Monday, 5 May 2014

Trip Report: Chateau Pierrefonds

We wanted to head down to Blois and rent bikes to ride through the the Loire Valley to visit chateaux.

However, as we were looking to book train tickets down to Blois it was clear that the weather was going to be very average on the weekend. We decided that as much as we were keen to head out biking; we weren't that keen to go biking in the rain. We looked around the country and found that if we headed north the weather was likely to be finer.

One place we have been keen to see for a little while is the chateau/castle at Pierrefonds. However you can't get there by train. So we decided it seemed to be a good opportunity to do our biking, but up north.

We caught an early morning train up to a town called Compiegne. We had called the Compiegne bike rental company beforehand. They normally opened at 2:30, which was a little later than we wanted to start. Thus we called them and asked if they could open early for us. They said they could open at 10:30 for us. Sometimes learning french pays off.

We had to walk to the entrance to the Compiegne Forest. The bike rental people pull up in a van at the forest entrance where you pick up your bike.

We got our bikes and headed off to Pierrefonds. There is a paved cycle path all the way from Compiegne to Pierrefonds. It made a very nice and easy bike ride. Took us about an hour to get there.

Biking the cycle path to Pierrefonds

Pierrefonds is a nice town. It felt quite wealthy. The weather was coldish and overcast but not too bad. Our first stop was the castle.

First view of the castle
View of Pierrefonds across the town square
The castle was originally built between the 12th century and the 14th century. It was attacked in the early 1600's and was significantly damaged and was abandoned. It wasn't until the late 1800's when the castle was bought by Napoleon III who had it restored in a romantic style.

Entering the castle

Inside the courtyard
The castle isn't lavishly decorated alike a Versailles or a Veax de Vicompte but the outside is one of the more impressive castles we have seen. The inside is very spartan. We took our bikes up, there wasn't anywhere to park them but the security guard said we could put them beside the security booth.

Inside the castle chapel
The great hall
Looking across the courtyard
We looked around inside for about an hour. We were pretty much the only ones there. The highlights we the chapel (apparently the only chapel with the pulpit above the choir), the collection of statuary from the original chateau, and the collection of plaster casts of funeral statuary. The funeral statuary was made several hundred years ago and were originally at Versailles. They were moved to Pierrefonds for safekeeping where they are now on display.

A somewhat hard to make out photo of the funeral statuary
The chateau closes at around 1. We took the opportunity to bike around the town trying to get a good view of the chateau. We biked up a hill thinking we could get a good view from the top of a hill beside the chateau. Unfortunately there was no access to a good view from the top. We headed down into town to have lunch. There was a lake area where we pulled up the bikes and sat beside the lake for lunch. I had made a Spanish Torte. And we had some other bits and pieces.

Pierrefonds castle walls
Looking over Pierrefonds town from the castle
Once we had finished lunch we headed back to the chateau to look at a few final things. There were a lot more people at the chateau when we had returned. Partly, I think, because if you were driving from somewhere else in France it would probably take you until the early afternoon to get to Pierrefonds, but more likely because French people really don't do so much in the mornings.

Last view of Pierrefonds
Once we had finished at the chateau we saddled up our bikes and headed back into the forest. We took a turn off the cycle way and headed on the road through to our next stop.

Marshall Foch, in the First World War, chose the forest of Compiegne as the sight for the Germans to sign the armistice. The French arrived in one rail car on one side of the clearing, the German representatives arrived in another car on the other side of the clearing and they met for three days in a separate rail car in the middle of the clearing. Now there are concrete plinths showing where the event happened.

Looking across the armistice clearing
Site of the signing of the armistice
Hitler returned to the clearing when he defeated the French in World War Two and forced the French to sign their surrender in the same rail car, in the same clearing, at the same time of the day as the World War One armistice. They then took the rail car to Berlin where it was eventually destroyed.

Now at the site there is a small (but really interesting) museum. They have built a replica of the rail car which takes pride of place in the museum. They also have a lot of memorabilia from the armistice and WW2.

Replica rail car
It was then time to jump in the bikes and head back to Compiegne. We had to navigate through some of the back roads in the forest (including some pretty sandy patches) to get back to the cycle way.

I think we were the first ones to rent bikes that day and we were the last ones back.

We had time to have a snack in Compiegne before we caught the train back to Paris.

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