Category Archives: Half An Hour From Paris

Exploring the River Oise in the footsteps of the Impressionists

Here is the full text of the article which appeared in Bonjour Paris on 11 February 2021

Exploring the River Oise in the footsteps of the Impressionists
Exploring the River Oise
Eragny sur Oise opposite O Châlet

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

It was the coming of the railway that made the sleepy agricultural villages and towns along the River Oise so attractive to the Impressionists. They were dedicated to painting in the open air and mostly short of cash because their new style of painting did not sell. The region offered varied landscapes which were just beginning to be affected by industrialisation but had not yet become suburban and it was within easy reach of Paris, with lower rents.

What was true for the Impressionists is still true for today’s Parisians looking for a rewarding day out in the country. The creation of the new town of Cergy Pontoise in the 1960s led to the building of a second railway line, the RER A, but development and population expansion have been mainly inland. The banks of the river have changed remarkably little in over a hundred years. They are still lined with 19th century villas and often the only sound is that of birdsong as huge working barges slide silently past. Even in winter, in the rain and with restaurants closed because of the current restrictions, you can be sure of spacious views, not many people, most of them local, and a railway station within easy reach.

Dr Gachet, the doctor and friend of many Impressionist painters, moved to Auvers sur Oise in 1872. His friend Camille Pissarro settled in Pontoise in the same year. Known affectionately as ‘the father of Impressionism’, he invited his younger painter friends, Cézanne, Gauguin and Van Gogh among others, to paint with him there. The railway also turned obscure villages such as Eragny into popular destinations for weekend visitors from Paris, who came to fish along the banks of the Oise. The fondue restaurant O Châlet was once a guinguette from where a ferry took fishermen across the river, and something of the guinguette holiday atmosphere still lingers in its cosy interior, packed with local families at the weekend.

Exploring the River Oise
O Châlet © O Châlet

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

The suggested 7½ km walk along the left bank of the Oise starts at St Ouen l’Aumône station with a detour to the 13th century Abbaye de Maubuisson, then follows the river past Pontoise and the views painted by Pissarro and his friends to the fondue restaurant at Eragny, ending at the SNCF station of Eragny Neuville, with an alternative walk to the RER station of Neuville Université. But you could skip the Abbey and Pontoise and start the walk at St Ouen l’Aumône Quartier de l’Eglise station instead, ending at either of the two stations at Eragny (4½ km) or just walk to the restaurant for lunch from either station and back (3 km). You could also prolong the walk along the Oise from the restaurant, crossing the bridge to Cergy Port for the RER stations at Cergy Préfecture (5 km) or Cergy St Christophe (7 km).

7½ km walk from St Ouen l’Aumône to Eragny Neuville

From the station take the exit marked ‘Rue du 8 mai 1945’ and turn left, under the railway bridge. Take the pedestrian crossing into the Rue Guy Sourcis opposite on your right and follow the railway line until you reach a level crossing. Cross the line and turn left, following the sign for ‘Abbaye de Maubuisson’ into Avenue Richard de la Tour.

Follow the path right round to the park entrance, from where you will see a long low building, the former chapter house which now functions as an arts centre.

Abbaye de Maubuisson
Abbaye de Maubuisson

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

This building is all that remains of the once extensive Abbey which covered 79 acres, but it is impressive enough to make the visit worthwhile, even though the current restrictions mean that you cannot go inside. With the little stream of the Liesse flowing through its grounds and even fewer visitors than usual, the Abbey is a good place for a picnic.

It was founded in 1236 by Blanche of Castille, the pious wife of Louis VIII and the mother of Louis IX, Saint Louis, close to her château in Pontoise. It was both a Cistercian convent for up to 120 young women of royal or noble birth and an occasional royal residence. It was from here that Philippe le Bel issued the infamous order to arrest the Knights Templar in 1307. But by the end of the 18th century it had fallen into decline, with only a few nuns left when it was closed on the order of Louis XVI in 1786.

Abbaye de Maubuisson, early 17th century
Abbaye de Maubuisson, early 17th century, © Wikimedia Commons

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Retrace your steps to the level crossing and continue downhill to the very end of the Chaussée de Maubuisson. Cross the main road and take the footpath opposite, marked ‘Chemin de Pothuis’ which leads to the Oise.

Turn left along the towpath. Across the river you will soon see the gracious silhouette of the 12th century cathedral at Pontoise. Eventually you will pass some concrete bases with an information panel beside them explaining that they were part of the ‘Ligne Chauvineau’, a line of military anti-tank defences put up along the Oise in 1939 to protect Paris from invasion.

