VALLÉE DE CHEVREUSE

France

Failed scouts

It's one of those odd August days where the summer hides we don't know where. Saint-Rémy-lès-Chevreuse is wrapped in huge black and grey clouds, a light and fresh breeze proves the usefulness of the jackets we've donned this morning. The RER B end-of-the-line station's parking lot where our friend Eve parks her car is empty. Although we're only some kilometres from Paris, this is truly the countryside with its earthly, its forests and hills that softly roll away until reaching the horizon. Blissful coincidence, the leaden cloud cover opens up at that moment and offers us some splendid, summery blue.

We walk down a country road, following the surrounding wall of the Coubertin domain. The old and irregular stones are partly overgrown with lichen and ivy. Behind them, the small Château de Coubertin rises up, a miniature Versailles in yellow and dirty white with a metallic grey roof on top. We would love to visit this place, but… it's closed. This is France, this is August. To our right we see juicy and fat grazing land where some cows are peacefully grazing. At least, they are still here, they haven't gone on holidays.

When we started to prepare our bucolic hiking trip, we've printed out a sheet, which informs us now that the Coubertin Farm lies right behind the domain; you can purchase cow's and goat's cheeses there. Yummy, we're positively drooling—note that we don't love cheese. But—bad luck again. The famous Farm is closed, too. Damned month of August! Yet we don't let this mishap ruin our mood. The birds are chirping, the landscapes idyllic, the sun appears from time to time, timidly, but it does. We leave the country road behind us and climb up a little hill. Ten minutes later, the forest has swallowed us, but we've also reached the top of the ridge. From here on the path doesn't lead uphill, so walking becomes easier. The summer breeze is whistling in the treetops; nice smells of undergrowth, of dried pine needles and in some parts of mushrooms waft through the air. The sunbeams coming through the leaves above our heads paint spots and streaks on the ground, the bushes, and the ferns.

The thick forest envelops us like a kindly mother. Luckily we've printed out the exact itinerary because there are more and more little paths, and what with all those trees around us, it would be rather difficult to find significant landmarks. Therefore we follow our instructions to the letter. At one moment, the sheet says, "Turn right", and right we turn. We walk across an ancient quarry where vegetation has reasserted itself. It's en explosion of green, fuchsia, and yellow. Our feet  sink in the sandy ground.

Our documents tell us to keep walking for another half-hour before we shall reach or next stop, the château de Méridon. Yet, after only ten minutes, the trees become more sparse—can it be that we've walked so fast? Do we reach the château already? Huh! Not. At. All. When we step out of the forest, there's no château. Or to be more precise, no château de Méridon! What we see on the hilltop, on the other side of the valley before us, are the outlines of the château… de la Madeleine. We've turned right too early; and here we are now in Chevreuse, the village that should have been our last stop… We look at each other, then we burst out laughing: what a bunch of failed scouts we are!

As we have reached Chevreuse, we walk down to discover the village. We cross the Yvette river and follow its bypass channel. Indeed, a narrow path called "la promenade des petits ponts" allows us to follow this canal. My, this is really cute, it's calm and picturesque, with ancient wash houses, ancient tanneries, ducks floating on the water, and, as the name has promised, uncountable little wrought-iron bridges.

After this stroll, we walk into the town centre. On top of the hill rises the stronghold of the château de la Madeleine; at the foot of the hill rises the church Saint-Martin. We visit the inside, which welcomes us with pleasant simplicity, even if it's nicely decorated, with vaults, archways and frescoed walls. The light that streams in through the stained glass windows paints beautiful abstract things on the wooden banks, the ground and the columns.

After this cultural moment, we have a bite to eat in a little bistro. Then we head back to the little-bridges-walk near the canal. When we leave the village behind, the channel flows back into the river Yvette, but you can still follow it upstream on a narrow path. When we finally reach the parking lot in front of the RER-station (and thus our car), we're still as enchanted by this charming countryside as we were at our arrival. And we know now that a thorough preparation can spare you certain deceptions (look up when and if certain sites are open or not, for instance… just saying).

GOOD TO KNOW

  • If you don't want to take your car, you can reach the Chevreuse-valley by RER B (stop at Saint-Martin-lès-Chevreuse) – FR, EN, ES.
  • The Chevreuse-valley offers several walks and hiking possibilities that you can discover on the website of the Parc naturel régional – FR only.
  • More information about the opening hours (and days) of the different sites as well as a supplementary selection of walks and hiking possibilites are available on the website Sortir en Yvelines – FR only.

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