France Special: Escape the intrigues (and odours) of Paris

Days out: St Germain-en-Laye

Losing a kingdom must have been inconvenient, but spending one's exile in a sumptuous castle near Paris, only recently vacated by Louis XIV (for the even more luxurious surroundings of Versailles), must surely have dulled the pain.

Losing a kingdom must have been inconvenient, but spending one's exile in a sumptuous castle near Paris, only recently vacated by Louis XIV (for the even more luxurious surroundings of Versailles), must surely have dulled the pain.

The deposed James II and his Jacobite court-in-exile may also have been comforted by the acres of landscaped gardens and forest around St Germain-en-Laye, as they plotted ill-fated attempts to regain the throne.

Barely half an hour from central Paris on RER line A, this elegant little town is an excellent destination for a day trip. For centuries the French royal family retreated here to escape the intrigues (and odours) of Paris and to hunt. Mary Queen of Scots spent much of her childhood here. The castle has since been transformed into one of France's leading museums, but the gardens and forest remain much the same.

The Château-Vieux is home to the Musée des Antiquités Nationales, an exceptionally rich collection of archaeological discoveries from prehistoric times to the Middle Ages. Its former staterooms are, handily, directly opposite the RER exit. Household and religious objects are on display, together with intricate gold work, plus models of Roman battlefields for Asterix fans.

Few traces remain of the castle's previous incarnation as a royal residence (or its post-Revolution role as a prison). Only the ballroom, now home to an exhibition on comparative ethnography, recalls former glories, while a chapel in the spacious internal courtyard retraces the building's regal history.

Well-tended "English" gardens and parks stretch out to the north of the castle. An implausible mile-and-a-half of terrace, offers panoramic views over the Seine and western Paris. On Bastille Day this is one of the liveliest places to watch the fireworks display in the capital.

More recent artwork is on show at the Maurice Denis Museum (2 rue Maurice Denis). A leading figure in the Nabis and late Symbolist movement, Denis made Le Prieuré a centre for artists at the beginning of the last century. The house contains Post-impressionist and avant-garde paintings, sculptures and furnishings by Denis and his contemporaries, including Gauguin. The St Louis chapel in the museum grounds houses yet more art, and a few minutes in the peaceful garden is recommended.

Another artist from this era is commemorated at the Claude Debussy Museum, (38 rue au Pain). Debussy's home now houses a museum with musical partitions and personal objects. The local tourist office is on the ground floor of the same building.

There's more to St Germain than history, though. The Musée Vera in the Jardin des Arts has contempory art and photographic exhibitions, and the neighbouring Theatre Dumas has a modern and varied programme.

The picturesque pedestrian streets, together with the overall air of a noble past, seem far removed from overcrowded Paris.

The municipal baths on Avenue des Loges (five minutes from the RER) may not be the most beautiful swimming pool in France, but if Paris successfully bids to host the 2008 Olympics, this could well be the pool where records are set. Meanwhile, its open-air play areas, funnels and domed swimming pool contrast neatly with the history-laden town.

Voices
There will be a chance to bid for a rare example of the SAS Diary, collated by a former member of the regiment in the aftermath of World War II but only published – in a limited run of just 5,000 – in 2011
charity appealTime is running out to secure your favourite lot as our auction closes at 2pm tomorrow
Arts and Entertainment
Mark Wright has won The Apprentice 2014
tvThe Apprentice 2014 final
Arts and Entertainment
X Factor winner Ben Haenow has scored his first Christmas number one
music
News
i100
PROMOTED VIDEO
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
News
news
News
Elton John and David Furnish will marry on 21 December 2014
peopleSinger posts pictures of nuptials throughout the day
Arts and Entertainment
James May, Jeremy Clarkson and Richard Hammond in the Top Gear Patagonia Special
tv
News
File: James Woods attends the 52nd New York Film Festival at Walter Reade Theater on September 27, 2014
peopleActor was tweeting in wake of NYPD police shooting
News
Claudia Winkleman and co-host Tess Daly at the Strictly Come Dancing final
people
Extras
indybest
News
peopleLiam Williams posted photo of himself dressed as Wilfried Bony
Sport
Martin Skrtel heads in the dramatic equaliser
SPORTLiverpool vs Arsenal match report: Bandaged Martin Skrtel heads home in the 97th-minute
Travel
ebookHow to enjoy the perfect short break in 20 great cities
Independent Travel Videos
Independent Travel Videos
Simon Calder in Amsterdam
Independent Travel Videos
Simon Calder in Giverny
Independent Travel Videos
Simon Calder in St John's
Independent Travel Videos
Latest stories from i100
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Independent Dating
and  

By clicking 'Search' you
are agreeing to our
Terms of Use.

