24 April Sweet Summery Senlis
Let me start by giving all the credit for this adorable outing to, once again Annabel Simms, the writer of "An Hour from Paris".
Of course I knew about the town Senlis and have had it on the list for some time, but it was the suggested walk and the little map in Annabell's book, that convinced me.
Most people go to Senlis as part of a trip to the nearby Château de Chantilly - but I was in no mood for château'ing today, not least because the weatherforecasts had promised a lovely, sunny day.
Going to Senlis is quite easy. The train leaves from Gare du Nord and your destination is "Chantilly Gouvieux". You find the timetable for the train here. I went around 9:00 in the morning. I just checked: between 7:00 and 10:00, there are averagely 2 trains per hour. After that, one train per hour. But check the schedules yourself, to be sure.
There is also an RER line (line D1 perhaps ?) going out there, but that ride takes a longer time.
As you can see the château certainly is worth a visit !
Some other day.
Arriving in Chantilly Gouvieux you leave the train station and go to your left. You will see the busstop for the Senlis bus straight away.
If you want to visit the château, this is also the bus you take and then hop off when you reach the castle (which is about 10 minutes drive from the station, through a very pleasant park.)
You can't miss the castle, you can see it from the bus. Ask the chauffeur to tell you when to get off.
This is the suggested walk, marked with the dotted line. I strongly recommend you follow it, because it will take you through the most "scenic" parts of Senlis, with not no many tourists.
And sometimes we're just plain lucky - and sometimes it really pays off to listen to experts like Mrs Simms.
This is Senlis station - no longer any trains going through, but fortunately they kept this cute building. Looks exactly like something out of a Legoland scenario.
This small, leafy memorial park is the first thing you see when getting of the bus in Senlis.
Leaving the station and the small memorial park to get into town, you'll pass this fun crêperie.
Cross over the round-about and turn left into Avenue du Général Leclerc. Head for the church with the funny peppermill turret: Église Saint Pierre. It's closed down, so no visite.
Senlis is the epitome of decorative neatness. AFAIR this was just an ordinary medical centre.
From now on I won't give you a lot more street names.
I recommend you buy Annabel Simms' book and bring a photocopy of the chapter about Senlis including the suggested walk (see map at the beginning of this Diary).
Knight in shining armor outside a bookshop. Notice the perfectly sweeped pavement !
Heading for the cathedral, which you can't really miss.
Strolling along a quiet and delightful alley behind the cathedral. The sun was warming up everything now. Mmmmmm, the joy of promenading, exploring, sniffing this way and that......
It doesn't get anymore gothic than this. Love it. In we go !
Chance would it that I waded right into a funeral service. Hmmmm........ what to do. Walking out again would look stupid and starting to wander around in the cathedral was of course out of the question. So I decided to find a chair in the back row and quietly attend the service, which was almost over anyway.
There was a very good soprano chanting a solo hymn, with a choir responding, while the members of the family took turns sprinkling holy water on the coffin (a Catholic custom).
After that the undertakers' assistants carried out all the flowers and wreaths (to the hearse, I suppose) - and finally the coffin was carried out by 4 men: on the shoulders !
I have never seen that done before, only in the movies..... Also this coffin was made of brown wood and "diamond shaped" (broad around the shoulders, narrow around the feet of the body), which added to the Mafia Movie atmosphere. Is that really customary in France, i.e. to use that kind of coffin - and carry it out on the shoulders ?!
Afterwards I sent a postcard to my sister saying that she might start intensifying her muscle-workout, because when I go I want to be carried out like that !!
Ceremony over. Doing sightseeing.
The cathedral is not very big, or at least it doesn't feel so. Also it could do with some renovation, but I guess the town can't afford it. It is about the same age as Notre Dame in Paris. And as I said: it doesn't get any more gothic than this.
The stained glass windows are magnificent. I think they portray the life of Louis IX (Saint Louis, the pious king who had Sainte Chapelle in Paris built as a shrine to keep the Holy Relics).
The details and the facial expressions are priceless. Glorious craftmanship.
Out into the warm, wonderful sun.
Isn't it funny how little it takes to shatter our modern life to pieces ? No air traffic for 6 days and our world collapses.
Peeping through the gates to the remains of the Château Royal, set in a very pleasant garden (didn't go in. Expensive entrance fee, AFAIR). According to guidebook, Hugues Capet was elected to be the first king of France here.
Walking a bit around, buying postcards at the tourist office at the cathedral square.
This is undoubtedly a medieval town.
Time was now around 11:30 and I needed to find a toilet - and get a glass of something, before continuing my guidebook walk.
And now for this year's culinaric find #1, absolutely unrivalled:
Smack in the middle of the drowsy, paved cathedral square (Place Notre Dame).
Recommended by the tourist office (merci !) - and already at first sight I loved the look of the terrace with the expensive hardwood furniture. The whole place has a satisfied, proud aura to it saying: Here you eat well ! It can be spotted a mile away.
Soooo...... I asked for a glass of rosé, went up to inspect the facilities, started to write postcards. Enjoying the view.
(yes, this is actually the view from under the terrace canopy)
It was too early for lunch - but I could see that if I wanted a table on the terrace, I had better stay or else it would be sold out.
Finally 12:00 - let the festivities begin ! See this coooool way of setting my table ! The taupe tablecloth is not unfolded (how banal would that be......), but used as a mat for my plate.