A little further on you will pass reproductions of eleven paintings done between 1872 and 1908, nine of them by Pissarro in the 1870s, placed at the spot where they were painted.

Exploring the River Oise
Quai du Pothuis 1876, Camille Pissarro

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Pissarro lived across the river in Pontoise at 85 Quai du Pothuis. The views have not changed as much as you might expect, although some of the factories shown in the paintings have disappeared. The sight of the bridge and the ramparts at Pontoise, in the Middle Ages a frontier town defending the borders of the kingdom of France, immediately explains the appeal of this spot to a painter.

Exploring the River Oise
Pontoise from the Quai du Halage, St Ouen l’Aumône

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Continue along the towpath, past the lock and another bridge. About 250 metres after the bridge you will pass a former inn, Le Goujon d’Eragny, with a worn stone memorial tucked under a side window, facing the direction in which you are walking.

Exploring the River Oise

RAF memorial at the Goujon d'Eragny, Chemin du Halage, Eragny
RAF memorial at the Goujon d’Eragny, Chemin du Halage, Eragny

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

It was put up by the inhabitants of Eragny in memory of one of the seven crew of an RAF Lancaster bomber whose body was recovered here after the plane crashed on 6 June 1944. It was on a mission to destroy the station at Achères to hamper German communications during the D-Day landings but was brought down by anti-aircraft fire. It exploded over the 11th century church at Eragny, which was completely destroyed, although no civilians were killed. Six of the airmen are buried together in the new cemetery at Eragny; the body of the seventh was never recovered and must have fallen into the Oise.

Soon afterwards you will pass O Châlet, with a row of skis outside and the red and white flag of Haute Savoie, a reminder of the regional dishes of raclette and fondue in which the restaurant specialises.

Exploring the River Oise
O Châlet fondue restaurant, Eragny

I first passed it on a Sunday walk along the Oise last February and went inside to ask for their card. It was like stepping into a 1950s time-warp, packed with local multi-generational families in festive mood and pervaded by the delicious smell of melting cheese. Modest family-owned places like this are fast disappearing in the Ile de France and I made a mental note to go back and try it out. I did go back on a rainy Sunday several weeks later, with my family who were over on a visit from England. The six of us were the only foreigners but we immediately felt at home. The kir was made of rosé wine flavoured with griotte cherries and it was generous and good. So was the fondue and the very reasonably-priced house wine. When the owners discovered that we had come all the way from Paris by train in non-stop rain they offered us a lift back to the station, which we gratefully accepted. I have not been able to return because lockdown intervened but they assure me that they will be re-opening as soon as it ends. My 24 year old niece later told me that the trip to ‘the restaurant by the river’ was the highlight of her Paris visit.

O Châlet is on the corner of  Rue de la Fontaine, which leads to La Carrière à Pépin, a former quarry a few metres away. The information panel there reproduces a photo of Débussy and his wife posing in front of the quarry on a visit to Eragny in 1902.

To reach the SNCF station at Eragny Neuville follow the Rue de la Fontaine uphill, past the quarry. The street is named for a local spring which never freezes in winter, making it a valued resource in the days before piped water was supplied to every house. A lavoir (wash house) was built around it in the 19th century, and until the 1950s professional washerwomen came from other villages to do the washing for Paris weekend visitors to Eragny. It is located just after the bend in the road, down steps on the left, with an information panel showing a rare photo of a lavoir in use.

Lavoir de la Fontaine, Eragny

Lavoir de la Fontaine, Eragny
Lavoir, rue de la Fontaine, Eragny

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Continue to the end of Rue de la Fontaine and turn sharp right uphill into Rue de la Gare. At the little roundabout take the first right into Rue de Neuville. There is a good view of the Oise from here just before you turn left into the little Rue des Belles Hâtes, which leads to steps down to the station. Cross to the other side for trains to Paris.

NB: If you are heading for the RER station at Neuville Université, continue from O Châlet to the next bridge. Take the road under the bridge, the Chemin de la Carrière à Pépin, follow it uphill and round to the left and go up steps on your right onto a main road. Cross at the pedestrian crossing on your left and turn left past the Parc Relais car park, then take the first right which will lead you through the bus station to the RER station.

