Moret sur Loing is another small treasure near Paris beloved of the impressionists. Monet, Renoir and Sisley all painted in the area. The town was an inexpensive place for artists to live compared to Paris and Sisley lived out his days here in poverty painting many of the lovely scenes of town and countryside. This is his view of the town bridge and Cathedral. We visited the town with friends on a cold overcast November day.
We took the train from Gare du Lyon not far from where we were staying in Paris. We decided to travel to Moret Veneux les Sablons but then take a 2 km country hike to St. Mammes from Moret and return to Paris from there. If you decide to do that, be sure to get tickets in Paris for the particular stations. French tickets are point to point and a ticket to Moret will not get you back from St. Mammes.
There is a rather ugly initial kilometer long walk from the Moret Veneux les Sablons train station to the village of Moret sur Loing.We knew we were on the right track when we spotted the sign, but were beginning to wonder if we had made a good choice for a walk on a gloomy day. Since I had planned the trip, I had that ‘what have I gotten my friends into’ sensation at this point. Things looked up when we spotted the town gate.
This is the medieval entrance to the town, the Porte du Samois. As you can see see even this late in the year, the residents take seriously the designation as a ville fleurie.
The town center is well preserved. Much of the town was built in the 11th and 12th century. Here is an example of an old door still in use although the town and the home has obviously been modernized and the building has settled in the centuries since it was originally built.
We had heard about a wonderful restaurant on the towpath from Moret to St. Mammes which was hard to spot but amazing — but it was getting to be 1 pm and we had a ways to go before getting that far. We were afraid it might be closed for lunch by the time we got there or even closed for the season. Not much was open on the main street on a weekday in November and what we saw didn’t look very appetizing. We finally decided on a small restaurant at the exit gate of the town fearing we would not find lunch if we didn’t stop.
This turned out to be a great decision and the little restaurant was very fine. Three of us had the hanger steak special and each chose a different sauce — a mustard sauce, a red wine sauce and a shallot sauce. I had the mustard which I chose only because the other two appealed even less and it turned out to be just amazing — I have been trying to recreate it since then. It was very subtle and I am not sure what was in it besides old mustard; quite a wonderful creation. One of the great pleasures of France is the exquisitely prepared moderately priced lunches one stumbles on pretty much anywhere. The restaurant is: La porte de Bourgogne and well worth a stop. We paid 64 Euro for the 4 of us including 3 two course meals, coffee, wine and a salad with rillon for the 4th person.
The restaurant is aptly named as it sits right at the exit gate of the town, the Porte de Bourgogne, which leads to the bridge crossing the Loing and directly to a series of old mills and wash houses. This Madona graces the far side of the Porte. The inscription loosely translates as ‘Hope remains.’ On a sunny day, a picnic in this well developed area along the stream or on a terrace by one of the old mills would be the right choice; we were happy on this day to have been in the warm friendly restaurant by the bridge. Just past the bridge there is a path along the mill races with many lovely views.These old mill houses have been converted to a public park, complete with grills and picnic tables. This is a view back to the town from one of the terraces of the mill house.
Before moving on to the towpath along the Loing to the Seine, we doubled back along the water by the millrace and took a path up to the Cathedral for a quick visit. The Cathedral was begun in the 12th century and construction continued for a couple of hundred years. It was consecrated by Thomas Becket. Paintings of the saints decorate the columns; here are St. John and St. Peter. The baptismal font dates from early in the Cathedral’s history.Up the street from the Cathedral is the old donjon or medieval fortress. Looking back at the Cathedral, I spotted this lovely stone hawk. St. Michael is on a nearby building in the Cathedral complex.The Cathedral is impressive but like in many medieval towns jammed up between crowded streets and old houses. Back along the millrace again we found old markers of earlier floods in the town.After visiting the Cathedral we passed through the gate again and walked across the Loing on the old bridge and then to a park with views back to the town. This is where the Sisley picture that opened this post was painted as well as the shot of the four of us.
Many of the old houses were built sort of cantilevered over the river.After viewing the town across the Loing, we found the towpath that carries barges up to the Seine a kilometer or so in the distance. It is a beautiful walk past fishermen trying the backwaters and people just sitting and enjoying the day.This is a beautiful stretch; in summertime there are boat excursions one can take along the Loing into the Seine, but not at this time of year. We will definitely plan to come back and do that some summer.There were a number of old barges that appeared to be kitted out as homes especially as we neared the confluence with the Seine. We passed the area where the wonderful restaurant was supposed to be but the building was locked up tight as a drum and did not look like it had been open for business anytime recently. We were very glad we had stopped at La Porte de Bourgogne for lunch as there was pretty much nothing open in the next town St. Mammes, either.
Towards the end of the towpath before turning down the Seine there were a number of marvelous old houses.At the end of the tow path is the confluence of the Loing with the Seine. Here we have just turned the corner onto the Seine and a waterfront park. St. Mammes may be a treat in summer but at the end of a long walk on a gloomy day, and faced with a main street with no signs of life, it was something of a let down. There was an interesting 11th century church and garden but the church was locked up tight as was the rest of the town. St. Mammes is the patron saint for those with stomach ailments and this church is said to contain a statue of the saint holding his intestines in his hands much like a plate of spaghetti. Alas we could not get in to confirm or photograph this.
We were not fans of St. Mammes. A long cold march through rather ugly streets in search of coffee and when that failed, in search of the train station home was not that much fun. To be fair to the place, there were some interesting looking buildings, but since everything including cafes were closed and dark, we weren’t able to appreciate them. Finding the train station was not simple and once we spotted it, it was one of those ‘near and yet so far’ situations. We could see it up a hill and behind some houses but we couldn’t get to it. We finally made our way through a path in some nearby woods and along the tracks and found our way just in time to catch the train home.This is a wonderful day trip from Paris — I am not sure I would recommend St. Mammes in winter but Moret sur Loing is stunning any time of year. In summer with the chance of a boat ride as well as picnics along the waterways, this would be a spectacular day in the country.