The capital of the Oise Department, Beauvais is a likeable city that took quite a bit of war damage but still has its share of medieval buildings to grab your attention.
The cathedral is one of a kind, with the highest choir in the world but no nave as it was never completed.
You’ll also uncover a rare medieval hospital and solemn pieces of the city’s Roman walls.
The name Beauvais was a byword for tapestries in the 17th and 18th century, and these are still hanging at stately homes across France.
Get acquainted with this legacy at the tapestry museum just around the corner from the cathedral.
Lets explore the best things to do in Beauvais:
1. Beauvais Cathedral
In the 1400s and 1500s Beauvais Cathedral had dimensions that almost defy belief.
The tower rose to 153 metres, making it the tallest building in the world.
But the designs proved too ambitious and the tower collapsed in 1573. The nave was also never built, and so all that is left is the choir, transept and apse, with flying buttresses that need to be trussed to ensure the building’s integrity . But that’s not to take anything away from them, as the choir remains the tallest in the world, at 48 metres, and is a masterwork of gothic art illuminated by ethereal stained glass windows.
2. Astronomical Clock
Astronomical clocks are a common sight in northern French cathedrals, but none will stop you in your tracks like the one in Beauvais Cathedral.
Assembled between 1865 and 1868 by the Beavasian, Auguste-Lucien Vérité, the clock communicates a bewildering amount of information via its 52 dials.
You can tell the positions of the planets, the time in 18 different cities across the globe as well as much more arcane things like the golden number and the epact, which are too complicated to explain here! Over 90,000 pieces make all this possible.
Also spare some time for the medieval clock, made in the 1300s and claimed to be the oldest working clock in Europe.
3. Mudo – Musée de l’Oise
There’s a lot to love about the museum for the Oise department.
Its venue is the former episcopal palace for the Bishops of Beauvais who were endowed with additional powers and were both counts and peers of France.
If the building looks a bit like a fortress that’s because it was reinforced with a gatehouse after the Jacquerie popular revolt in the 1300s.
The newly renovated museum opened in 2015 and has paintings by some of 19th-century France’s leading lights, like Sisley and Camille Corot.
The high point of the sculpture collection is the 17th-century marble tomb of the painter Charles Fresnoy.
4. Église Saint-Étienne
One of the most cherished romanesque buildings north of Paris, the Church of St.
Stephen dates to the early-1100s.
Surviving from this time are the nave and transept, which have that unadorned restraint that is a hallmark of romanesque design.
This clashes with the choir, which was pulled down in the 1500s to be rebuilt in the flamboyant gothic style.
In this portion of the church, see the wooden choir stalls and the magnificent stained glass windows.
The story goes that they survived the iconoclasm during the Revolution in the 1790s because they were just too beautiful!
5. Medieval and Roman Ruins
There are a couple of sites around the cathedral with vestiges of the city’s distant history.
At the bottom of Rue Saint-Pierre is the Collégiale de Saint-Barthélemy, a church from the 10th century destroyed by bombing the Second World War.
You can peer down into the crypt from the 900s, while all that remains of the main structure is the 15th-century choir.
Then you can saunter down Rue Philippe de Dreux and Rue Jean Racine to take in the evocative remains of the ramparts that first went up in the 300s.
In the middle ages they surrounded all of the episcopal city, defending the cathedral, canons’ houses and the episcopal palace that now houses the Musée de l’Oise.
6. Parc Marcel-Dassault
The main green space in Beauvais is on the northern margins of the city, and it’s a spot that will win the approval of the youngest visitors.
Backing onto the park is a farm with sheep, ponies, chickens, geese, horses and donkeys that come up to say hello.
Over the last few years the city has started enhancing the park by planting gardens, and there’s now an English garden, a rose garden, an orchard and a Japanese garden to amble in.
7. Galerie Nationale de la Tapisserie
The tapestry factory in Beauvais was founded by Louis XIV’s finance minister Colbert in the 1600s and was second only in reputation to Gobelins in Paris.
But rather than weave tapestries for royalty like Gobelins, Beauvais was more of a private business, taking commissions from all-comers.
In the quadrangle next door to the cathedral is another free museum that traces the three-century history of tapestry-weaving in Beauvais, talking you through its origins and hanging several examples here woven at different times.
Also displayed are ceramics, another feather in the city’s cap in the past.
The museum is a new construction from the 70s, but incorporates the gallo-Roman walls and has remnants of Roman and medieval architecture in its basement.
