If you’re seeking a change of pace from Parisian life, the riverside town of Saint Germain Boucles de Seine has verdant scenery, historic châteaux, and a rich art legacy—all within 45 minutes of Paris. If you’re visiting Paris for the France Rugby World Cup in 2023, why not plan a day or weekend trip to discover this scenic spot along the Seine River? To get you started, here’s our pick of the top 10 things to do in Saint Germain Boucles de Seine.
1. Cycle the Seine Valley
Situated along a “boucle” (loop) of the Seine River, the iconic river is the lifeblood of Saint Germain Boucles de Seine. More than 30 miles (50 kilometres) of riverbanks curl through the districts of Bezons, Chatou, Croissy-sur-Seine, Montesson, and more, affording endless opportunities for river views, strolls, and bike rides.
Rent a bike or electric bike and tackle part of the Seine à Vélo, the epic 249mi (400km) cycle route that follows the river from Paris all the way to the coast, or the Avenue Verte London-Paris, the 292mi (470km) cycle route that links Paris and London—both pass through Saint Germain Boucles de Seine. You could even cycle from Saint-Germain-en-Laye to Versailles, a 20mi (32km) circuit that passes Louis XIV’s magnificent palace and loops around the glorious Versailles park. Don’t worry about getting lost: there’s even a dedicated GPS app for cyclists with all the routes and bike parking sites pre-programmed.
2. Discover the Castle of Monte Cristo
It’s not just artists that were inspired by the idyllic landscapes of Saint Germain Boucles de Seine. This Paris suburb was also home to French writer Alexandre Dumas, author of the Three Musketeers and The Count of Monte Cristo. The writer lived in Saint-Germain-en-Laye up until 1847 when he moved to a lavish neo-Renaissance style castle in Port-Marly.
Named the Château de Monte-Cristo after the Dumas’ second novel, the magnificent château is now open to the public by guided tour. Beyond the ornate façade, you’ll be whisked into the 19th-century world of Dumas as you explore the three-storey castle with its Moorish-style salon, exhibition rooms, and adjoining Château d’If, home to Dumas’ workshop. Don’t miss a stroll through the castle’s English gardens, with their landscaped lawns, grottos, and streams.
3. Follow the Path of the Impressionists
The serene riverside landscapes of Saint Germain Boucles de Seine were a source of inspiration for the French Impressionists of the 19th century and immortalised in paintings by Renoir, Monet, Sisley, Pissarro, Morisot, and more. Art enthusiasts can trace the region’s art heritage and discover the legacy of the Impressionists at a number of sites around the villages of Chatou, Carrières-sur-Seine, and Croissy-sur-Seine.
Follow the Path of the Impressionists along the Seine River from Chatou to Croissy-sur-Seine either on foot or by bike, and stop off to admire spots captured in famous paintings, stroll around the pretty village of Carrières-sur-Seine, and visit the Musée de la Grenouillère in Croissy-sur-Seine, once a ‘guinguette’ (traditional cabaret bar) frequented by Monet and Renoir.
4. Visit the Island of the Impressionists
The most famous site along the Path of the Impressionists—the Île des Impressionnistes—is worthy of its own mention. Marooned in the Seine River and reachable on foot from Chatou, the “Island of the Impressionists” earned its nickname thanks to its popularity among the region’s artists during the Golden Age.
Immerse yourself in Impressionist-era art at the Musée Fournaise, take a peek at the Galerie Bessières in the historic Maison Levanneur, and stroll the picturesque waterfront to admire the old water station. For the full experience, snag a table (advance bookings are highly recommended) at the “Maison Fournaise” restaurant and enjoy lunch on the river view terrace. If it looks familiar that’s because Renoir’s painting “Luncheon of the Boating Party” was set here.
