Set in the South of the department of the Essonne, at the centre of the Gâtinais Français Regional park, the land of a ‘thousand clearings and sandstone,’ this unspoilt rural oasis is merely 55 kms from Paris. The discovery of prehistoric remains indicates that Milly has been inhabited for millennia but it remains a charming and authentic French market town with its wooden ‘Halle’ or covered marketplace remaining the focus of the square as it has been for centuries. Originally at the crossroads of the old post routes from Paris to Lyon and from Fontainbleau to Orleans, the October fairs were famous and as many as 45,000 sheep and 600 cows could be found there.
Many kings visited Milly, amongst them Charles VII, Louis XI, Francois 1st, Louis XII and Henry IV and Napoleon Bonaparte used to spend his holidays there when he was a student at the military school at Brienne. Of the more recent famous visitors, the President of France inaugurated the incredible 22.5 metre high sculpture of the ‘Cyclops’ in the forest just outside the town. The work of Jean Tinguely and his wife, Niki de St Phalle, its glinting façade of a myriad pieces of mirror seems almost out of place looming out of the midst of so much greenery. It creaks and groans and makes strange whirring noises as the water pours out of its mouth and its moveable ear vibrates in the wind. Within are the works of some of the artists who assisted in its construction. This remarkable monument which took 20 years to create can be visited from May to the end of October on Saturdays from 14 – 17.00 and on Sundays from 11 – 13 and from 14 –0 17.45. (17.00 in October). For confirmation of times of opening telephone the Tourist Office on 01 64 98 83 17.
The enchanting market town of Milly La Foret is famous for the production of aromatic plants and is in particular known for peppermint or 'Mente de Milly’ which it has adopted as its emblem.
The National Conservatory for Medicinal and Aromatic Plants with its herb and plant garden and tropical greenhouse, is on the outskirts of the town. The bustling market square is rich in shops providing for one’s every wish from fresh croissants to an exotic underwear shop decorated with ribbons and ‘faux glycine’ or wysteria. There are various herbal and plant shops and at Menthe de Milly you can seek expert advice on what best to take to treat your ailments.
Jean Cocteau, the multi-talented, poet, writer, artist and film maker (amongst whose famous works were ‘La Belle et la Bete’ - Beauty and the Beast) lived in Milly from 1947 and was an honorary citizen of the town. He died of a heart attack aged 74 on October 11th 1963 at his Château in Milly La Forêt after hearing the news of the death of his friend, Edith Piaf. Cocteau is buried under a sandstone slab marked by the simple inscription ‘je reste avec vous’ – ' I am always with you' in the nearby Chapel de Sainte Blaise des Simples. The Chapel was all that remained of a ‘madrerie’ or lazaret where lepers were successfully treated by the ‘simples’ or medicinal plants and when it was restored in 1958 with funds raised by some twenty or so local people - Cocteau was offered the walls to decorate. This he did with remarkable panache, creating wonderful images of medicinal plants climbing towards the ceiling with, on either side of his depiction of angels assisting Christ in his resurrection, two crowns of local thorns and two chandeliers created in the form of upturned gardening forks. In one corner, a cat symbolises the devil with Cocteau’s signature beneath it with his star and dated 1959. In the chapel grounds the old bell which used to mark the beginning and end of the Thursday markets from 1479 to 1926 still stands. The Chapel can be visited every day except Tuesdays from 10.00 – 12.00 and from 14.30 – 18.00 from Easter to ‘Toussaints’ or All Saints. On Saturdays, Sundays and Bank Holidays it is open from 10.15 – 12.00 and from 14.30 – 17.00 and the Chapel is closed for three weeks from 15th January and for two weeks from the 15th November. For confirmation, telephone 01 64 98 84 94. Entry is €2, free for children under 11 and €1.80 for groups of 20 or more.
Copyright text : Sarah Francis (2011)