Exploring the River Oise
Walk from St Ouen l’Aumône to Eragny-Neuville, IGN Carte TOP 25, 2313 OT, scale 1cm to 250m

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Trains from Gare du Nord to Pontoise run twice an hour, stopping at St Ouen l’Aumône 38 minutes later. Trains from Eragny-Neuville to St Lazare run two to three times an hour, taking 35 minutes.

RER A trains from Neuville Université to Châtelet-Les Halles run three times an hour, taking 34 minutes. https://www.transilien.com/

Free app using GPS to track your route on IGN maps

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Discovering the River Yerres

Here is the full text of the article which appeared in Bonjour Paris on 27 November 2020

Discovering the River Yerres: mills, menhirs and the Maison Caillebotte
L'Yerres, effet de pluie, Gustave Caillebotte 1875
L’Yerres, effet de pluie, Gustave Caillebotte 1875, Wikimedia Commons

In between confinements this year, I began following the tributaries of the Seine and the Marne in search of new walks near Paris. These minor rivers are generally not far from a railway station, stations which I had always assumed served faceless built up suburbs. Wrong. Yes, suburbs have sprung up around the medieval villages and hamlets on these little rivers but at the heart of them you will find traces of a many-layered past, existing side by side with modern infrastructure. And usually the closer you get to the river, the further back you journey in time and the more surprising and picturesque the walk becomes.

Brunoy on the River Yerres, a tributary of the Seine 21 km south east of Paris, is a good example. In the seventh century it was mentioned as a royal possession, prized for the good hunting to be had in the nearby Forêt de Sénart. Its famous château was demolished in the Revolution but Brunoy continued to attract successful Parisians who built several imposing country residences there, some still standing although put to other uses. It is still essentially a residential town.

5 km walk along the River Yerres from Brunoy to Yerres

From Brunoy station take the Place de la Gare exit marked ‘Bus’ which will bring you to the Rue de la Gare with a big brasserie/tabac on the corner. Follow it round to the right, past the modern Mediathèque and a small war memorial. You will see the spire of the church above the skyline on your left. Turn left to face the grandiose Mairie (1898) set in a little square with an imposing plane tree in front of it and the Tabac de la Mairie beside it in the Grande Rue on your right. This is a good place to stop for a drink, savouring the relaxed, almost provincial feel of the scene in front of you. In the Middle Ages this part of Brunoy with its 12th century church, built on the site of an earlier one, was surrounded by a rampart along what is now the Grande Rue, and it is still the heart of the modern town.

Café de la Mairie, Brunoy
Café de la Mairie, Brunoy

With your back to the Tabac de la Mairie turn into the first street on the left, the little Rue Pasteur, then take the first right, the tiny Rue St Nicolas. Turn left into a narrow un-named cobbled street, more like a passage, which will bring you to the back entrance of the Eglise St Médard, built in the 12th, 13th and 16th centuries, embellished in the 18th century and restored in 2005. Turn right and go down steps into the Place St Médard. The main entrance to the church is up the steps on your left.

Eglise St Médard, Brunoy
Eglise St Médard, Brunoy

From the church main entrance turn left and follow the Rue Montmartel round to the left. At the crossroads turn right downhill onto the Rue du Pont Perronet. You will pass a picturesque old mill which is now a hotel, on the site of an earlier mill belonging to the château.

Discovering the River Yerres: Mill at Brunoy
Mill at Brunoy

Continue across the bridge and take the pedestrian crossing onto the Ile de Brunoy, passing a restaurant called Le Pavillon de l’Ile on your right. It would be a good place to have lunch as it is in a beautiful setting and modestly priced. I have only had coffee here but the food has enthusiastic reviews on French TripAdvisor. Its terrace has an excellent view of the Neolithic menhir, La Pierre Fritte, on the opposite bank of the River Yerres. Continue along the path a little way and walk down to the river on your right, opposite the children’s playground, to see the menhir.

Discovering the River Yerres: La Pierre Fritte, Brunoy
La Pierre Fritte, Brunoy

La Pierre Fritte dates from around 3000 BC but its function remains a mystery. The name derives from la pierre fichée (figée) en terre, literally ‘stone stuck in the ground’. At 2.5 metres high, with another metre buried in the soil, it is the tallest stone visible of a group of three There is a much smaller one next to it and a bigger one submerged in the river beneath it.

Further along the path you will see a wooden barn, La Grange de l’Ile, which dates from the 19th century and has been recently restored. You could continue for a little wander along the island, which is an attractive public park with two picnic tables and paths along the Yerres on both sides, crossed by an impressive viaduct built in 1849.

