On the Journée de Patrimoine Européene we travel to two NEW historic destinations in Northern France. We begin our day with a visit to the magnificent Pierrefonds Castle. Located about 70km Northeast of Paris it is a true “château reborn”. A first castle was erected on this spot in the 12th century, but the origins of the current castle date back to the 14th century by the Duke Louis of Orléans. It was taken down in the 17th century and was in ruins when Napoleon III decided to commission architect Eugène Viollet-le-Duc to rebuild it. He applied his architectural designs to create the ideal château, such as would have existed in the Middle Ages. Nowadays, it’s a great tourist destination, so we cannot leave it of from our event calendar. Our second destination we drove by already 30+ times during our Champagne trips, namely the medieval walled city of Laon. Its majestic Cathedral, with its 4 identical towers, is visible from far away as it is built on a hill in the middle of town. The city also has an very old Chapel of the Templars and several other medieval buildings.
The castle of Pierrefonds
Although rebuilt in the 19th century, the medieval structure and shapes is clear.
The entrance gate to Pierrefonds | by Guillaume Speurt (own work), via Wikimedia Commons
by Michel Cauvin (own work), via Wikimedia Commons
The city of Laon from above
The Cathédrale de la Notre-Dâme towers high above the city
Families are more than welcome on this trip. First add one or more regular (adult) tickets to the cart. On the cart page you will see a child ticket. Add a child ticket to the cart, and if you need more than one then change the quantity and update the cart. Children up to 18 years will get a discount:
– up to 3 years > free of charge (book minimum 2 weeks in advance)
– 4 to 17 years > €40 only
Practical information for participants
Not yet available, check on Wednesday before departure
As with all Expat Clup trips, our program for today is carefully designed with realistic driving times. There will, of course, be enough time to visit all destinations. But since we travel on small routes in Northern France, much depends on traffic conditions. The past six trips all worked out really well, but please keep in mind the below schedule is only a rough indication as times may change during the day.
07h30 – Departure Brussels
09h30 – Highway coffee stop
11h30 – Arrival Château de Pierrefonds
14h00 – Departure to Laon
15h00 – Arrival Laon
16h00 – Underground Passages of Laon (max 20 people, fully booked as of 12 September)
18h00 – Departure to Brussels
20h30 – Return to Brussels
On our way to Pierrefonds we drive close by a historic war memorial, namely the location where the Germans signed the Armistice of 11 November 1918. It was also the place where Adolf Hitler forced the French to sign the Armistice of 22 June 1940 after winning the Battle of France. CBS War correspondent William Shirer was present at this event and wrote in his book The Rise and Fall of the Third Reich (we may stop here for a few minutes if time permits):
“Through my glasses I saw the Führer stop, glance at the [Alsace-Lorraine] monument…. Then he read the inscription on the great granite block in the center of the clearing: Here on the eleventh of November 1918 succumbed the criminal pride of the German empire… vanquished by the free peoples which it tried to enslave.” I look for the expression on Hitler’s face. I am but fifty yards from him and see him through my glasses as though he were directly in front of me. I have seen that face many times at the great moments of his life. But today! It is afire with scorn, anger, hate, revenge, triumph. He steps off the monument and contrives to make even this gesture a masterpiece of contempt. He glances back at it contemptuous, angry. … Suddenly, as though his face were not giving quite complete expression to his feelings, he throws his whole body into harmony with his mood. He swiftly snaps his hands on his hips, arches his shoulders, plants his feet wide apart. It is a magnificent gesture of defiance, of burning contempt.”
The Château de Pierrefonds includes most of the characteristics of defensive military architecture from the Middle Ages, though it underwent a major restoration in the 19th century. In the 12th century, a castle was built on this site. Two centuries later, in 1392, King Charles VI turned the County of Valois (of which Pierrefonds was part) into a Duchy and gave it to his brother Louis, Duke of Orléans. From 1393 to his death in 1407, the latter had the castle rebuilt by the court architect, Jean le Noir.
In March 1617, during the early troubled days of Louis XIII’s reign, the castle, then the property of François-Annibal d’Estrées (brother of the beauty Gabrielle d’Estrée), who joined the “parti des mécontents” (party of discontent) led by Henri II, Prince of Condé, was besieged and taken by troops sent by Richelieu, the secretary of state for war. Its demolition was started, but not carried through to the end because of the enormity of the task. The exterior works were razed, the roofs destroyed and holes made in the towers and curtain walls.
The castle remained a ruin for more than two centuries. Napoleon I bought it in 1810 for less than 3,000 francs. During the 19th century, with the rediscovery of the architectural heritage of the Middle Ages, it became a “romantic ruin”: in August 1832, Louis-Philippe gave a banquet there on the occasion of the marriage of his daughter Louise to Léopold de Saxe-Cobourg Gotha, first king of the Belgians. Among other artists, Corot depicted the ruins in several works between 1834 and 1866. The Château de Pierrefonds has been classified as a monument historique by the French Ministry of Culture since 1848.
Louis-Napoléon Bonaparte (later Napoleon III of France) visited the castle in 1850. As emperor, he asked Viollet-le-Duc in 1857 to undertake its restoration, continuators are Maurice Ouadou and Juste Lisch until 1885. There was no question of a simple repair to the habitable parts (the keep and annexes): the “picturesque” ruins in front were to be kept for decor. In 1861, the project grew in scale: the sovereign wanted to create an imperial residence, so the castle was to be entirely rebuilt. The works, which would cost 5 million francs, of which 4 million were to come from the civil list, were stopped in 1885, six years after the death of Viollet-le-Duc. The departure of Napoléon III had halted the reconstruction and, through lack of money, the decoration of rooms was unfinished. Inside, Viollet-le-Duc produced more a work of invention than restoration (polychrome paintings). He imagined how the castle ought to have been, rather than basing his work on the strict history of the building. On the other hand, with the exterior he showed an excellent knowledge of the military architecture of the 14th century.
What better day to visit a historic town like Laon on the weekend of the Journées de Patrimoine? We have passed by this city so many times on our way to the Champagne, and always wondered about the majestic Cathedral on that hill so clearly visible from the highway.
The city already existed as a Gallic village in the time of Julius Caesar. During the 5th century the Archbishop Remigius of Reims, who was born in Laon instituted the bishopric of Laon, without which it would never have had such a beautiful building, even though it was built well over half a millennium later.
With just over 25.000 inhabitants, the city still contains numerous medieval buildings, including the Cathedral Notre-Dame of Laon, dating mostly from the 12th and 13th centuries. Also the chapter-house, the cloister, the old episcopal palace, the city wall and multiple gates, the church of St Martin, the old abbey and the chapel of the Templars all date back around 800-900 years.
Under and around Laon there are many limestone caves, most of them artificially made. Just like in the neighbouring Champagne regions around Reims and Épernay, many of these caves can be visited. If you are one of the first to book your spot, you can also opt for visiting the underground caves. During the visit you will come across prehistoric shells and many traces that were left there by men throughout the centuries.
NOTE: We only have been able to secure 20 tickets only for entering the underground passages. As of 12 September this visit is fully booked.
We will travel with a modern 4* luxury coach with reclinable comfort seats and a lot of leg space. The bus has an onboard toilet, bar, and air-conditioning, as well as a DVD-system with at least 3 flat-screens.