First a small amuse-bouche: a smoked salmon rilette. Neat !
Very pleasant and polite monsieur escorting me through the winelist.
We discussed the propriety of drinking wine with asparaguses, as this is a no-do in my cookbook.
Why ? Because there is a bitter substance (chemical) in asparaguses which can ruin the taste of your good whitewine. So with asparaguses you drink nothing but mineral water. Monsieur had never heard about that dining custom.
We settled for a white Bourgogne, a Givry - a district which is famous for being popular with the good King Henri IV, as you can see.
It doesn't get any more beautiful than this.
I do not eat raw egg, but it was a feast to the eye to see the perfectly cut eggshell so delicately arranged on a small pile of salt.
The other pot was melted butter. Needless to say the asparaguses were very nicely cooked.
And now for something completely different.
Pintade aux Morilles Sauce Vin Jaune : guinea fowl with morrels in a cream sauce made with "yellow wine", which is a strong, matured whitewine from the Jura region.
This was divine ! So juicy, so tender - and still not a hint of pink. I had to control myself not to scoff it down like a wild animal. And lick the plate like a savage viking......
Later on during this trip I had I think three servings of chicken in Paris - and none of those came even close. FAR from close, as they were all overcooked and cardboardish.
And that cream sauce.......... can't you just taste it from looking at the picture ??
Time for a break to steady the nerves. Looking at reflections in the restaurant window.
And a glass of Givry.
Info: a bucket with icecubes and water for your wine is called
un seau à glace
Now for the coup de grâce.
Thin, thin, thin caramelized bisquits filled with strawberry mousse and a scoop of strawberry sorbet on the side, with little chunks of strawberry inside. A little swirl of purée to make it pretty. All freshly homemade.
I died there and then. If the Good Lord had decided to call me home, I would have followed with a content smile on my face wishing nothing more in this life ........ (but only AFTER I had finished my plate !)
Un café, Madame ? Definitely ! Make that a double.
Are those pastries called "kugelhopfs" ? A pancakey taste, feels as if they have been deep-fried ? Besides that there were wafers (in the gold paper) and homebaked chocolate cookies. And if not homebaked at the actual restaurant, then certainly at a very good patisserie.
The price for all this ? I am not quite sure, but it was as little as like maybe 65 euros. That is ridiculously cheap ! And with the warmest, most welcoming and attentive service to make you feel at home.
Only two days earlier I had been to the Michelin starred restaurant Lasserre in Paris and I paid double: around 130 euros for a fixed lunch plus wines by the glass. Plus I got the most indifferent, kiss-my-cold-butt service ever. And the presentation was so-so.
And now for the guidebook walk. You might think I would need to stretch the legs by now !
This is the delightful Jardin du Roy, recommended by Annabel for, among other things, the magnificent view of the cathedral.
Ruins of the 12th century royal palace, built on the ancient Roman ramparts.
(Guidebook info - free of charge, compliments of Annabel Simms !)
From there I followed the suggested walk, more or less.
Normally I am into finding my own way around, but I am glad I chose to trust Annabel's expertise. The big advantage is, among other things, that she leads you to the quieter parts of town, away from the godawful tourist streets.....
And as you can see from the following photos, all you have to do in Senlis is point and shoot. Calendar quality images whereever you turn. I can't recommend this town enough.
I can't really add many words - just enjoy the photos. The weather was warm and sunny, the town felt so relaxed and content with itself. I was coming from a glorious lunch, what more is there to wish for ?
You can't really get yourself lost (some of us have an issue with that.......) - simply keep an eye out for the spire of the cathedral.
Parking can be tricky apparently, but what a small price to pay to live in surroundings like these !
Now that drinking water was strictly out of bounds, I had better sit down for an "afternoon-something-else".
Actually I wasn't looking for a watering hole already, but
who can say no to this ? Have you EVER seen a terrace so adorable ? Senlis is like a town in a fairytale.
Plus I had more postcards to do. And views to savour !
OK OK, so I did it. I drank some water. But at least I made sure to fortify it with pastis to neutralize the germs.
This is Église Saint Aignan, once a parish church, dedicated as far back as in 1024.
Look, its facade is totally overgrown by a climbing plant.
During the revolution the church took some severe damage and was left to crumble. From the 1950's until the 1970's it was used as a public theatre and cinema. The strange building in the front with the pillars and the three windows was actually part of the cinema projection room.
Ultimately the church was saved from total dereliction by a private individual and it's still privately owned.
From now on we move steeply downhill, along Rue de la Montagne Saint Aignan - going to inspect the ancient ramparts and see the view over the valley.
Senlis gets prettier and prettier the more you walk !
My fear of getting myself lost was temporarily put on hold, because whichever detour I had to take - and no matter how long, I was not climbing back up !
Have you noticed something "missing" in these photos ? Correct !
Only the one holding the camera and her we can't see and hooray for that.
Remnants of the old ramparts, you can also see a small bastion tower.
Looking over the town with the cathedral spire sticking up.
What an absolutely pleasant afternoon !
Started to make my way back to the station. I hadn't taken any notice of the timetable for the bus back to Chantilly,so I figured I had better not linger.
And what an interesting and educational return walk it turned out to be.
If you scroll back up to the map from Annabel's book with the suggested walk, you'll see to the left of the cathedral and central town, an area that's all white/blank, with no "dotted line".