At the confluence of the Oise and Seine, Conflans-Sainte-Honorine is only a half-hour train ride from Paris, but in this small town things are moving much more slowly. In fact, at calm river speeds, because Conflans has long been the capital of the French inland waterways.
There is a fabulous museum and ancient ships by the river, pointing to this heritage. You can plan a trip in June, when the Pardon National de la Batellerie commemorates that bygone era with weekend ceremonies. In summer, you can also take a boat trip to the pier to see scenes painted 130 years ago by Impressionist masters such as Van Gogh, Pissarro, Cezanne and Sisley.
Let’s discover the best events in Conflans-Sainte-Honorine:
1. Butlery Museum
The story of the French inland waterways is long and interesting.
This museum reveals everything you need to know, from the transformative canal projects of 17th and 18th century France, to the barges, ships, goods and people who once sailed them.
There is information on canal locks and other technological innovations that opened up trade routes in France.
You’ll embark on a journey through the centuries to learn about the steam craft that arrived in the 19th century, replacing horses, people and wind.
To help paint the picture, there are antique shipbuilding tools, navigational equipment, model boats and archival photographs.
2. Parc du Prieuré
The Butlery Museum is housed in a rebuilt 19th-century castle that combines Neo-Gothic and Neo-Renaissance architectural styles.
Purchased by the town in the 1930s, the property’s gorgeous gardens follow plans drawn up a century ago.
There is an elegant orangery built in 1850, next to a metal and glass conservatory built in 1885. The Orangery has been turned into an exhibition space with restored 19th-century plaster sculptures by the revered Auguste Cain.
Grind around lawns, flower beds, huge staircases and stop for fantastic views of the Seine.
3. Église Saint-Maclou
The church was built in the 900’s and has since been updated several times, most recently in the 1800’s.
Not much remains of the medieval Romanesque church, except for a series of capitals, with fine leaf carvings in the apse around the 1100s.
The bell tower is from about this period, but has been restored several times, including after the spire was struck by lightning in 1926.
The beautiful nave houses two portraits of the old lords of Montmorency, remodeled in the 1400s in an ornate Gothic style.
4. Friends of the Butler Museum
Separated from the Musée de la Batellerie, the association acquired several old ships, moored on the Seine, to complement the museum’s exhibitions.
In the port of Saint-Nicolas, you can visit the Jacques tugboat, marked as a French Historic Monument, launched in 1905 in Creil-sur-Oise. Jacques moored alongside another tugboat, the Triton 25, which was launched in late 1954 and turned to be a mover in the early 1960s.
The boat is in perfect working condition and is open for boarding on Sundays in summer.
5. Visit Mountjoy
A thousand years after it was built, this medieval tower continues to rule the Seine and Conflans-Sainte-Honorine.
At first it was the court of the lords of Conflans, but in the 1400s it fell into ruins.
After that, the 16-meter-high walls you can still see today were transformed into a series of houses.
Today there is only a rectangular enclosure, closed to visitors, but its window openings and stonework have been restored.
Take a stroll and take pictures, overlooking the Seine from this high point on the right bank.
6. Bateau-Chapelle Je Sers
Moored on Quai de la République is a boat you may have never seen! “Je Sers” is a small boat church built on an old coal barge launched in 1919. The barge was built by the state at Amreville-sur-Ore and after several roles it was used as a sailor in 1936 for the parish church of Conflans-Sainte-Honorine. No one from the Bishop of Versailles came here to bless it.
You’ll be amazed by the size of Je Sers; the barge is 70 meters long and has plenty of room under the luminous glass dome for a cloakroom, food bank, reception room, exhibition of boating artifacts and, of course, the church itself.
The west side of the town is the iconic place where two famous rivers meet.
Next to the confluence of the Oise and Seine is a small park with a riverside path with a perfect view of the Seine and a 1924 memorial to the inland waterway workers who died in the First World War .
One of the unusual things about the confluence is that the waters of the Oise and Seine don’t actually mix at Pointil. They are separated by Nancy Island and don’t really come together until they meet again two kilometers downstream.
8. River Cruise
It is right that the capital of the French inland waterways should offer trips on the Seine and Oise.
Organised by the Tourist Office, these events run most of the time from June to September and are unbeatable during the long, sunny days.
