Chartres is the undisputed jewel of Eure et Loir, famed for its amazing cathedral, the spires of which dominate the town and can be seen from the surrounding countryside as you approach. It has been an important centre of pilgrimage since a precious relic of the Virgin Mary was acquired in the 9th century (you can still see it in the Treasury.) The cathedral has a Romanesque west front with wonderful carving, but the rest, the flying buttresses in particular, are pure soaring Gothic. The interior is astonishing with a huge nave illuminated by 176 stained glass windows which merit studying in detail. Inlaid into the floor of the nave is a 13th century circular labyrinth, which pilgrims used to follow on their knees.
The rest of the town drowses along the banks of the river Eure and has some fine architecture to see, including the former Bishop’s Palace which is now home to the Musée des Beaux Arts. The collection includes tapestries, enamels, and works by Holbein, Fragonard and Chardin. There is also a collection of 17th and 18th century spinets and harpsichords. There is more stained glass in the Gothic Eglise St Pierre beside the river, and the Centre International du Vitrail, a stained glass centre, can be visited in what was once the chapter house of the cathedral. West of Chartres is Nogent-le-Rotrou from where you can explore the forests and valleys of the Perche.
To the south of Chartres the gentle river Loir winds its way from its source near Illiers-Combray through the rich agricultural land of Beauce and La Perche. Illiers-Combray is famous as the inspiration of the great French novelist, Marcel Proust, whose family had a house here. Much of the early part of Remembrance of Things Past is set here as Proust wistfully evokes his childhood dreaming under the poplars and hawthorn blossom beside the river Loir. The quiet little town of Illiers added Combray, the name he used, to its name in his honour. There is a museum dedicated to him, La Maison de Tante Leonie, and signposted Proust trails to follow.
Bonneval, further down the river, is a charming old walled town, with an ancient 13th century bridge, and a lovely Gothic church. At Chateaudun the chateau rises majestically over the river. The original fort was built here in the 10th century and later accretions include a Gothic wing with a lovely frescoed chapel and a Renaissance staircase. The interior can be visited including the kitchens and the walk around the battlements gives terrific views. The rest of the town has been in the front line of several wars and was severely bombed by the Germans in World War II, though there are a number of medieval houses around the Church of La Madeleine.