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Compiègne is less than 40 miles northeast of Paris between the Oise River and a sprawling forest in the départmente of Oise. Its 44,000 residents pride themselves as much on this naturally beautiful setting as they do on an impressive historical context.
In the second half of the 19th century, Compiègne became the locale for all French sovereigns until Napoléon III. It also attracted all lovers of the hunt and relaxation, not to mention power. Before then, during the reign of St. Louis, medieval tournaments took place here and, in 1360, Jean le Bon dictated the order that created the franc.
In 1698, the grand military parade of Camp de Coudun in which Louis XIV consorted to eventually wipe out Europe, preceded the construction by Gabriel of the sumptuous neo-classic Château of Compiègne, this on the orders of Louis XV. Inside the Château walls issued the pomp of celebrations like the arrival of Marie-Antoinette in France, Napoléon Ist welcoming Marie Louise, and Louise d’Orléans marrying Léopold of Belgium and receptions held by Napoléon III and Eugénie. The Château is a must-see for first-timers to Compiègne.
Other more tragic times saw Jeanne d’Arc, who was captured in May 1430 when she was defending the city. Compiègne holds its Joan of Arc festival every May to honor her bravery and sacrifice.
Here, too, the 16 Carmelite nuns of Compiègne were taken to Paris to be put to the guillotine in July 1794, while long lines of deported people made for the Royallieu camp in the outlying area.
There are commemorative sites for both World War I and World War II, including the Armistice Museum that commemorates the 1918 agreement signed in Compiègne to end World War I. Services are held there every Armistice Day.
The Mémorial de l’internement et de la déportation (Internment and Deportation Museum) was opened in 2008 on the site of the former WW II camp, Compiègne Royallieu, where Germans held Jewish (and some prisoners of war).
On a lighter note, you may also wish to see the Forest of Compiègne, one of the three largest forests in France. The Forest is an enormous natural area filled with oak, beech and pine trees on over 35,000 acres (measured in France as hectares). Walking paths created hundreds of years ago cross through and at the edges of the forest where royals enjoyed hunting fowl, fox, deer and elk, and wild boars still living there today. Local residents return annually to their favorite “secret” places in the forest depths where mushrooms and truffles are gathered in autumn. If you enjoy nature walks, check the Compiègne Tourism Office schedule of organized nature walks, truffle hunts and the like.
Bring your camera so you can capture sights like hills with panoramic views of the valley and a lake surrounded by what trees, some of which are hundreds of years old. In fact, the oldest tree in France, a 900-year-old yew, stands at the part of the forest near Saint-Pierre-en-Chastres. The forest holds many trees nearly as impressive in age, height and girth.
With more than 1000 years of history, Compiègne’s slogan “au roi et au royaume, la plus fidèle” (“the most loyal to king and country”) demonstrates how the city strives to maintain and cherish its magnificent monuments and legacy.
Compiègne is an hour away from Paris via the regional rail system and the round-trip fare is 25-40 euros per person (2011). By car, you’ll find Compiègne north of the Roissy Charles de Gaulle Airport.
Chez Micheline is recommended for a meal stop. Though it has with website or online advertising, you’ll find many reviews online posted by diners who rate its cuisine, service and ambiance as 5-stars.
1, rue Roche, Berny Rivière, 02290 Compiègne, France
PHOTO CREDITS: Joan of Arc statue ©dbking; Chateau and Forest photos ©Office de Tourisme de Compiègne
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Compiègne is great for hiking & has connections to Marie-Antoinette and Joan of Arc…click on an image for details.
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