France off the beaten track: Charles de Gaulle to Epernay – Part 1

France off the beaten track: Charles de Gaulle to Epernay – Part 1

What a start to our French adventure. Determined to take the path less travelled we discover stunning rural vistas, super friendly locals and a vibrant food and wine culture in France. This was all way beyond our expectations. This is part 1 of a 12-part mini-series which follows our recent 12-week trip. I invite you to join us and make some delightful discoveries.

France off the beaten track: nothing ‘ordinary’ to be found

I always prefer to get off the beaten path whenever possible, and this trip was no different. During our 12-week randonnée in rural France, we discovered superb, picturesque and remote places to hike and cycle at moderate fitness levels. We did not have one single ordinary meal along the way. In fact, most meals ranged from good to excellent, demonstrating that rural and remote France has much to offer for serious foodies.

My wife Heidi and I hired an electric car at CDG airport in early spring 2022 and drove some six thousand kilometres in a-figure-eight around France. We hiked over a thousand kilometres and cycled for several weeks. There were still many Covid travel restrictions. Therefore our plan was to take the path less travelled and enjoy a less complicated holiday, which turned out to be incredibly rewarding.

Unwinding in Senlis and the Oise Forest

The northern department of Oise commences 45 kilometres from Paris and is a twenty-minute drive along uncongested roads from CDG airport. It is best known for Chantilly Chateau, a world-famous hippodrome (horse racing track) and magnificent forests with extensive hiking trails.

Senlis was a surprise, largely overlooked by tourists it is a small yet sophisticated city.  It has well-preserved ruins of the palace of the first French royal families, dating back to the fourth century. This area suited us perfectly for a short recovery after more than 20 hours of travel from the other side of the world.

Senlis: Charles de Gaulle to Epernay

CDG to Epernay: Highlights & hidden gems on the path less travelled

On AirB&B we found a two-story heritage cottage with a wood fire on a small estate only a few kilometres from Senlis and it was in the heart of the forest. On our doorstep, we had dozens of well-marked walking trails. Happily, one of these led us directly into Senlis for the bi-weekly (Tuesday & Friday morning) market day. We prefer to plan our stays to coincide with local market days and it is usually a wonderful experience. Senlis was no exception. The market sprawls through the cobbled alleys and lanes of the beautifully preserved old town and is a vibrant place offering myriad fresh produce and artisan products.

Walking, Cycling, Touring

For walking maps and directions, we highly recommend the AllTrails app which identifies tens of thousands of hiking trails worldwide. With this App, you’ll never get lost and will discover many beautiful and little-known destinations thanks to the feedback from the large active community of participants.

The Oise Forest was quite beautiful in mid-April. It was waking from a long hibernation and a flurry of bright green leaves emerged almost overnight. Our jet lag recovery ritual involves walking between five and ten kilometres each morning. We chose a different path each day, without a destination in mind, just walking for pleasure. It was a delightful way of unwinding and rejuvenating.

The Senlis tourist information office recommended several half-day historical walks in and around the old town. We discovered many well-preserved Gallo-Roman and mediaeval monuments and buildings, including significant segments of the old town fortifications. Our favourite walk was along the ramparts of the old town which alternated between majestic, elevated vistas, hidden passageways, and riverside paths. This is a town for les flâneurs, we discovered many hidden artisan shops, local boutiques and snippets of history while wandering the old town.

Food and Wine

Our host recommended her favourite local restaurants, but unfortunately, we found all were complet during our brief stay. Happily, her recommendations for a quality butcher and pastry shop proved excellent. Despite our jet lag, we self-catered a gourmet experience of rolled duck roast stuffed with foie gras, wonderful dark chocolate, pear and custard tart and a bottle of good red burgundy from a producer we know in Santenay.

The chocolatier-patissier and butcher are in Place de la Halle in the heart of the old town, adjacent to each other.

France off the beaten track: Charles de Gaulle to Epernay – Part 1


Senlis - France off the beaten track: Charles de Gaulle to Epernay – Part 1

Recommendations and Insights

For anyone staying in Paris, you can easily take a day trip to Senlis which takes less than an hour by train from the Gare du Nord.

Whilst there we discovered very quickly that if you don’t book restaurants well ahead – at least a week in advance – then you’ll likely miss out, which can be challenging when you’re trying to stay flexible and follow detours and take the path less travelled.

In Senlis, we learned our lesson the hard way!

You will find each part of this mini-series here.

Have you visited Senlis? Do you like to travel off the beaten path or off the beaten track? Please share your experiences in the comments below.

Image credits:
All images copyright Craig Healy

You may also enjoy reading ‘France at its Electric Best‘ – All about Craig’s EV adventure around France. Here’s a snapshot to whet your appetite: “Heidi and I had planned a grand European adventure in 2020, but Covid killed it. So when the borders reopened we reactivated for 2022.

Little did we know that we’d receive a French education about #hacks #Apps #EVAdventures and #realsavings, so I thought that I’d share our experience and our learnings.

We reactivated our 2020 plan in 2022, however, we still experienced some Covid travel trauma.

    • The airline cancelled our deferred bookings due to the war in Ukraine.
    • Airfares were much higher and travel insurance excluded Covid cover.
    • Moving between countries involved various entry permits and vaccination certificates.
    • Also, there were new restrictions for accessing restaurants, theatres and museums.”

read more >

About the Contributor

Craig Healey

I’m a not-quite-retired business & technology consultant with a passion for the great outdoors and an even greater passion for the wonderful food and wine of France. Each region has a rich gastronomic culture which is always a delight to discover and never fails to tantalise your taste buds.

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  1. Judy MacMahon Mar 18, 2023 at 2:02 PM - Reply

    Bonjour Craig, I love to travel off the beaten track! What a great start to this series. Would you be able to provide us with a map of this journey?
    À bientôt

  2. Ross Kane Mar 19, 2023 at 11:16 AM - Reply

    This looks beautiful! I visited France as a teen and later as an adult, and I find the place adorable. I have always had an appreciation for a country that demonstrates beauty in all things.

  3. Anne Marie Jun 25, 2023 at 2:30 AM - Reply

    I discovered Senlis many years ago when we needed a hotel before our flight home from CDG. Senlis was booked, according to the Bureau of Tourism, and she sent us to a chambre d’hôte in Raray about 20 minutes away. Raray is a small spécial place, so don’t share this secret with too many others. We have stayed in both locations numérous times, close to Paris yet so far away.

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