Seine et Marne is the largest department of the Ile de France, with 120,000 Hectares of forest, 2000 km of rivers and creeks and is a land of history and culture, rural yet at the gates of Paris. On the artistic front, the medieval town of Moret-sur-Loing has featured in many an impressionist painting. Alfred Sisley, the English impressionist, spent 20 years here painting the town, river and surrounding countryside. The town also boasts a museum chronicling the development of the bicycle. Barley sugar produced by the local nuns was the local speciality and is still produced today with its own museum. At Barbizon, many 19th century landscape artists flocked to the area to paint the surrounding countryside and stayed at the Auberge du Père Ganne where one can still see evidence of their work. Since 1995 the Inn has been restored to its former state. Most famous amongst these artists are Théodore Rousseau, Jean François Millet, Charles-Francois Daubigny and Constant Troyon.
Provins, listed by UNESCO as a World Heritage Site, has 58 classified historical buildings, the 12th century Caesar Tower dominating the town being a perfect example of a defensive tower. 2 km of ramparts surround the heart of the town with two 14th century gates and a network of underground galleries connect the many vaulted underground cellars. There are medieval festivals and feasts and demonstrations of falconry. Nearby the picturesque village of Saint Loup de Naud has a beautiful 11/12th century Romanesque church. Meaux, famous for its ‘ Brie de Meaux’, awarded the Appellation d’Origine Contrôlée in 1980, and for its world famous mustard by Pommery, first produced in 1632, has a cathedral and Episcopal centre forming a ‘city within the city’. With the old chapter building and bishop’s palace containing the Bossuet Museum with 16-19th century paintings, this is an outstanding collection, not to be missed. Bossuet was a celebrated orator and theologian and Bishop of Meaux. You can also visit a circuit of the battlefields of the Marne from the 1914-18 War. Victor Hugo lived at Nemours in 1844 and was charmed by the peaceful way of life. The local castle dates from the 12th century, built to safeguard a strategic ford over the river and today it contains an exhibition of earthenware.
The basilica at Larchant is one of the most famous in France for pilgrimages. Numerous kings and queens visited the basilica, which was enormous at the end of the 12th century but was partially destroyed by the religious wars. The fortress at Blandy-les-Tours, in the middle of a typical village, has dominated the Ancoeur Valley since the Hundred Years' War. Thanks to a complete restoration campaign, its circular turrets, dungeon and crypt are being restored to their former glory. Every year in September on the national heritage days, a medieval festival takes place. Saint Martin de Champeaux still holds an annual festival of sacred music and was the centre of music teaching in Europe in the Middle Ages. The collegiate church of Saint Martin is a masterpiece of gothic art with its superb 16th century stained-glass windows and impressive elevation.
Vaux le Vicomte, forerunner to Versailles was created for Fouquet, finance secretary to Louis XIV, using Le Vau as architect, le Notre for the landscaped gardens and Le Brun for the interior. Unfortunately the King was so outraged that he himself had nothing so grand that he imprisoned Fouquet for life and commissioned Versailles on an even grander scale, using the same team. Fontainebleu was the favourite home of the French sovereigns for over 700 years, excepting during the Hundred Years' War when they were exiled to the Loire. Originally a hunting lodge, it became a royal palace during the 16th century. It has the museum of Napoleon I, the Chinese museum of the Empress Eugénie, and the glorious Renaissance gallery of Francois 1st, decorated by Italian artists. Amongst the other Châteaux of note in the region are Ferrières, home of the Rothschild family, created by Joseph Paxton, responsible for the Crystal Palace in London, and the 18th century Château of Champs-sur-Marne, once rented by Madame Pompadour, the famous mistress of Louis XV. Considered quite modern at the time for its separate dining room and corridors giving direct access to each room, it has amazing collections of furniture and china. The famous theme park of Disneyland Paris and the Walt Disney Studios need no introduction or explanation and there is also Sea Life Paris, a giant aquatic park featuring everything from the banks of the Seine to the lagoons of the West Indies.