One would not believe that a short fifteen minute journey from the heart of Paris could transport you to a relic of a bygone age – the charming Spa town of Enghien-Les-Bains offers all that you would expect to find in a turn of the century thermal spa. The Casino, recently party to a programme of modernisation, has been a feature since it was constructed in 1908 and is the most popular Casino in France and notably the closest to Paris (indeed, the only Casino to be found in Paris/Ile de France). French Roulette, English Roulette, Blackjack, Stud Poker, Chemin de Fer, the choice is considerable and there are, of course, the slot machines on the top floor. Dress is formal – jacket and tie for men and no jeans. It is worth noting that admission is only upon production of a passport and for over 18 year olds.
The Eurostar arrives at the Gard du Nord and conveniently, it is from this very same station that the line runs to Enghien. The arrival of the railway in 1846 heralded the beginning of a love affair that Parisians have had with the town ever since. The town centre boasts over 350 different shops and boutiques with a wide selection of products and famous names. The windows change with the seasons reflecting the new shades and fashions and every Tuesday, Thursday and Saturday the market displays the best specialities and products of the region in a colourful array.
On the shores of the beautiful and extensive lake, many activities take place. Every December there is a Christmas market on the esplanade. In June 2004 the world ‘wakeboard’ championships were held over a two day period. Little white tents clustered along the lake’s shore housing brightly coloured ‘wakeboards’ together with stalls of every kind of produce imaginable. A festive atmosphere prevailed. June also saw the four day Enghein Jazz festival which took place every evening from 20.00 ending with a fantastic display of fireworks. The tourist office has a display featuring ‘100 years of Jazz’ to mark the occasion. In the summer holidays there are organised art courses for school children from 4 – 14 to encourage them in drawing, water colours, painting, modelling and the art of collage. The young are also encouraged to pursue all manner of nautical activities. This is a very lively and active town and there is almost always something to watch on the lake. There is even a ‘hippodrome’ where the trotters race.
At Enghien-Les-Bains there is no shortage of smart hotels and restaurants, especially overlooking the lake. The original thermal spa building has been the subject of a massive programme of expansion and modernisation culminating as a health and conference centre with every modern facility. For golfers, there is a superb 18 hole golf course some 30 minutes drive away. Membership is by invitation only but for guests at the Grand Hotel, or the Hotel du Lac, there are special rates whereby you pay only the green fee. The architecture at Enghien is a mélange of Art Deco, Anglo Norman and ‘extravagant variegated’. The tourist office provides guide books of interesting ‘promenades’ with which to explore the town. The tourist office is at 81, Rue du General de Gaulle and is open from Monday to Saturday from 9.00 to 12.30 and from 14.00 to 18.00. Sundays: 15.00 – 18.00.
Copyright: text Sarah Francis