If you’re pressed for time, you can commute to and from nearby towns such as Cergy, Poissy or Maisons-Lafette and are invited to bring a picnic to enjoy on board.
But those who want to spend the day can spend the whole day on the Oise, Paris, or Normandy all the way to the town of Vernon.
Breakfast and lunch are served on board, with informative commentary on the way.
9. Forest of Saint-Germain-en-Laye
After crossing the Seine, you will be in a forest that has been the royal hunting property for hundreds of years.
Henry IV and Louis XIII were especially fond of these woods, and Louis XIV was so keen to hunt here that he built a huge wall around it to prevent his prey from escaping.
Hidden in the woods are many heritage, such as traces of ancient gates, and the hunting lodges of the Château du Val and Louis XV (Pavillon de la Muette). From June to mid-August, you can take your children to the Fête des Loges, the largest fair in the Paris region with more than 160 rides and entertainment.
10. Maison Castle
Across the river there is also a luxurious mid-17th century property built for René de Longueil, finance director during the early reign of Louis XIV. The man hired to design the building was François Mansart, famous for introducing the Italian Baroque to France.
At the time, the Chateau de Maisons was unprecedented in the country, and Louis XIV was so impressed (and jealous) that he used many of the same sculptors and other craftsmen to work at Versailles.
The interior blends Baroque and 18th-century neoclassical design, starting with the residence of the Comte d’Artois (the future King Charles X) in the château.
11. Saint-Germain-en-Laye Castle
Take the forest to the south side to visit this wonderful royal palace.
Kings lived here from the 1100s until the 19th century.
Francis I liked the property and married Claude de France in 1514 on the grounds of the Sainte-Chapelle. This is an early Gothic church ordered by Louis IX and reproduced ten years later in the highly regarded Paris Royal Chapel.
The castle now houses France’s National Archaeological Museum, with a fascinating collection of artifacts from early humans to the Middle Ages.
The Paleolithic galleries are stunning, with works like the 25,000-year-old Bramssempouy Venus, one of the earliest realistic depictions of a human face.
12. The Grand Terrace of Saint-Germain-en-Laye
Saint-Germain-en-Laye used to have two castles, as the newer new castle was built in the 17th century.
This was demolished a century later, but one of the features that remained was a 2.4km esplanade in the site.
Grande Terrase was designed by the talented André Le Nôtre, who made his name at Versailles and designed gardens for royalty, clergy and aristocracy across France.
Stop here to think about the Seine Valley, as people have done for centuries.
Impressionist Alfred Sisley came to the site in 1875 to paint the terrace of Saint-Germain, one of his most cherished works.
Poissy is another vibrant western suburb with museums, historical pieces and landmark buildings.
Historians may have known the name from the Poissy Symposium, a decisive event in the French Wars of Religion, when warring Catholics and Protestants met in a convent to discuss matters.
The building’s gatehouse, which has all survived, houses the Musée du Jouet (Toy Museum), which was closed for refit at the time of writing, but reopened in 2018. Architecture lovers need to see Le Corbusier’s timeless Villa Savoye (1928-31), which will set the tone for all modernist architecture.
14. Up the Oise
The Oise attracted Impressionists in the late 1800s.
If you want to get literate, you can take road trips to several towns along the coast.
Pontoise is the home of Camille Pissarro, and Paul Cézanne visited his landmark painting on the river, which you can still find today.
Go further upstream and you’ll come to Oise-sur-Auvers, where Van Gogh worked for several months before his death in the town.
Cergy, 10 minutes from Conflans, is a new town with quirky avant-garde monuments such as Ax Majeur, a long line of sculptures spanning the river.
The closest is Île de Loisirs, a huge outdoor aquatic center with activities for all on hot days.
On the J line of the RER you can get from Conflans to the Saint-Lazare station in half an hour.
If this is your first time in Paris, you’ll want to start with world-renowned monuments like the Eiffel Tower, the Arc de Triomphe and Notre Dame Cathedral.
The lineup of top museums is almost dizzying, including the Louvre, Musée d’Orsay, Monet, Musée d’Orsay and Rodin.
Then there are little things like Montmartre’s cobblestone streets, the banks of the Seine, covered shopping galleries and bistro dining, and walks in beautiful city parks such as the elevated Coulée Verte.
Where to stay: The best hotels in Conflans-Sainte-Honorine, France
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