the commuter's eye

On Saint-Germain-en-Laye Castle

Posted in cityscapes, mindscapes, trips by martzipan on March 13, 2012

As last year we haven’t actually got the chance to see anything of the beautiful surroundings of Paris, we’ve decided to catch up on this spring. So, after buying a pocket guide about Ile-de-France and few quick searches over the Internet, the first choice was… Saint-Germain-en-Laye Castle. For several reasons: we’ve had only few hours available on this Sunday afternoon, it was more than easy to get there by public transportation and not expensive at all. Not to mention that it’s one of the most significant places for France and its history.

the castle - seen from north

Former residence of the kings, since the 12th century, the castle currently houses the National Museum of Archeology, which this year celebrates its 150th anniversary. The beautiful gardens are probably just perfect during summer and an ideal location for picnicking. When we’ve got there, plenty of kids were having the time of their life, so you should seriously think bringing yours if you decide to visit it.

the splendid parksome of the kids ;)

A spectacular panorama over the river Seine and western side of Paris reveals as you approach the eastern side of the domain where Louis XIV – the Sun King – was born in 1638, although we didn’t enjoy it too much as it was a bit overcast.

panorama over river Seine and Paris La Défense

The castle itself is a precious gem of (mainly) Renaissance architecture and the collections of the Archeology Museum would at least stir anyone’s curiosity, if not cause sudden crushes (we’ve fell for the queen Arégonde, wife of Clotaire I, her story and elaborate apparel). From the artifacts of early Paleolithic to the delicately crafted golden jewels of Bronze Age, and from the vestiges of Gauls’ daily life to the early Franks’ amazing mastery of science, everything in the museum reminds you that the distance between our times and those of our ancestors may not be as long as we ought to believe.

paleolithic toolsbronze age golden jewelsceltic ornamentVercingetorixhoroscopeglass from the 9th century A.D.

And since I’ve previously mentioned the kids, we’ve somehow managed to accidentally get into the middle of a “dramatized visit” (in French, of course). Three costumed folks were playing hide-and-seek, running barefoot all along the castle’s corridors with the children and parents in search for clues to solve a riddle. Of course, to the amusement of the kids, the answer was inscribed on a large parchment hidden in the great chimney of the museum’s last hall. Dedicated to “comparative archaeology”, this hall comprises a spectacular assembly of unique exhibits from allover the ancient world.

the big chimney

Before leaving, it’s worth crossing the courtyard and admiring the beautiful and delicate chapel in rayonnant Gothic style. Built in the 13th century by Saint Louis, this is the place where the King Francis I married in the spring of 1514 and Sun King was baptized on 21 April 1643.

the castle's courtyardthe chapel - western wallbeautiful inscription

Last stop, the museum’s shop. It is garnished with plenty of books, post cards, replicas of the main artifacts and, of course, games and books for kids.

Special thanks to the staff for the warm welcome. By the way, don’t forget to bring an extra memory card and some batteries along with your camera, as you’ll undoubtedly need them.

Quick Facts

Time Kids Difficulty Cost
3-4 hrs Age 5+ Easy Economy

 

Web site

http://www.musee-archeologienationale.fr

Opening hours & fees

Monday to Sunday, from 10 to 17. Closed Tuesday.

The domain and park are free of charge; museum ticket is 6 EUR (discounts for kids, under 26, students etc.).

Why should you go?

Want to enjoy an afternoon in a splendid park and spend about two and a half hours in a delightful castle turned into a museum? Saint-Germain-en-Laye is definitely the place where to go. Your kids will love it too.

Why not to go?

If you’re not that into archeology and ancient/old history, probably you may not want to get there, but if you are at least curious to see who the ascendants of present day’s French people were, you should however give it a try.

Furthermore, after seeing Versailles and marveling at the grandeur in display, the castle of Saint-Germain-en-Laye may be a surprise for you. It’s warmer, livelier and, subsequently, a bit eclectic, because it reflects so many styles and trends. Still, you can easily imagine the splendor that once reigned here in its glory days.

How to get there?

By RER – The fastest way to get to the castle from Paris downtown is by RER A to Saint-Germain-en-Laye. The trip takes 25 minutes from Chatelet-Les Halles. Fare/person: 4 EUR

By bus – You could also take the bus 285 from La Défense until the end of the line. The trip is about 45 minutes. Fare/person: 1.75 EUR

The domain and castle are just across the RER/bus station.

To plan your trip by public transportation, go to http://www.vianavigo.com/.

By car – A 13, RN 190, RN 13, N186. There is also a parking.

Get a coffee, grab a bite?

If you didn’t make plans for picnic, you can get a coffee (2.20 EUR) at Brasserie Amnésia (2 place André Malraux, 78100) just across the street, with a beautiful view to the castle’s chapel and southern wing from the terrace. A beer is around 5 EUR, a generous Caesar Salad – 11 EUR, just as a pizza. Steak with fries – 14 EUR. Friendly staff and great service.

the castle seen from south

What to do after?

If you don’t like to follow the same road back to Paris, you could take the bus 258 and enjoy a short ride along the river Seine to La Défense, as we did. Get there before evening and you can still have a dinner or some quick shopping spree at Les Quatre Temps or CNIT. My tip: check out Decathlon for incredible sportswear and other casual outfit on sales.

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