ivry-la-Bataille are the tortured remnants of a military fortress.
This castle goes back to the 900s and was in a key strategic position defending the Duchy of Normandy at the boundary between England and France.
It was torn down by the English in 1424 during the Hundred Years’ War.
So it’s remarkable just how much of the structure is left, and for that we can thank a couple of decades of excavation work.
The castle is a dramatic backdrop to a walk, enriched with information boards and stirring views of the Eure Valley.
10. Château de Maillebois
This noble château in 300 hectares of grounds was commissioned by François d’O, who was Superintendent of Finances under Henri III in the 16th century.
What will strike you immediately is that it is made almost entirely of bricks, which sets it apart in this region.
The château was built on top of defensive fortresses going back several hundred years, and François d’O spared no expense turning it into a palace.
You can visit for a tour in summer, and find out about the long roll-call of subsequent owners.
One was the aviation pioneer Hubert Latham who set all sorts of early flight records and landed a plane in the grounds in 1910.
11. Forêt de Dreux
More than 3300 hectares, this ancient forest was a hunting ground for Henri II in the 16th century and was then owned by a succession of powerful families.
The House of Orléans had control of it after the Revolution until it was finally sold to the state at the end of the First World War.
For you and me it’s a destination for walks through oak woodland with centuries- old trees.
In Gallo-Roman times this was a place of worship for druids, and much later an 18th-century octagonal hunting lodge was erected at the northwest entrance near the village of Abondant.
12. Musée des Peignes et Parures
Here’s an attraction that you never knew you needed in your life! Nearby Ezy-sur-Eure is known as the Capital of the Comb, earning this nickname for an industry dating to the 1600s.
Parisian haute-couturiers and hairdressers insisted on them.
Ezy’s combs didn’t just have a practical role; they were also very decorative and made with real panache.
In a factory that closed in 1984 you can browse a collection that dates from the 17th century and boasts intricately crafted combs made from ivory, horn and tortoise shell.
13. Chartres Cathedral
Half an hour down the road there’s a cathedral lauded as the pinnacle of Gothic art.
Safe to say the World Heritage Chartres Cathedral is not to be missed.
It’s the kind of building that you can stare at dumbfounded for hours, and that’s before you even go inside.
Pay special attention to the stonework on the facades, above the portals and higher up above the rose windows.
There are 4,000 sculpted figures in all, which is an absurd amount and the level of detail can keep a history buff rapt for a whole day.
Make sure you’re here on a sunny day to appreciate the magical blue tint of the 13th-century stained glass windows.
14. Bois des Louvières
This educational farm and shop has been breeding chamois (alpine goats) outside the village of Marsauceux for more than 40 years.
Their milk is processed on site to make 15 kinds of cheese that you can taste and buy at the farm’s shop.
There’s also a selection of artisan products on sale like honey, jams, teas , butter and even fresh goats’ milk.
If you’re stopping by with little ones they can come and make friends with the goats and kids at the farm, which you can tour for free as a customer at the shop.
15. Local Delicacies
At the market or a fromagerie in Dreux, see if you can pick up some feuille de Dreux.
This soft cheese made from cow’s milk is easy to spot because it usually comes wrapped in a chestnut leaf.
This cheese is in season from April to September.
Other regional treats to sample are artisan honey, and macaroons, that much-loved fluffy egg white sweet first imported to this region from Venice in the Renaissance.
Another speciality that stands out is pâté de Chartres, made with foie gras, pork tenderloin and truffles and baked in a pastry crust.