ES Rentals

    iJobs Job Widget
    iJobs Travel

    Investigo: Finance Analyst

    £240 - £275 per day: Investigo: Support the global business through in-depth a...

    Ashdown Group: Data Manager - £Market Rate

    Negotiable: Ashdown Group: Data Manager - MySQL, Shell Scripts, Java, VB Scrip...

    Ashdown Group: Application Support Analyst - Bedfordshire/Cambs border - £32k

    £27000 - £32000 per annum: Ashdown Group: Application Support Analyst - near S...

    Recruitment Genius: Class 1 HGV Driver

    £23000 - £27000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: This successful group of compan...

    Day In a Page

    The week Hollywood got scared and had to grow up a bit

    The week Hollywood got scared and had to grow up a bit

    Sony suffered a chorus of disapproval after it withdrew 'The Interview', but it's not too late for it to take a stand, says Joan Smith
    From Widow Twankey to Mother Goose, how do the men who play panto dames get themselves ready for the performance of a lifetime?

    Panto dames: before and after

    From Widow Twankey to Mother Goose, how do the men who play panto dames get themselves ready for the performance of a lifetime?
    Thirties murder mystery novel is surprise runaway Christmas hit

    Thirties murder mystery novel is surprise runaway Christmas hit

    Booksellers say readers are turning away from dark modern thrillers and back to the golden age of crime writing
    Anne-Marie Huby: 'Charities deserve the best,' says founder of JustGiving

    Anne-Marie Huby: 'Charities deserve the best'

    Ten million of us have used the JustGiving website to donate to good causes. Its co-founder says that being dynamic is as important as being kind
    The botanist who hunts for giant trees at Kew Gardens

    The man who hunts giants

    A Kew Gardens botanist has found 25 new large tree species - and he's sure there are more out there
    The 12 ways of Christmas: Spare a thought for those who will be working to keep others safe during the festive season

    The 12 ways of Christmas

    We speak to a dozen people who will be working to keep others safe, happy and healthy over the holidays
    Birdwatching men have a lot in common with their feathered friends, new study shows

    The male exhibits strange behaviour

    A new study shows that birdwatching men have a lot in common with their feathered friends...
    Diaries of Evelyn Waugh, Virginia Woolf and Noël Coward reveal how they coped with the December blues

    Famous diaries: Christmas week in history

    Noël Coward parties into the night, Alan Clark bemoans the cost of servants, Evelyn Waugh ponders his drinking…
    From noble to narky, the fall of the open letter

    From noble to narky, the fall of the open letter

    The great tradition of St Paul and Zola reached its nadir with a hungry worker's rant to Russell Brand, says DJ Taylor
    A Christmas ghost story by Alison Moore: A prodigal daughter has a breakthrough

    A Christmas ghost story by Alison Moore

    The story was published earlier this month in 'Poor Souls' Light: Seven Curious Tales'
    Marian Keyes: The author on her pre-approved Christmas, true love's parking implications and living in the moment

    Marian Keyes

    The author on her pre-approved Christmas, true love's parking implications and living in the moment
    Bill Granger recipes: Our chef creates an Italian-inspired fish feast for Christmas Eve

    Bill Granger's Christmas Eve fish feast

    Bill's Italian friends introduced him to the Roman Catholic custom of a lavish fish supper on Christmas Eve. Here, he gives the tradition his own spin…
    Liverpool vs Arsenal: Brendan Rodgers is fighting for his reputation

    Rodgers fights for his reputation

    Liverpool manager tries to stay on his feet despite waves of criticism
    Amir Khan: 'The Taliban can threaten me but I must speak out... innocent kids, killed over nothing. It’s sick in the mind'

    Amir Khan attacks the Taliban

    'They can threaten me but I must speak out... innocent kids, killed over nothing. It’s sick in the mind'
    Michael Calvin: Sepp Blatter is my man of the year in sport. Bring on 2015, quick

    Michael Calvin's Last Word

    Sepp Blatter is my man of the year in sport. Bring on 2015, quick