Off the beaten track in France: discover the imperial city of Compiègne
Less than 90 km north of Paris, Compiègne remains often overlooked by travelers. I recognize that I am biased: I was born there. But Compiègne’s charm, its forest (the third biggest in France), and rivers (Oise and Aisne) seduced almost every single French king and both Napoleon I and Napoleon III who visited for leisure and hunting.
It is the place that Napoleon the First chose to welcome his new bride Marie-Louise d’Autriche. Napoleon III and the Empress Eugenie used to entertain guests at her Chateau de Compiègne during her famous ‘Séries’. They built a theatre for their enjoyment that is now open to the public to enjoy concerts and operas. So Compiègne – which is known today as the ‘Imperial city’ – is certainly well placed to seduce the modern visitor.
Here is what Compiègne has to offer the traveler that goes off the beaten track in France.
A royal residence since the ninth century
The main attraction in Compiègne is the grandiose and unique castle, which is fully furnished and decorated. It also boasts two museums, one that showcases the Second Empire and another one dedicated to the history of cars (a hit when traveling with children).
Take a walk in the beautiful park and nearby forest then stop for light refreshments and pastries in the ‘Salon de thé du jardin des Roses’.
A typical centre-ville, ideal for strolling
From the castle, you can walk downtown to the typical French centre-ville. Go for a stroll and do some shopping or discover the dining on offer in the little paved streets.
Admire old houses from the Middle Ages such as ‘la Vieille Cassine’; several beautiful churches; and our gothic jewel, the city hall whose belfry has a carillon decorated with ‘Picantins’ (figurines that move when the carillon rings).
You will also find a small museum located in the cloister of the Saint Corneille abbey, and for those who love tin soldiers, the quaint Museum de la Figurine will delight you.
A great destination for history lovers
Be sure not to miss the Musée Antoine Vivenel (a personal favourite) which overlooks the beautiful river Oise. The museum has – among many artefacts – an exceptional collection of antique Greek vases (second only to the one in the Louvre Museum) and a romantic park.
History buffs will take interest in the many events Compiègne has witnessed. Joan of Arc was captured nearby and supposedly spent a night in the Tour Jeanne d’Arc. The Clairière de l’Armistice (Glade of the Armistice) where the Germans signed the armistice in 1918 is also a must-see.
Finally, the Camp de Royallieu is a reminder of a tragic piece of history; the city had an internment and deportation camp during World War II.
Compiègne has it all
Compiègne provides the perfect weekend gateway for History lovers who will discover stories from many important historical periods. Nature lovers will enjoy long walks in the forest, while horse lovers will appreciate the Ecuries Royales racecourse. Staying in Compiègne also allows you to discover the beautiful Oise department.
Some of my favorite outings include: Chantilly and its amazing Renaissance-style castle and Grand Stables; Pierrefonds with yet another magic castle from the Middle Ages that is so special because of its restoration by Viollet-le-Duc; and the little village of Longueil-Annel with its ‘cité des bateliers’ where one can learn all about canal boats and take a cruise on the Oise river.
There are endless surprises close to Compiègne for the curious traveler!
What will you discover? Share your experiences below. We’d love to hear about it.
1, 2, 5. © Sophie Landrieux
3. Chateau du Compiegne, via wikimedia
5. Rethondes Ancien bâtiment qui abritait le wagon de l’armistice, via wikimedia