Day Trips from Paris: A Fairytale Walk to Château of Ecouen

Day Trips from Paris: A Fairytale Walk to Château of Ecouen
If you are looking for total dépaysement (change of scene) and are also interested in the French Renaissance, there is no need to travel as far as the Loire. One of the most elegant examples of this style in France, the 16th-century Château d’Ecouen, houses the rich furnishings and objets d’art that make up the collections of the National Museum of the Renaissance. Perhaps because it is only 19 km and 21 minutes by train from Paris, the château, surrounded by its 17-hectare park which is full of flowers in spring and enchanting under snow in winter, is gratifyingly under-visited. Most of its visitors are French so you won’t have to join long queues. The full impact of its hilltop site is only revealed when you approach it on foot via the signposted walk from the station through the Forest of Ecouen, a distance of 1.84 km, just over a mile. View of the forest walk from the Grille du Pré Curé. Photo: Annabel Simms I first went there on the 269 bus from the station, only three stops to the château but by a route which means you approach the building from the front. When I went there again through the forest some years later, I actually failed to recognize it as the same place, so different were the two impressions. The rear view of the château gradually rises into view as you approach it from the woodland path and is magically revealed in all its stateliness as you emerge onto the vast flat lawn at the top. Rear view of the château in winter, surrounded by snowdrops. Photo: Annabel Simms Rear view of the château in spring, with a carpet of wood anemones. Photo: Annabel Simms The château was built for Constable Anne, Duke of Montmorency (1492-1567), the owner of over 130 châteaux and one of the wealthiest and most powerful men in France. Completed in 1555, it is in the High Renaissance style, a development of the Early Renaissance style of the châteaux of the Loire built during the reign of François I. The architecture, the grounds and the decor all reflect the new taste for a château as a place for gracious living rather than a medieval fortress. Painted friezes decorate the windows and walls and dreamy Biblical  scenes are painted on the chimneypieces. ‘La chasse d’Esaü’, chimneypiece by unknown artist in the bedroom of Anne de Montmorency. ©RMN, Stéphane Maréchalle

Lead photo credit : Château d’Ecouen, main entrance. Photo: Annabel Simms

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Annabel Simms is an English resident of Paris, with over 20 years' experience of exploring the Paris countryside by train, bus, boat and on foot. She is is the author of "An Hour From Paris" (3rd edition 2019) and "Half An Hour From Paris" (2nd edition 2023). Her website is