Railway viaduct, Ile de Brunoy
Railway viaduct, Ile de Brunoy

Retrace your steps to the Pavillon de l’Ile and cross the bridge to the other side of the river. The Pont Perronet, built around 1784, is named after its engineer who also designed  the Pont de la Concorde in Paris. It has a tasteful Greek border running along its parapet. Take the steps down from the bridge and follow the path with the river on your right.

The entire walk is waymarked with the red and yellow GRP stripes. See http://www.annabelsimms.com/wp-content/uploads/French-footpath-signs-explained-pdf.pdf

You will pass quite a few locals en route but the walk feels rural rather than suburban, with towering trees, leaf-strewn paths and the sound of ducks and moorhens.

You will soon have another view of the mill with the church at Brunoy behind it. There is a heron visible in the photo if you zoom, down from the church spire.

Discovering the River Yerres: Mill at Brunoy
Mill at Brunoy

The path ends at the picturesque Pont de Soulins, built in 1745 and painted by Caillebotte in 1874.

Discovering the River Yerres: Pont de Soulins, Brunoy
Pont de Soulins, Brunoy

Cross the road and turn right onto this bridge, which has a footpath on the left leading to a gateway into the Parc de la Maison des Arts. The Maison is a villa, Le Réveillon, built in 1870 and now an arts centre, which you will eventually pass on your right.

Villa Le Réveillon, Brunoy
Villa Le Réveillon, Brunoy

The path soon goes under another impressive viaduct. Continue following the river, watching out for a discreet GRP left turn sign which will take you across a footbridge and up an embankment onto a main road. Cross the road straight ahead of you, if you can (the pedestrian crossing is further away) to a small road directly opposite showing a height restriction of 1.90 metres for cars. This is the unmarked continuation of the river footpath, next to a children’s playground in the Parc des Deux Rivières at Yerres.

Cross the next little footbridge over a dam and turn right to follow the Yerres onto the Ile Panchout. There are extracts from poems along the path which I personally found rather irritating, although well-intentioned. You may glimpse a fenced-off herd of Highland cattle, introduced here for ‘l’éco-pâturage’ i.e. to crop the grass in a sustainable way.

Turn right across the next footbridge and continue to follow the river. When you see a roadbridge ahead leave the path and take the steps on your right up to the bridge and a bus stop. Cross the road and turn left, over the river. The Maison Caillebotte is the white building straight ahead on the right.

Maison Caillebotte, Yerres
Maison Caillebotte, Yerres

Admission to the grounds, which contain some remarkable trees, is free. I have not visited the house but the grounds alone are worth the trip.

La propriété Caillebotte, Caillebotte 1875
Le parc, propriété Caillebotte, Caillebotte 1875 Wikimedia Commons

The Caillebotte family bought the property in 1860 and spent their summers there until they sold it in 1879. It had been transformed by a previous owner in 1824 who turned the extensive grounds into a landscaped jardin à l’anglaise, complete with orangery, ice-house and other fashionable fabriques. The former ‘chalet Suisse’ now houses the restaurant and tea-room and the walled kitchen garden, where I helped myself to some raspberries,  has been beautifully restored and is run by volunteers.

Le jardin potager, Yerres 1877, Caillebotte Wikimedia Commons
Le jardin potager, propriété Caillebotte, Caillebotte 1877, Wikimedia Commons

Like most of the owners of elegant villas in Brunoy and Yerres, Caillebotte père had made his fortune in Paris, in his case by supplying the French army with sheets and blankets. His second son, Gustave (1848-1894) became a talented painter of independent means, champion and patron of the Impressionists. The bucolic river and garden setting at Yerres inspired several of his early paintings. His outstanding collection of Impressionist paintings now forms the heart of the collection at the Musée d’Orsay.

To return to Paris turn right from the Maison Caillebotte onto the main road and continue on the right past La Grange au Bois, a 19th century villa in the fashionable ‘rustic’ style, now a music and dance conservatory, along the long Rue de Concy. When you come to a roundabout, turn left into Rue de la Gare and continue uphill. Cross the road and take steps up on the right to the RER station at Yerres.

