Saint-Germain-en-Laye, French history lesson!!!

So, on a semi cloudy day in the 13C or about 56F rain has stop and then on and off now off; this is Wednesday, the day we have many absentee mothers in France as childcaring takes priority over work. I like to tell you further about a lovely town I like a lot and lucky enough to lived next to it for almost 10 years.

The wonderful Royal town of Saint-Germain-en-Laye in the department 78 Yvelines, region of Île de France. Many memories with the family here on its castle museum and especially the open market with a city center of over 700 stores!!!

Saint Germain en Laye

place du vieux marché ,the market is held here

Saint-Germain-en-Laye is located at about 20 km west of Paris. The history of the the city is linked to that of the Castle, that was a regular residence of the kings of France, and the Forest an old Royal hunting grounds. The forest of 4800 hectares is the biggest in the department (3rd in the region behind Fontainebleau and Paris). It occupies the biggest part of the meeting of the Seine river and mostly covered by the forest. The historic site of the city is on the south east of the territory on a chalky plateau dominating the Seine river valley at 60 meters where you have an splendid view of the western part of Paris. Therefore, the city is really a rural town with about 73% of its area covered by the forest.

I have written several blog posts on it already and would like to link them here:

Next as always, like to tell you a bit on history I like.

The city of Saint-Germain was known as a blessed site in 1073, later a Germanic Saintly area in 1124,and known as the Sanctus Germanus in Leia from 1161. During the French revolution it had the temporary name of Montagne-bon-air (good air mountain). Saint-Germain goes back to the construction by the king of France, Robert II ,the Pious, a monastery dedicated to Saint Germain ,(probably that of the Abbey of Saint-Germain-des-Prés) that lived in the forest in the 6C . The rest of the name is probably the situation in an old forest of Lida that covered the region so therefore, en Laye. So, the name can be translated as Saint-Germain-dans-la-forêt (forest). By 1124, king Louis VI the Fat wanting to enforce his authority in France decided to built a Royal residence on the current site of the Castle facing the priory of Saint-Germain. In 1223, king Philippe-Auguste had built the first Chapel dedicated to Notre Dame. The regent queen Blanche de Castille, governing over the period of 1226-1236, had improved the road between Saint-Germain and Poissy thru the forest ,and on the part of the Castle where Saint Louis grew up having built a Chapel in 1238.

In 1286,under king Philippe IV the Beautiful, the city becomes a prevost and first rang of Royal justice. With a Charter of 1305, Robert de Meudon was given by the King a home in Saint-Germain-en-Laye and made chief baker. In another charter of 1307, Robert de Meudon was name Concierge of Saint-Germain-en-Laye. During 1346, while the overlap of king Edward III during the war of Hundred years the Black Prince, son of the king of England occupied Poissy, ransacking and burning the Castle of Saint-Germain-en-Laye that  was finally destroyed, except the Holy Chapel. 20 years later under king Charles V,it will be rebuilt and turned into a fortress; the castle is eventually taken by the English from 1417 to 1440.

When king François Ier, marries Claude de France (daughter of Anne of Brittany) in 1514 the castle becomes Royal residence and a favorite of the king. king Henri II is born at Saint-Germain-en-Laye, becoming king in 1547. He starts the construction of the new castle or Château neuf with worked beginning in 1559 and finished under the reign of king Henri IV in 1600. Another king Charles IX ,also, born in Saint-Germain-en-Laye, established in 1561 the first glass factory like those in Venice. In 1562 the Edit of Saint Germain gives the Protestants the right to free conscience and freedom of the cult. In 1570, the Peace Treaty of Saint-Germain-en-Laye put an end to the third war of Religion. The king Louis XIII spent his enfant years at the old Castle or Château-Vieux. Later ,during a hunting trip in 1617 he discovered Versailles where he ordered built a hunting lodge and signed the demise of Saint Germain. On September 5 1638 it is born here Louis Dieudonné, future king Louis XIV. king Louis XIII died in the old castle or Château-Vieux on May 14 1643. From 1661 to 1682, the king Louis XIV spent a greater part of his time in Saint-Germain-en-Laye. He ordered renovate the gardens of André Le Notre , French style , and the Grande Terrasse between 1663 to 1680. Also, remodeled the apartments in the Château-Vieux ,done by Le Brun and Le Vau.

By 1680 worked begain of the enlargement of the castle under the watchful eye of Jules Hardouin-Mansart,with the construction of five pavilions at an angle. Madame de Montespan ordered built a hospital Royal General Hospital as well as the Convent of the Ursulines. By April 1682,as the worked on the castle are been finished, the court departs definitively for Versailless. Saint-Germain-en-Laye comes to a stop even with the the visit of the king of Great Britain James II, cousin of Louis XIV that lived in exile in the castle from 1689 to his death in 1701 (He is buried in the Church of Saint Germain across from the Castle now). In 1777, king Louis XVI bequest the Château-Neuf,already in bad shape to his brother Charles, Count of Artois,the future king Charles X. king Charles X ordered the castle demolished in ordered to have it rebuilt completely, not enough time in history.

