Compiégne (pop 41,714) lies along the Oise River and is a favourite daytrip destination amongst the Parisian crowd. This historically rich town has been a weekend and seasonal getaway amongst royalty for centuries, reaching its local tourism peak in the 19th century (under Napoleon III). However, the town is not all about glitz and glamour, as it has been tainted by some poignant moments during the Hundred Years War (as the town was where Joan of Arc was captured and sold to the English) and WWII when the town housed transit concentration camps to hold Jews, resistant fighters and political prisoners, before they were shipped out to other camps in Germany. 

The town is divided by the River Oise, with most of the commercial areas lying on the eastern bank. You can arrive at Compiégne via trains (from Amiens and Paris) at Place de la Gare, northwest of town.



COMPIÈGNE STREET MAP 1. Tourism office  2. Château de Compiégne  3. Grand Parc  4. Forêt de Compiégne  5. Haras Nationale de Compiégne  6. Armistice Clearing  (east of map limits; zoom out to view)

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FRANCE OISE château de Compiègne

The Château de Compiégne [Place du Général de Gaulle, +33 344384702 ad/ch €8.50/Free] is responsible for the majority of the tourist crowd in town. This royal residence was initially built as a summer getaway for the French monarchs since the 14th century. The area was favoured by royalties as it was the ideal place for good hunting action, provided by the vast Fôret de Compiégne. Although successive kings continued to visit Compiégne seasonally; it was King Louis XIV who found the area particularly attractive. In fact, he had visited Compiégne almost 75 times during his reign. His great grandson, Louis XV inherited the same fascination with the town. Hence, he commissioned expansion works on the original 14th century château. Extensive renovation works began in 1750 under the supervision of Ange-Jacques Gabriel. The grand château works were completed by 1788 and it was predominantly built in the Neoclassical style. However, the castle fell into disuse during the French Revolution, after which most of its interior décor were passed to museums around the region. It was only at the end of the 18th century that the château began seeing hope again (on one of Napoleon Bonaparte’s visits). He ordered restoration works to be carried out on the château, making it habitable again by 1807. Hence, the current Château follows the First French Empire’s architectural style with its balanced, boxy silhouette. Inside the château, you will find the exquisitely decorated Grande Apartements (Imperial Apartments), which display the rooms that were once used by the royalties who resided here. The Musée Second Empire (approach the reception to visit the museum) lies nearby and it details the familial life of Napoleon III. The château also houses another museum- the Musée de la Voiture (Vehicle Musuem), which displays early modes of transport and the first motorcars.

Head on east of the château to discover the forests and park that enchanted many royalties over the centuries.  The English-style Petit-Parc (created during the 18th century) links up to the Grand Parc and the Forêt de Compiégne, which still functions as a hotspot for outdoor enthusiasts. 

The castle’s former stables (built in 1738 by King Louis XV) now house the reputable Haras Nationale de Compiégne [Blvd Victor Hugo, +33 344395450]. This National Stud is now managed by the government and it breeds and trains thoroughbreds, ponies, trotters and a host other types of horses for competitions and cultural events. You can walk through the stables to visit and interact with these beautiful creatures. 

FRANCE OISE Compiègne Rethondes Wagon de l'Armistice Wiki

Further into the Fôret de Compiégne is Armistice Clearing, an historic 100m diameter space where the armistice which declared the end of WWI, was signed. The document was signed in 1918 in the railway carriage of the Allied commander, Maréchal Ferdinand Foch. A statue of the commander and the Alsace-Lorraine memorial now stand in this clearing, commemorating this event. The clearing and railway carriage were used again during WWII, when the Germans managed to win the Battle of France in 1940. The Second Armistice at Compiégne was signed in the presence of the Führer and Hitler himself. The carriage was then taken away to Germany to be exhibited then destroyed in 1945. Today, a memorial slab marks the place that this historic carriage stood. A memorial museum [Route de Soissons, +33 344851418 ad/ch €4/2] also stands in the middle of this forest, commemorating the events from both wars. The evocative displays in the museum include photos, documents and models, which manage to recreate the sombre mood of the era.