8. Maladrerie Saint-Lazare
It’s rare to find a medieval hospital as complete as this one a couple of kilometres southeast the cathedral.
The oldest buildings date to the 1100s, and it’s easy to identify the three main parts of the complex: There’s a barn and sheepfold to the north, in the centre is a romanesque chapel and to the south are the remains of a building that would have housed plague victims.
The site is open to the public if you’d like to nose around and take a turn in the medieval garden for a few minutes.
The hospital is a cultural centre too, with concerts hosted in the barn so there might something interesting on when you’re in the city.
9. Château de Troissereux
From April to November the couple that owns this renaissance château open their doors to the public.
The property was built in the 14th and 15th centuries from red brick and limestone, and is ensconced in 12 hectares of gorgeous parkland.
This might be the best bit, as there’s an arboretum with 45 tree varieties (many planted in the 1700s), a 330-metre “Grand Canal” and birds such as herons, swans, geese and kingfishers.
The interiors were refurbished in the 1800s and you’ll be shown around the library, dining room, apartment and a spectacular ceremonial staircase.
10. Le Plan d’Eau du Canada
On the site of a former quarry, this artificial lake has Blue Status for its water quality and amenities, and is worth a shout on summer afternoons.
If you come on the weekend in summer you can rent all kinds of craft, including pedalos, canoes, kayaks, paddleboards and even catamarans.
There’s a 3.3-kilometre perimeter trail with different paths for cyclists and walkers, and a beach that is watched by lifeguards in July and August.
If fishing is your thing there’s a dedicated zone on the west side of the lake and you can buy a day pass for €8.
11. Parc Saint-Paul
Just west of Beauvais is a mid-sized amusement park, sure to delight littler tourists for at least half a day.
Parc Saint-Paul was founded in 1983 and is constantly adding new rides, to the point where there are now more than 40, including roller coasters, carousels, a haunted house, bumper cars and a rocking boat.
One or two of the roller coasters, like Wild Train and Formula 1, will also get a thumbs up from bigger kids and teenagers.
Worn-out parents will be pleased that the park provides so much open space, with lawns and woodland scattered with benches for picnics.
12. Local Walks and Bike Rides
Beauvais is at the heart of a small historical region known as the “Pays Beauvaisis”. This is often described as the “poumon vert de l’Oise” (green lung of the l’Oise) or “l’échappée verte” (the green escape). Water is profuse in the Beauvais countryside, at the confluence of the Thérain and Avelon Rivers, both tributaries of the Oise.
The bucolic scenery is of rounded chalk hills and arable farms delineated by hedgerows.
On foot the local tourist office put you onto 15 paths totalling 150 kilometres, and there are also 16 cycling routes adding up to more than 400 kilometres.
A brief drive on picturesque Beauvaisis country roads will bring you to a village classed among the most beautiful in France.
Gerberoy is a tiny place of only 90 inhabitants, but on cobblestone alleys there’s an adorable cluster of painted half-timbered cottages built in the 1600s and 1700s.
And in late-spring and summer the village is at its prettiest as the roses and wisteria that clamber up these houses are in bloom.
It was turn-of-the-century painter Henri Le Sidaner who encouraged the village to grow these flowers, and his legacy is commemorated during the third week of June at the La Fête des Roses.
14. Château de Chantilly
Worthy of a day trip from Beauvais, the Château de Chantilly is as lavish as they come.
The original château was destroyed in the revolution and was rebuilt in a larger than life neo-renaissance style in the 19th century.
The richness of the interiors is dazzling, with gilded panels, coffered ceilings, marble fireplaces and furniture, decorative items and weapons spanning hundreds of years.
You may also lose track of time in the Musée Condé, which has an astonishing array of French and Italian painting, by Raphael, Delacroix, Poussin to name but three.
The museum’s library is a marvel on its own holding 1,500 medieval manuscripts.
15. Alternative Day-Trips
Within an hour’s radius are Amiens to the north and Compiègne, 50 kilometres to the east.
Compiègne is a town favoured by royalty and emperors; Château de Compiègne was a home residence for Kings from the 1300s onwards, and was then where Napoleon III entertained important guests at extravagant receptions in the mid-19th-century.
Amiens, like Beauvais, has a cathedral of staggering proportions, with the largest interior volume of any in France.
It’s also a city defined by water, threaded with canals that give rise to a charming district and sweet waterside market gardens known as the Hortillonages.