By November 1st 1793, and by decree of the revolutionary Convention the city is renamed as Montagne-du-Bon-Air. By 1794, the town of Saint-Léger-en-Laye,that extended over the Valley of the Buzot (small river) is absorbed by Saint-Germain-en-Laye. Under the period of the First Empire , the Château-Vieux is repaired and house a school of cavarlry;; hosting the School of special military cavarlry that opened in 1809, and later in 1914 integrated with the school of special military cavalry of Saint-Cyr. By 1811,there is the creation of the education house for the legion of honor or Maison d’éducation de la Légion d’honneur des Loges wanted by Napoléon 1er. The city is occupied between 1814-1815 by the allied troops of Russians, Prusians and British that have won over Napoléon 1er. From 1836 to 1855,the castle is made into a military prison.

During WWII Saint-Germain-en-Laye, is not affected much. The town is occupied by the Nazis on June 14 1940 and liberated on August 25 1944. The HQ of the Nazi army was housed in the Pavillon Henri IV; and from here they planned the invasion of Great Britain on Opération Seelöwe. Then, Saint-Germain-en-Laye becomes the seat of the commandent of the Nazi forces covering from Norway to Biarritz; several bunkers were built from 1943 by workders from the Organisation Todt,and especially those built underground along the street rue Félicien-David.  In May 1954, the HQ of the US forces in Europe or USEUCOM was housed in the Camp des Loges. This created 261 housing projects called village SHAPE that were built in the domain of the Castle of Hennemont just on the outer limits of the city. The US HQ leaves Saint-Germain-ne-Laye on February 5 1967 when General de Gaulle decided to quit NATO.

I told you I love history. Oh well let me tell you about the things to see here, so many; great town. These are:
The Castle or Château-Vieux, and ruins of the Château-Neuf ; Royal residence of France since king Louis VI the Fat until king Louis XIV. The current castle is in the Renaissance style rebuilt by king François Ier ,and restored under emperor Napoléon III. It has still the beautiful Holy Chapel (13C) in Gothic style with a donjon tower from the 14C. Today, it houses the magnificent archeological museum or musée d’Archéologie nationale. The Château-Neuf of king Henri II and Henri IV, destroyed at the end of the 18C only remains the old oratory of the king where according to records was born the future king Louis XIV, and today this piece can be found where is the restaurant now of the Pavillon Henri IV. The terrace of the Castle done by Le Nôtre from 1669 to 1674,extending on a straight line over 2400 meters long by 30 meters wide linking the center of Saint-Germain to the castle lawn, and wonderful views over the Seine valley direction the town of Le Pecq and views of La Défense ,and Paris. The restaurant now of Pavillon Henri IV is here:

Saint Germain en Laye

Chateau museum entrance

The museum other than the before mentioned you have the nice musée Claude-Debussy, Musée du général Leclerc de Hauteclocque and the Armored 2nd Division,in the district of Gramont. The Castle was inhabited by hermits established in 1624 king Louis XIII bequested in 1685 to the Religious order of Saint Augustin that stayed there until the French revolution.  King Louis XVIII, in 1825 declares the branch as well as those of Saint-Denis. The prestigious high school or Le lycée international de Saint-Germain-en-Laye, located on a hill in the domain of the Castle of Hennemont built in 1907 on the site of an old priory of Hennemont by the pharmacist Henri Cannone, the inventor of the Valda tablets. You have the mansion or Pavillon de la Muette, old place of get together for the Royal hunt on the north of the forest of Saint Germain and built for the king Louis XV in 1775 on the ruins of an old castle of king François Ier. Also, the mansion or Pavillon de la Croix de Noailles, another site for Royal hunting and now an Italian restaurant. webpage here:

The Convent of Loges, founded in 1644 by Anne of Austria on the place of an old hermit of Saint Fiacre,in the middle of the forest ,and it is here since 1811 that the house for the education of the legion of honor is located. The buildings were totally rebuilt in the 19C. The parish Church of Saint-Germain,across from the Castle is where you find the mausoleum of the exile king of Great Britain James II (Stuart), that lived and died at the Castle. You have the old Church of Saint-Léger, oldest in town but the current Church was renovated in 1961. The Chapel of the Hospital Saint Louis built in 1883 on the Roman style and the Chapel of the convent of the Ladies of Saint-Thomas,built end of the 18C. The Prieuré or old home of the painter Maurice Denis, that has a nice museum since 1980 dedicated to his work, and the place originally built in the end of the 17C by Madame de Montespan to house a general royal hospital. The Chapel is decorated by Maurice Denis. The aqueduct of Retz; and underground aqueduct built under king Louis XIV to feed water to the castle from water sources in the valley of the Buzot river. You can see a glance of it in the domaine of Château Saint-Léger (HQ of automobile Ford-France)my kind of building!.