Discovering the River Yerres: walk from Brunoy to Yerres
IGN carte Top 25, 2415 OT Evry-Melun, scale 1:25 000 (1 cm = 250m)

RER D trains from Gare de Lyon to Melun run two to three times an hour, stopping at Brunoy 28 minutes later. Trains from Yerres run every 15 minutes, taking 24 minutes to Gare de Lyon.  www.transilien.fr

Free app using GPS to track your route on IGN maps

 

 

 

 

 

Annabel’s talk at the American Library in Paris

American Library in Paris, 18 December 2018The American Library in Paris has just sent me this photo of my talk about Half An Hour From Paris on 18 December 2018 and will send me the YouTube recording when it is ready.

Thanks again to those of you who were able to be present and helped to make it such a success! I will post the YouTube recording as soon as I receive it.

Winter walks

Here are my top five recommendations for daytrips in winter. All are in An Hour From Paris except for Malmaison, which is in Half An Hour From Paris.

Château d’Ecouen

Château d’Ecouen in the snowThe short walk through the forest to the Musée de la Renaissance in the château is particularly magical in the snow, which doesn’t melt as quickly as it does in Paris.

 

 

 

Conflans Ste Honorine

Speedboat ferry to La Goèlette restaurant, Andrésy (Conflans Ste Honorine)La Goèlette island restaurant at Andrésy is reached by speedboat. Optional short riverside walk to the station at Conflans Ste Honorine.

 

 

 

Villeneuve Triage

The patron of the Guinguette Auvergnate at Villeneuve Triage
Jean-Pierre Vic, the patron of the Guinguette Auvergnate

Watch or join the dancers at the Guinguette Auvergnate riverside restaurant. Optional short riverside walk to the station at Choisy-le-Roi.

 

 

 

 

Poissy

L'Esturgeon and old bridge, Poissy
L’Esturgeon restaurant at the old bridge, Poissy

Visit the Villa Savoye built by Le Corbusier in 1929. Optional short riverside walk to the station at Villennes sur Seine.

 

 

 

Malmaison

Château de MalmaisonVisit the home of Napoleon and Josephine, perhaps followed by lunch at the nearby Brasserie du Château.

London launch of Half An Hour From Paris on 10 May 2018

London launch of Half An Hour From Paris at Word on the Water

 

Readers, friends and visitors are cordially invited to the launch of

Half An Hour From Paris 

at  Word on the Water, the floating bookshop behind St Pancras International station, London

on Thursday 10 May from 6.30-8.30 pm

Annabel will give a short presentation at 7 pm before signing copies.

Word on the Water, Regent’s Canal towpath, London N1C 4LW
Go past The Lighterman pub to Granary Square and continue down the ramp to the waterside https://goo.gl/maps/Le5wn2i1UXy

What is a GR route? French footpath signs explained

What is a GR route? French footpath signs (hiking trails) explained
French footpath signs explained
GR route through Grez sur Loing

It took me years to understand the logic of French footpath signs, finally resolved by attending a weekend course for baliseurs, the volunteers who actually paint the signs. You can read more about this fascinating experience in The Nature of the French. The most revealing thing I learned was that the signs are meant to be discreet. Practical usefulness is all very well, I was told, but aestheticism is more important.  Not all French walkers agree.  A helpful French website explaining how not to get lost when following the signs is http://www.randonner-malin.com/le-balisage-en-randonnee-ce-que-vous-devez-savoir/

The footpath signs were created by the FFRP (Féderation Française de la Randonnée Pedestre, https://www.ffrandonnee.fr/), the equivalent of the Ramblers’ Association in the UK or the American Hiking Society in the US.  Their volunteers are responsible for maintaining the system of letters and coloured markings which help you find your way across country. These waymarked footpaths are shown in red on the IGN (Institut Géographique National) large-scale maps.

On the ground the red and white or yellow markings are deliberately rather discreet, usually painted at eye level on a tree or lamp-post. However, once you start looking for them you will notice them everywhere, including central Paris. It is generally a good idea to follow the FFRP paths, which avoid busy roads as far as possible, sometimes leading to an unsuspected underpass or taking you through a pretty wood.

Footpaths are classified as follows:

GR (Grande Randonnée): Major footpath crossing several regions.  Red and white stripe.

GRP (Grande Randonnée de Pays): Major footpath circling an entire region. Red and yellow stripe.

PR (Promenade et Randonnée): Shorter circular routes taking one to eight hours. Yellow stripe.

French footpath signs explained

Two horizontal stripes mean you are on the right path, a horizontal stripe above a right or left angle means turn right or left at the next fork and a horizontal cross means you will stray off the path if you take this route. More unusually, two horizontal stripes with a vertical line through them indicate that the path is a diverticule, a waymarked deviation from the main one.

French footpath signs explained pdf