Published on March 16th, 2015 | by Anne-Fleur Andrle Stephan0
A day in Compiègne
Compiègne is a small town of just under 100,000 inhabitants located in the south of Picardy, and about 45 minutes by train north of Paris. If you like history and want to go a little off the beaten tourist track in the capital, go towards Compiègne!
Joan of Arc, Napoleon III, and even the signing of the First World War’s armistice in the forest: big names and big events that are sure to delight and satisfy visitors eager for day trip discoveries.
The Royal and Imperial Palace of Compiègne … (A 20-minute walk from the station. – Take the time to admire the cobblestone plaza of the castle. Absolutely gorgeous!)
Built for Louis XV and XVI, and refurbished under Napoleon I and Napoleon III, the castle was a royal, then an imperial residence, listed as a Historic Monument (with Unesco) since the mid 90’s. This monument will charm you! It constitutes one of the three largest French royal and imperial residences, along with Versailles and Fontainebleau. It’s not to be missed!
It consists of three museums. Thus you can visit the historic apartments of the Emperor and the Empress, the museums of the Second Empire, but also the national museum of cars and tourism.
Allow plenty of time to admire the French-style gardens and, for the most courageous and athletic, do not pass by the Percée des Beaux-Monts which I am particularly fond of. For the record, in 1811, Napoleon decided to surprise his love, Marie-Louise. Legend says that the pathway was literally cleared through the forest of Compiègne, and up to the windows of the apartment of the emperor’s beloved, all in one night! Napoleon was actually intending to reproduce the perspective of Schönbrunn in Austria, the summer palace of Marie Louise’s family. In this case it was a clearing of more than 6 kilometers long and 60 meters wide, and the point of view of Beaux-Monts is located at approximately 130 meters high. It would appear that Marie-Louise must have discovered it in opening her curtains. In reality, this project took several years as it began under Napoleon I and was completed under Napoleon III in 1853. At the top, a path leads visitors to an oak tree over 40 meters high and 400 years old. These grounds are very well kept, and offer a nice walk and a beautiful view!
More info: http://palaisdecompiegne.fr/
Admission: 7.50 euros / reduced price 5.50 euros / Free for 26 years old and under.
La Clairière of the Armistice
If you only are passing through Compiègne for a day, then do not miss the Clairière de l’Armistice, or Rethondes. The First World War’s armistice was signed there on the 11th of November 1918, between France, its allies and the Weimar Republic, as well as the armistice of the 22nd of June 1940, during the Second World War, between France and the Third Reich.
The 1918 armistice was signed in a train car converted into an office in the Clairière near the Rethondes train station, a few miles from Compiegne. The cease-fire took effect on that same day, and this exceptional site has remained a place of peace and victory and a symbol of the end of the war.
It was in 1940 that Hitler decided to sign the capitulation with France in the same place, for its strong symbolism and to humiliate France, and this took place in the same train car. The Germans destroyed the site entirely soon after.
Only in the 1950’s was the Armistice Museum reconstructed (the train car was restored – not being the original).
Take the time to follow a guide during your visit, but also to walk around outside the museum.
More info: http://www.musee-armistice-14-18.fr
Admission: 5 euros / 3 euros (reduced price).
To complete your walk, and to have an enjoyable lunch, go wander around the narrow pedestrian streets behind Place Saint-Jacques in Compiègne, or Place du Chateau.
Enjoy your visit!
Headed photo: The Château de Compiègne seen from the garden. Photo by Wikipedia.