Saint Germain en Laye

Church St Germain

Saint Germain en Laye

ch St Germain tomb of king James II Stuart

Several mansions I like are the pavillon d’Angoulême, hôtel de Conti , Hôtel de Madame de Maintenon, hôtel de Noailles, hôtel de Soubise, hôtel de Retz, hôtel de Rochefort, hôtel de la Rochefoucauld(B 1772 and city hall since 1842), hôtel de Rohan,and hôtel de Villeroy. You have the huge wonderful Forest of Saint Germain en Laye, especially the walktrail of Sentier des Oratoires of about 18 km long and allowing you to walk the forest and see the four historic crosses such as Croix Pucelle(1456),Croix Dauphine(1540),Croix Saint-Simon(1635), and the Croix de Noailles(1751),as well as houses on loges including where it was consacrated Saint Fiacre in the clearance of Clairière des Loges, the origin of a procession and festival des Loges today. See the wines ,vineyards here at the terraced vigne du Pecq and Saint-Germain, with 1900 pieds of Pinot Noir; bringing back an old tradition where the red wine is done or caves wines or Vin des grottes that is not sold.

Saint Germain en Laye

park and garden of Le Notre

The Transports brief info here/ connecting to Paris is easy on the RER A line at the train station or gare de Saint-Germain-en-Laye ,been the terminus for this line on the west. The line passes by Paris and the town of Le Vésinet,including the Université de Nanterre, La Défense, place de l’Étoile (arch de triomphe), grands magasins (Auber), Halles,gare de Lyon, place de la Nation,and continues to the towns of Torcy ,and Marne-la-Vallée – Chessy terminus east for Disneyland Paris. The ticket office right in city center is as such :Boutique SNCF, 5 rue de Poissy; open Mondays at 9h to 20h Tuesdays to Fridays from 8h to 20h ,Saturdays 9h to 19h, closed Sundays and Holidays. RER A info here:

The train station in town Grande Ceinture is here:

Saint Germain en Laye

RER A castle is on right

You have wonderful roads such as the old reliable N13 with a four lane deviation south of the city that linked Paris to Mantes-la-Jolie on the west, and the N184 links Saint-Germain-en-Laye to Conflans-Sainte-Honorine and further to Cergy-Pontoise crossing the forest of Saint-Germain-en-Laye. These two cross at Bel-Air, and can connect to the expressways or autoroute A13 on the exchanger of Orgeval located about 8 km west of the city as well as the A14 link by the exchange at Chambourcy at about one km from the city on the west side. The Autoroute A14 goes underground of the city all the way and can reach La Defense as well. There are department roads criss crossing the city such as the wonderful D308 links to Maisons-Laffitte to Poissy by the forest and crossing the N184 by the Croix de Noailles ; the D157 links Mesnil-le-Roi to Maisons-Laffitte ; D190 crossing city center and links Le Pecq to Poissy; D98 link Saint-Nom-la-Bretèche and Les Clayes-sous-Bois towards the south. There is the city D284 that is by the road of loges (N184 north) at the exchanger towards the N13 and the D99 links with the exchanger towards the N13 at the entry to Mareil-Marly. Other than viamichelin for the itirinaries, for traffic here I use info trafic here:

Saint Germain en Laye

side of castle far left on the road D190 arriving

The bus network is the  Transdev Montesson Les Rabaux with several bus lines and also going to nearby cities such as Cergy, and Conflans-Sainte-Honorine, Mantes-la-Jolie,Poissy, and Versailles. The line N153 is the Noctilien night network taking you to the train station Paris-Saint-Lazare. The night line here in pdf file but can change each year so check the site.

Bus lines here:

In the line of gastronomy, two recipes are a must here. Classic born at the historical place and now restaurant of the Pavillon Henri IV : These are the souffle apples created in 1837,on the occasion of the Queen Marie-Amélie when traveling on the first train line from Paris and Le Pecq,due to a lateness of the train; and the Bearnaise sauce created by chef Collinet in 1844.

Some links if not done already on the previous blog posts are:
City of Saint-Germain-en-Laye on tourism:

Tourist office of Saint-Germain-en-Laye:

Hope you have a good ride on a beautiful majestic city of Saint Germain en Laye. Long post but I think worth it. I have a new colleague born in town so decided to write about it again. Hope you have a wonderful week,happy travels, good health. Cheers!!

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