At the confluence of the Oise and Seine Rivers, Conflans-Sainte-Honorine is only half an hour from Paris by train, but things move much slower in this town. At a sedate river’s speed in fact, because Conflans has long been the capital of France’s inland waterways.
There’s a fabulous museum and venerable boats on the riverside pointing to this legacy. And you can plan a trip for June when the Pardon National de la Batellerie remembers that bygone era with a weekend of ceremonies. Also come to the quays for cruises during the summer gliding past scenes painted 130 years ago by Impressionist masters like van Gogh, Pissarro, Cézanne and Sisley.
Lets explore the best things to do in Conflans-Sainte-Honorine:
1. Musée de la Batellerie
The story of France’s inland waterways is long and surprisingly interesting.
This museum reveals everything you need to know, from the transformative canal projects across France in the 17th and 18th centuries, to the barges, boats, goods and people that used to navigate them.
There’s information about canal locks and other technical innovations that opened up trade routes in France.
You’ll go on a journey through the centuries, learning about the steam craft that arrived in the 19th century, replacing, horse, man and wind-power.
To help paint the picture there are antique shipbuilding tools, navigational gear, model boats and archive photos.
2. Parc du Prieuré
The Musée de la Batellerie is in a château that was rebuilt in the 19th century with in an exuberant mix of Neo-Gothic and Neo-Renaissance architecture.
The property was bought by the town in the 1930s and its gorgeous gardens follow a plan laid out a century before.
There’s an elegant orangery from 1850, beside a metal and glass greenhouse from 1885. The orangery has been turned into an exhibition space with a restored 19th-century plaster sculpture by the revered Auguste Cain.
Mill around the lawns, flowerbeds, monumental staircase and pause over the dreamy views of the Seine.
3. Église Saint-Maclou
This church was founded in the 900s and has since been updated several times, most recently in the 1800s.
There isn’t a great deal remaining of the medieval Romanesque church, save for a series of column capitals with dainty foliate carvings in the apse from around the 1100s.
The bell-tower is from roughly this period, but has come through lots of restorations, including in 1926 after the steeple was struck by lightning.
There are two recumbent tomb effigies for the old Lords of Montmorency in the beautiful nave, which was remodelled in the Flamboyant Gothic style in the 1400s.
4. Association des Amis du Musée de la Batellerie
Separate from the Musée de la Batellerie, this association has acquired a couple of old vessels, moored on the Seine to complement the exhibitions at the museum.
At the Port de Saint-Nicolas you can inspect the Jacques tugboat, which is labelled a French historic monument and was launched at Creil on the Oise in 1905. The Jacques is moored next to Triton 25, another tug, launched later in 1954 and turned into a pusher in the early 60s.
This craft is in perfect working order and open to board on Sundays in summer.
5. Tour Montjoie
A thousand years after it was built this medieval tower continues to reign over the Seine and Conflans-Sainte-Honorine.
At first it was the court for the Lords of Conflans, but was left in ruins in the 1400s.
After that the 16-metre-high walls that you can still see now were adapted for a succession of homes.
Today there’s just a rectangular shell, closed off to visitors but with its window openings and stonework restored.
Wander up for a photo and to look down on the Seine from this elevated spot on the right bank.
6. Bateau-Chapelle Je Sers
Moored on Quai de la République is a kind of boat you’ve probably never seen before! “Je Sers” is a boat-chapel on an old coal barge that launched in 1919. The barge was built by the state in Amreville on the Eure and after serving a few roles it was inaugurated as a parish church for Conflans-Sainte-Honorine’s mariners in 1936. None other than the Bishop of Versailles was here to bless it.
You’ll be struck by the size of Je Sers; the barge is 70 metres long, allowing enough space for a cloakroom, food bank, reception room, exhibition of boating artefacts and of course the chapel itself, under a luminous glass dome.
At the west side of town is that emblematic place where two famous rivers meet.
A small park has been landscaped next to the confluence of the Oise and Seine: There’s a riverside path with a perfect view down the Seine, and a 1924 memorial to the inland waterway workers that fell in the First World War.
One of the unusual things about the confluence is that the waters of the Oise and Seine don’t actually mix at Pointil; they are divided by the Île Nancy and won’t actually come together until they meet again two kilometres downriver.
8. River Cruises
It’s only right that the capital of the French inland waterways should offer trips on the Seine and Oise.
These are organised by the tourist board and mostly run from June to September and are unbeatable for long, sunny days.
