The Forest of Compiègne: Historic Events, Royal Connections and Heavenly Hiking - Al Fresco Holidays
Despite being only an hour’s drive from the bustle of Paris, the tranquil Forest of Compiègne, located in the scenic region of Picardy, feels a hundred miles removed from the bustle and noise of twenty-first century life.
This picturesque forest, with over 35,000 acres of oak and beech trees, also has a rich and fascinating past. Most recently, the Forest of Compiègne is remembered for being the location of the signing of the armistice between the Allied forces and the Germans, effectively bringing about the end of the First World War. It is also the place where, nearly 600 years earlier, Joan of Arc concealed herself before her capture in the city of Compiègne in 1430.
Add this to the centuries of French Kings and Queens that have hunted in the area, which even now is rich in rabbits, deer and even wild boar, and it’s clear to see that there is considerably more to this forest than initially meets the eye.
Things to do in the Forest of Compiègne
With its beautiful, lush landscape, well irrigated by both the Oise and Aisne (not to mention numerous other babbling streams and rivers), it’s unsurprising that the area is a haven for nature-lovers. Here are just a few of the top things to do in the Forest of Compiègne.
Top of the list for many visitors to the area, the forest offers excellent hiking opportunities, with most of the hike routes being fairly unchallenging and suitable for people of all ages. The area is well marked by stage-posts, so it’s also fairly simple to keep to the trail, although, of course, don’t forget to bring a map or GPS device!
Whilst out walking in the forest, expect to enjoy a scenery rich in native oak, beech and hornbeam trees, which give the forest a pleasantly lush, verdant ambiance, sparkling streams, and even the odd chateau or two, nestled in the greenery. Visit in the springtime and you’ll be able to see the impressive carpets of bright yellow daffodils too.
Chateau de Compiègne
Originally built for Louis XV, then extensively restored by Napoleon, the chateau has long been a favourite amongst French royalty, thanks largely to its proximity to the forest, and more importantly, the excellent hunting that the terrain offers.
History-buffs will be pleased to hear that it is possible to enter the chateau and explore the extensive apartments, experiencing a taste of royal life, and there are also two other museums in the complex: the National Car Museum and the Museum of the Second Empire.
There are many cycling routes through the forest, and the relatively flat terrain makes it ideal for all the family to enjoy. If you’re looking for a longer route, have a go at the 25-kilometre loop that takes you to neighbouring Pierrefonds, an old spa town with a particularly impressive castle.
Whilst out cycling in the forest, it’s also a great idea to bring a picnic, as there are several spots that you can make a stop, lay out the blanket and enjoy the scenery whilst munching on a baguette.
Armistice Museum and Memorial
Hidden within the quiet, peaceful forest, coming across the site of such a significant wartime event can prove to be something of a shock. The monument placed at the clearing depicts a sword cutting down an eagle (the symbol of the Nazis) and railway tracks lead to the place where the armistice was signed.
Also on the site is the Armistice Museum, which houses a replica of the railway carriage in which the document was signed, plus photos, video recordings and other war-related memorabilia. It’s a thought-provoking, atmospheric place to spend an afternoon.
Children will be delighted at the prospect of saddling up and exploring the forest on horseback. There are quite a few horse riding centres in and around the forest, and it’s relatively easy to book a horse-riding experience, pacing gently through the paths that lead through the forest.
Selecting accommodation that allows you to enjoy the open air
There are many accommodation options in the area of the Forest of Compiègne, though, if you’re a nature lover, chances are that you’ll be looking for an option that allows for as much outdoor time as possible, rather than a hotel.
Selecting a holiday park is an excellent choice, particularly for those with families, as there is likely to be a range of activities on offer to keep them entertained, such as a swimming pool to cool off in after a day’s cycling or walking. La Croix de Vieux Pont campsite is a great option, and even has its own lake, complete with canoes and many other activities for the entire family to enjoy.