The dreamy stretch of the Seine with its old villages opposite the forest of Fontainebleau, south-east of Paris, has always attracted artists as well as people simply in search of rest and relaxation, but is little-visited by foreigners. The scene has scarcely changed in centuries, nor the river pursuits: strolling, boating, swimming, picnicking, or just sitting on the grass and gazing. In the words of the poet Stéphane Mallarmé (1842-1898) who lived there, ‘You can let entire days be swallowed by the river, without feeling any sense of loss or the shadow of a regret.’
If you turn immediately right from the station at Vulaines-Samoreau you will see an unobtrusive footpath indicated by a red and white stripe at eye-level, that will take you under the railway to a road, Voie de la Liberté. Turning right into this road will take you across the D39 to an intersection where you will see a sign for the Musée Mallarmé, which is 100 meters to the right. But if you take the footpath down to the river on the left, passing under the Pont de Valvins, and follow the river for another kilometer, you will come to a discreet campsite beside a boat ramp and the Terrasse de la Plage.
The ‘plage’ is a stretch of grass and the ‘terrasse’ is just a roof shading wooden tables and chairs, but it offers a surprisingly good range of snacks and drinks. The lentil-and-sausage salad at 8€ was generous, and a half-liter pitcherof deliciously chilled Catalan rosé was 6€. You could happily spend the whole afternoon here, listening to the soothing murmur of local families lingering over their drinks, swimming, or quietly sunning themselves on the grass.
The pretty residential village of Samoreau behind the Terrasse has an old church and a huge well-restored 15th-century grange dîmière (tithe barn) which belonged to a fortified monastery owned by the Abbey of St Germain des Prés in Paris. The dîmes,a tenth of annual grain and wine production levied as taxes to the Church, were stored here.
Retracing your steps to the Pont de Valvins where the footpath turns into a road, you will pass the Musée Mallarmé, a former inn with a pretty garden that was later owned by the ‘Prince of Poets’. The quiet road continues along the river, with sweeping views of the forest opposite, past L’Ile aux Truites, a restaurant/buvette which sells farmed trout and is useful if you want to stop for a drink. In less than two kilometers the road becomes a large grassy stretch with benches beside the river. The steps down to a landing-stage mark the defunct ferry to the picturesque village of Samois, which is opposite the pontoon further on, a favourite place for swimmers.
On sunny weekends and holidays the local restaurant (Le Bar du Centre, recommended) closes its premises in central Héricy and sets up a stand facing the pontoon, La Buvette des Bords de Seine, selling merguez-fritesand drinks until nightfall. The river here functions as the back garden for the whole village and the scene is straight out of Seurat’s Bathers at Asnières, with the main sounds, despite the presence of families with children, being the peaceful click of boules.
To explore Héricy, a lively village with pretty old houses, a 13th-century church and several cafés, leave the river by the road opposite the pontoon, a 10-minute walk. The shortest route to Héricy station, by-passing the village, is via the road opposite the landing-stage, the Avenue St Marc. At the end, turn right, then take the first road left, rue Fernand Dalaine, for the station.
SNCF train from Gare de Lyon to Montargis, changing at Melun (5 min wait) then SNCF train to Montereau, for Vulaines-sur-Seine – Samoreau. Hourly departuresfrom 6.05 am, hourly return till 10.50 pm; total journey time 50 minutes.
Pont de Valvins, 4 Promenade Stéphane Mallarmé
77870 Vulaines sur Seine
01 64 23 73 27
Open daily except Tuesdays 10 am -12.30 pm and 2-5.30 pm
La Terrasse de la Plage
Chemin de l’Abreuvoir
01 64 23 95 51
Open daily, 11 am-11 pm
Le Bar du Centre
5 Place du Pilori
77850 Héricy sur Seine
01 64 24 27 71
Open daily to 10 pm, menus 10€