If you’re pressed for time you could take a round trip to a nearby town like Cergy, Poissy or Maisons-Lafitte, and will be invited to bring a picnic to enjoy on board.
But those who want to make a day of it can spend a whole day, chugging up to the Oise, into Paris or out to Normandy as far as the town of Vernon.
Breakfast and lunch are served on board and there’s informative commentary as you go.
9. Forêt de Saint-Germain-en-Laye
As soon as you cross the Seine you’ll be in a forest that was a royal hunting property for hundreds of years.
Henry IV and Louis XIII were especially fond of these woods, and Louis XIV was so keen on hunting here that he laid an immense wall around it to top game escaping.
Hidden in the woods is a lot of heritage like traces of the old gates, and hunting lodges for Louis XIV (Château du Val) and Louis XV (Pavillon de la Muette). From June to mid-August you can take your kids to the Fête des Loges, the largest fair in the Paris region with more than 160 rides and amusements.
10. Château de Maisons
Also across the river is a sumptuous 17th-century property built in the middle of the 17th century for René de Longueil, the Superintendent of Finances in the early reign of Louis XIV. The man hired to design the building was François Mansart, who is remembered for importing the Italian Baroque style to France.
At the time the Château de Maisons was like nothing seen before in the country, and Louis XIV was so impressed (and jealous) that he used many of the same sculptors and other craftsmen to work on Versailles.
The interiors are a mix of Baroque and 18th-century Neoclassical design, from when the Comte d’Artois (future king Charles X) resided at the Château.
11. Château de Saint-Germain-en-Laye
Take the forest to the south side to visit this marvellous royal palace.
Kings lived here from the 1100s up to the 19th century.
Francis I loved the property and married Claude de France in the Saint-Chapelle on the grounds in 1514. This is an early Gothic church, ordered by Louis IX and reproduced ten years later at the adored Chapelle-Royale in Paris.
The château now holds France’s National Archaeology Museum, with spellbinding artefacts beginning with early man up to the middle ages.
The Palaeolithic galleries are astonishing, with pieces like the 25,000-year-old Venus of Bramssempouy, one of the earliest realistic depictions of a human face.
12. Grande Terrasse de Saint-Germain-en-Laye
There were once two Châteaux at Saint-Germain-en-Laye, as the newer Château Neuf was erected in the 17th century.
This was demolished a century later, but one of the features left over is a 2.4-kilometre esplanade in the grounds.
The Grande Terrase was landscaped by the brilliant André Le Nôtre, who made his name at Versailles and designed gardens for the royalty, clergy and nobility across France.
Stop here to ponder the Seine Valley as people have done for centuries.
The Impressionist Alfred Sisley came to this very place in 1875 to paint the Terrace at Saint-Germain, one his most cherished works.
Another western suburb with a lot going for it, Poissy has museum, snippets of history and epochal architecture.
Historians may already know the name from the Colloquy of Poissy, a defining event in the French Wars of Religion when warring Catholics and Protestants met to thrash things out at the Abbey.
The gatehouse this building is all the survives and holds the Musée du Jouet (Museum of the Toy), closed for a refit at the time of writing but reopening in 2018. Architecture buffs need to see Le Corbusier’s timeless Villa Savoye (1928-31), which would set the tone for all modernist architecture.
14. Travel up the Oise
The Oise River was a magnet for Impressionists in the late 1800s.
And if you want to be cultured you can set off on a road-trip stopping at several towns on the banks.
Pontoise was a home for Camille Pissarro and was visited by Paul Cézanne who painted landmarks on the river you can still find today.
Go further upstream and you come to Auvers-sur-Oise, where van Gogh worked prolifically in the months before he passed away in the town.
Ten minutes from Conflans is Cergy, a new-town with outlandish avant-garde monuments like the Axe Majeur, a long sequence of sculptures spanning the river.
And closest of all is the Île de Loisirs, a vast outdoor watersports complex, with activities for all on hot days.
On the RER’s Line J you can get from Conflans to Saint-Lazare station in half an hour.
If this is your first time in Paris you’ll want to begin with those monuments known around the world like the Eiffel Tower, Arc de Triomphe and Notre-Dame Cathedral.
And the line-up of top-notch museums is almost dizzying, and counts the Louvre, Musée d’Orsay, Musée Marmottan Monet, Musée d’Orsay and Musée Rodin.
Then there’s the cobblestone streets in Montmartre, the Seine banks, covered shopping galleries and little things like meals at bistros, walks in beautiful city parks like the elevated Coulée Verte.