5. Explore the Historic Town of Saint-Germain-en-Laye
With its majestic castle, elegant architecture, and regal history—French King Louis XIV was born here—Saint-Germain-en-Laye is the quintessential Île-de-France town. First stop is the grand Château Vieux de Saint-Germain-en-Laye, the one-time residence of monarchs including Louis VI and Louis XIV. Uncover ancient treasures at the National Archeology Museum, located inside the castle, then take a walk around the André Le Nôtre-designed gardens.
Continue your walking tour through the Old Town, where you can admire the Gothic architecture of the Chapelle Saint-Louis, see the birthplace of composer Claude Debussy, and browse the boutiques and artisan shops around Place du Marché. Stop by the legendary Maison Grandin patisserie, which has been serving locals since 1822, and treat yourself to a Debussy (praline pastry), named in honour of the town’s former resident.
6. Take a Hike in the National Forest
The eponymous town is also the gateway to one of Paris’ largest and most renowned woodlands, the National Forest of Saint-Germain-en-Laye. This 3,500-hectare forest was a former royal hunting ground, and walkers, cyclists, and horseback riders can explore in the footsteps of Henry IV and Louis XIII along miles of trails.
Don’t miss the Grande Terrasse, an almost 2km-long balcony that affords views over the Seine Valley. Built by Louis XIV, it’s accessible from the Château Vieux de Saint-Germain-en-Laye. Further afield, there’s a vast network of waymarked trails that will take you into the heart of the forest—pack a picnic, and you could easily spend the entire day.
7. Cruise along the Seine River
The verdant riverbanks of the Seine are even more impressive from the water. Hop aboard for a river boat cruise setting out from Chatou, Croissy-sur-Seine, or Carrières-sur-Seine, and admire the waterfront villages and leafy riverbanks as you float downstream. With time to spare, it’s even possible to cruise all the way from central Paris to Chatou.
Boat cruises aren’t the only way to get on the water. If the sun’s shining, you could also rent a small boat, canoe, or stand-up paddleboard and paddle along the Seine. Rentals are possible from the ports of Le Pecq, Mesnil-le-Roi, Bezons, and Montesson.
8. Picnic in a Royal Park
Cobbled lanes and colourfully painted buildings await in the small town of Marly-le-Roi, just south of Saint-Germain-en-Laye, renowned for its connections with Louis XIV. Bring a picnic and escape to the Domaine National de Marly, where the Sun King once lived in the now-ruined Château de Marly-Le-Roi and hunted in the ancient forests of the vast royal park.
There are plenty of walking, biking, and horse-riding trails to choose from, and you can visit the Marly-le-Roi-Louveciennes museum, admire the old Abreuvoir (horse watering-place, and see replicas of the famous Marly Horses (the originals are on display in the Louvre).
9. See the Troglodyte Houses of Carrières-sur-Seine
If you pass through Carrières-sur-Seine while following the Path of the Impressionists, be sure to check out one of the region’s most unique attractions. The riverfront village is known for its quirky troglodyte houses or “bauves”, carved into the white cliffs along the banks of the Seine.
Wander along Rue de Victor Hugo to admire the unusual buildings, with their cave-like facades and hanging gardens, then follow the riverside paths to the old windmill and the Parc de la Mairie.
10. Purchase Some Hand-Crafted Souvenirs
The creative spirit of Saint Germain Bouche de Seine lives on today—this art-loving region harbours a community of local artists and artisans. Peek inside the artisan workshops and handicrafts boutiques, and discover traditional crafts from ceramics and sculptures to leatherwork and jewellery.
Seek out your favourite craftsmen or women, or browse the small workshops in the villages of Chatou, Louveciennes, Carrières-sur-Seine, Montesson, Houilles, Le Port-Marly, Saint-Germain-en-Laye, and Croissy-sur-Seine. Forget Eiffel Tower keyrings—this is the ideal spot to pick up some one-of-a-kind, hand-crafted souvenirs from Paris.
Lead photo credit : Images are courtesy of © Saint-Germain-Boucles-de-Seine Tourisme and Wikimedia Commons