Annabel Simms wrote a lovely little guide to day trips on public transport near Paris. She includes instructions for visiting 20 interesting small towns, parks, chateau in easy range of the city. Chartres, Fontainbleau, Giverny, Chantilly, Versailles and similar well known tourist haunts are not included; she figured every guidebook has instructions for those. Hers are the little treasures less visited that she has collected over the years. http://www.annabelsimms.com/
Obtaining this book was difficult; I kept ordering it on Amazon and they kept confirming and then canceling the order — it was out of print for a time and being hawked for upwards of 100$ used. I noticed it has been reprinted and is again available now — but I could not get it myself before the trip. I am indebted to my sister in law Mary Benefiel Dunn who scared up a copy in England and sent it to me.
We plan to visit many of these sites but got off to a slow start because our first 10 days in Paris were cold and drizzly – fine for Paris but not really ideal for visiting the countryside. So far we have done three of the trips from the book — a visit to Ecouen, Senlis and to Rambouillet. And we are planning two for the next week when it is sunny, Sceaux and a country Guinguette or dance hall on the river like those painted so often by the impressionists.
From the train station we walked through the woods for about a mile up to a wall in the forest and through a garden gate.
Ecouen built in 1550 is one of 130 chateau owned by Duc Anne de Montmorency who served as Marshall and then as Constable of France under Francoise I and Henry II. Apparently the Duc was named for his mother, also Anne — but he pronounced it Ah Nay. (which brings to mind the notorious Nicolas Cage Azzweepay skit on SNL. http://snltranscripts.jt.org/92/92ababynames.phtml ) One can only assume the need to build 130 Chateau may have involved some overcompensation. Here is his monogram worked into the floor of the chateau.
The Chateau, which is France’s Renaissance Museum, was preparing for a June filled with Renaissance fair events. Construction was underway on the grounds of faux villages, mill wheels, performance stages and the like. We may return in June and if we do will add pictures from the fair here.
We always arrive everywhere about the time France shuts down for lunch for two or three hours, so we walked around the chateau to the front where we could appreciate the great view out over the Seine plain.
Many of the sculptured decorations on the chateau’s exterior have been worn away with the weather and time, but the courtyard entrance which includes copies of Michelangelo sculptures was either protected or extensively restored.
Most of the rooms were unfurnished as is typical of old chateau used as parks and museums, but the walls, fireplaces and floors are themselves interesting.
The chateau museum houses a notable series of tapestries from the 16th century on the theme of David and Bathsheba. I might note that nowhere in any of these well populated tapestries was there any sign of a naked woman or a bath. They seemed to consist of many many men and a few women parading around in 16th century European garb. If we had not read that the 8 tapestries told this story of Bathsheba we would never have guessed.
Most of the fireplace fronts in every room of the chateau are painted with elaborate Biblical scenes like this one of David and Goliath appropriately in one of the rooms housing the David tapestries.
There was an extensive collection of ceramics including both Italian and French Renaissance work; here for example is something prepared for the Medici:
Not all are on serious themes. We can only assume that there is quite a story behind, so to speak, this one where wealth is being dispensed oddly to say the least.
I love these old plates and am particularly fond of the examples created during this period in the Islamic east; they had a fine collection of both primitive and elegant Islamic ceramics.
But for Ed the piece de resistance was this painting by Scheggia — the less talented younger brother of Masaccio. Massacio was the first great painter of the Rennaisance and his work in the Brancacci Chapel in Florence is my single favorite piece of art. He died at only 27 – perhaps poisoned by a romantic rival. Masaccio is Ed’s nom de plume for his writing on firedoglake.com.
Here is a detail from that work (Scheggia’s not Ed’s and not Masaccio’s):