Hire a car (or in high season take the shuttle bus from CDG airport) to visit the chocolate-box Abbaye Royale de Chaalis – a Cistercian ruin (40km northeast of Paris) encircled by the imposing, art-filled stately home of Nélie Jacquemart, a 13th-century chapel and picturesque rose gardens. Tranquillity oozes from every nook; and art lovers can feast their eyes on treasures dating from Ancient Egypt to the early 20th-century, including paintings by Giotto, Boucher and Van Loo.
Nélie Jacquemart, widow of wealthy banker Edouard André, was a talented portraitist, and (like her husband) an avid art collector. She acquired the Chaalis estate in 1902 to house her collection – easily one of the most eclectic in Europe, covering everything from Wedgewood porcelain and religious art to medieval funeral cushions, 18th-century furniture and oriental weaponry. Period rooms give you an inkling as to how the house would have looked in Nélie’s time; one sketch even shows a horse and its owner posing for a portrait in the library.
Once you’ve visited the collections, head to the Chapelle Sainte-Marie famed for its Renaissance frescos and impressive acoustics. The ruin in front is all that remains of the abbey founded in 1137 by Louis VI le Gros, in memory of his cousin Charles le Bon; behind you’ll find a peaceful rose garden.
If you travelling with kids, the Abbaye Royale de Chaalis sits handily opposite the Mer de Sable, a desert-themed adventure park with sand dunes, log flumes, a steam train and live shows (open Apr-Aug and school holiday in Sep and Oct; €16-€23; 08.25.25.20.60 0.15€⁄min).
If you like what you see of the Jacquemart collection here, don't miss the Musée Jacquemart André once you're back in in Paris.