Poissy is a small town west of Paris, just a 20-minute train ride from the capital, but with plenty to see.
Long ago, it was a royal city and the birthplace of Kings Louis IX and Philip III. The Poissy Symposium was a major event here in 1561, a meeting that failed to resolve the differences between Huguenots and Catholics.
Now the town is famous for manufacturing, with factories from Peugeot Citroen and Siemens being sequestered in a “tech park”. There is still a distinctly aristocratic atmosphere around Poissy, a royal and aristocratic estate just minutes away from Chambrescy, Saint-Germain-en-Laffitte and Maisons-Laffitte.
Let’s explore the best things to do in Poissy:
1. Villa Savoye
You can’t overstate the mansion’s influence on modernist architecture.
Villa Savoye was built in the early 1930s and designed by Le Corbusier and Pierre Jeanneret as a country retreat for a wealthy Parisian couple.
It is now a World Heritage Site and cherished by architects because it elegantly encapsulates Le Corbusier’s “Five Points”, his principles of international modernism.
It was an early structure built with cars in mind, which is why it was stacked, and each side of the building was designed with the sun in mind.
You can walk down the shallow ramp to the rooftop solarium.
2. Notre Dame College
Poissy’s stunning church dates back to the 12th century, with chapels added in the 1400s.
But by the 1800s, the building was in disrepair, and it was Viollet-le-Duc who was hired to renovate it.
This master restorer will forever be known for his work on the fairytale castle of Pierrefonds and the romantic walls of Carcassonne.
The building’s pair of Romanesque octagonal bell towers and an intricate array of flying buttresses, spires and radiating chapels all come from various phases of its past, with distinctive silhouettes.
Inside, you can take time to visit the 14th-century carved high altar, the 16th-century limestone engravings depicting the tombs, and the many historic funeral panels sealed on the western wall.
3. Musée du Jouet
As of this writing, the museum is closed for renovations, but will reopen in 2018. The grounds are the grand defensive gatehouse of the 14th century St. Louis Royal Abbey.
It has a treasure trove of nostalgic and educational toys and games dating back to the centuries between 1850 and 1950. There are 600 items in total, including various teddy bears, electric trains, toy soldiers and cars.
From antique china models to Barbies, there’s a whole room for dolls.
But perhaps the best are old-time optical illusions, like the magic lantern that pops up when you enter a dark room.
4. Messonnier Park
The park is named after Ernest Messonier, a 19th-century painter and sculptor known for his historical depictions of Napoleon.
Meissonier, who became mayor of Poissy in the 1870s, lives in this mansion next to a 10-hectare English garden.
It was adapted from the grounds of a Benedictine monastery, which finally opened to the public in 1952. The statue of Messonnier, donated by the Louvre in 1980, welcomes you at the entrance.
There is also a rose garden, flower beds, a long central pond and a variety of tree species like tall bald cypresses by the water.
5. The Old Poissy Bridge
Make the eerie ruins of this bridge a destination for quiet walks along the Seine.
Ancien Pont de Poissy dates back to the 1200s and was built during a time when the Seine was wider and had lower banks.
It has 37 arches and 4 mills and was fortified in the 1600s, with gatehouses at each end.
The structure was destroyed by Allied bombing during the war, leaving only three arches on each bank.
There are also four stranded piers on the Poissy side.
While thinking about the ruins, you might get excited knowing you’re in the exact spot where artists like Monet, Turner, Pissarro, and Messonier painted the bridge in the 19th century.
6. Distillerie du Noyau de Poissy
Opened in collaboration with the Poissy Tourist Office is the last craft brewery in the Ile-de-France region.
This is on General Charles de Gaulle rue in the center of town, making a liqueur that dates back to at least the 1600s.
Noyau de Poissy is distilled from apricot pits in the same way as fortified wines, then infused with vanilla.
There are two types to try: Gobelet d’Argent, which is 25% ABV, a bit like Armagnac, and Sceau de Saint-Louis, which is 40% ABV with almond and orange blossom notes.
Octroi is a stately octagonal building in the heart of Poissy, which is now the town’s tourist office.
This is a unique neoclassical building that dates back to 1830 and now serves as a memento of the local economy of the time.
This is largely based on the market, and Octroi is where market managers are responsible for livestock duties.
If you look up close, you can see the sculptor Théophile Caudron taking a sigh of relief for Poissy’s ancient rural trades such as fishing, farming and raising livestock.
8. Rez Desert
A few minutes south of Chambourcy, there is a unique landscaped garden, commissioned in the 1700s by the nobleman François Racine de Monville.
In this undulating English garden, architect Étienne-Louis Boullée built 20 parodies inspired by antiquity.
Ten of them still exist today, spread over 40 hectares of wonderful lawns and groves.
The most famous is the Colonne Brisée, a summer house designed to look like the massive broken columns of a classical temple.
There is also an igloo built like a pyramid, a Chinese pavilion, a Palladian temple, and many more beautiful little monuments for you to explore in the park.
9. Morris-Dennis Department Museum
The influential Post-Impressionist painter lived in this 17th-century hospital building from 1914 until his death in 1943. Earlier, Dennis helped found Les Nabis, a avant-garde group of Post-Impressionists at the turn of the century.
Now a museum, this delightful house houses many of Denis and his contemporaries such as Paul Serusier, Toulouse-Lautrec, Gauguin, Georges Lacombe, Paul Ranson and Emile Bernard.
There is some extra magic in the chapel of the old hospital, which Dennis restored and decorated between 1915 and 1928.
10. National Archaeological Museum
This museum has a very luxurious residence in the castle of Saint-Germain-en-Laye, with fascinating artifacts from prehistory to the dawn of the Middle Ages.
This stunning location was the residence of many kings, but was most beloved by Francis I, who married Claude of France here in 1514. As for the collectibles, they will amaze leisure tourists and historians alike.
Be sure to see the Venus of Brasempuy, which dates back 25,000 years and is one of the oldest human descriptions ever discovered.
But this is one of many awe-inspiring finds, such as a 3,000-year-old Cretan helmet and a pre-Roman bronze breastplate.
There’s also gold from Gaul and plenty of Gallo-Roman jewelry, sculptures and goldwork, such as the sensational Rethel Treasure.
11. St. Louis Chapel
If you know Paris well, you may have visited the Conciergerie Royal Chapel on the Ile de la Cité.
The chapel inside the castle of Saint-Germain-en-Laye is actually the predecessor of the building, built ten years ago in 1238. Both were built during the reign of Louis IX and designed by the king’s favorite architect, Pierre de Montreuil.
One of the innovations of the church is that there are no internal supports, as the vault is supported by columns in the walls.
This allows more light to fill the building.
12. The Grand Terrace of Saint-Germain-en-Laye
In the southeast corner of the castle of Saint-Germain-en-Laye, there is a stunning new castle ruins.
This is the newer sister building, built during the reign of Henry II, remodeled during the reign of Louis XIV, but demolished in the 18th century.
What remains is the terrace that André Le Nôtre created for Louis XIV in the 17th century.
It is a 2.4 km long esplanade on the edge of a plateau above the Seine.
The view to the east will stop you in your tracks, with the modern skyline of La Defense in the foreground and Paris in the background.
13. Forest of Saint-Germain-en-Laye
This 3,500-hectare oak and beech forest begins next to Poissy.
There is no shortage of walking and cycling trails in this ancient royal hunting forest.
But even better is the Fête des Loges, the third oldest market in France, dating back to 1652. It takes place at the Esplanade des Loges from the end of June to mid-August and attracts millions of Parisians every year. Lots of playground rides and entertainment.
In Poissy, you can walk to the Allée des Cuisines and experience a gastronomic tour of dozens of world cuisines.
14. Maison Castle
A 15 minute drive through the forest will take you to another magnificent property.
Château de Maisons was conceived in the mid-17th century by 17th-century architect François Mansal.
When the palace was built, it was a huge leap forward in French architecture and was one of the first Baroque buildings in the country.
It is the only one of the castles of Mansat that still stands, and it was the home of René de Longueil, the high-spending chancellor of the exchequer under Louis XIV. Wander through the marvellous gardens and step inside to see 18th century interiors.
There are also activities for kids, like dressing up in period costumes.
As you know, there is plenty to do around Poissy, but nothing replaces Paris, less than half an hour on the RER A and Trainsilien railway lines.
These are much quicker than driving into the capital, and once you arrive at Paris Saint-Lazare station, a world of culture, gastronomy and nightlife will be at your fingertips.
Maybe you want to visit tourist attractions like the Arc de Triomphe, Notre Dame Cathedral and the Eiffel Tower.
Or maybe you have a specific interest you want to explore, such as Impressionist art at the Musée d’Orsay or the Monet Museum in Marmottan.
You might be heading to the city to see a particular band or artist, or want to see an obscure part of the city that you’ve never seen before, like up-and-coming Montreuil or the China Quarter.
Where to stay: The best hotels in Poissy, France
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