Ermont is an outlying suburb to the northwest of Paris. But though the capital might seem a long way away, you’re only 10 minutes from Saint-Denis and 15 from the Gare du Nord on public transport.
You’ll also have the chance to poke around an area that isn’t seen by many tourists.
In the 19th century the Seine and the Oise brought the Impressionists in their droves, and a few minutes away is Auvers-sur-Oise where van Gogh spent the last few months of his life.
There are small, specialised museums, a former royal hunting ground and a wonderful château that tore up the architecture rulebook in the 17th century.
Lets explore the best things to do in Ermont:
1. Musée des Arts et Traditions Populaires
Ermont doubled in population when new housing was created in the 1950s.
But it had existed long before as a humble wine and farming village, and some of this heritage has been saved at this museum that opened in 1997. There’s a variety of tools going back to antiquity, including a harrow, plough, threshing board, gin and forge.
You delve into old-time trades like blacksmithing, wine-growing, cooperage and woodcutting.
Accompanying the artefacts is archive footage showing how these tools were used, revealing techniques that are now long lost.
2. Club des Espérances
As of 2017 this building is abandoned.
And though it might seem odd to mention this site as something to visit, there’s a few things you should know about it.
The Club des Espérances is a former youth club designed in the 1960s by the engineer, designer and self-taught architect Jean Prouvé.
His work remains highly valuable today (original copies for his chairs sell for thousands) and at the time Le Corbusier was one of many architects to sing Prouvé’s praises.
In 2010 when the council announced that they wanted to pull this pair of half-cylindrical buildings down, architects made it the only “historic monument” in Ermont ensuring its protection.
If you’re a photographer bring your camera for some moody shots.
3. Moulin de Sannois
In Ermont you’re seconds in the car from this quirky historical monument, dating to 1759. The Moulin de Sannois is the largest windmill of its kind in the Île-de-France, and was making flour up to 1866. As we’ll discover later, the villages and towns northwest of Paris were crawling with artists at the turn of the 20th century and this particular mill was painted by Maurice Utrillo in 1912. You can go in for a look around on the first Sunday of the month.
In the chestnut forest next to the mill there’s an “Ecopark”, a tree-top adventure centre with six suspended courses for various ages to scramble through, wearing a harness and helmet.
4. Musée Jean-Jacques-Rousseau
Go a few minutes east to the suburb of Montmorency where there’s an graceful house that the 18th-century polymath Rousseau stayed in for six years.
He ended up here after fleeing the “noise, smoke and mud” of Paris for somewhere more natural.
While here Rousseau wrote the epistolary novel Julie, or the New Heloise, and Emile, or On Education, a treatise regarded as one of the Enlightenment’s most influential works.
You can visit the little study in the garden where he wrote these books, while the Maison des Commères goes into Rousseau’s day-to-day life in Montmorency.
The house itself hosts temporary exhibitions about both Rousseau and the 18th century in general.
5. Basilique de Saint-Denis
The suburb of Saint-Denis to the north of Paris can be a bit rough, but there’s a great reason to venture inside: The Basilica of St Denis is the burial place of all except three of France’s kings, making it obligatory if you’re inspired by French history.
Many of these tombs are magnificent, and the monarchs are accompanied by a huge cast of other nobility including queens, princesses, princes and dukes going back hundreds of years.
And beside the epoch-making figures interred at Saint-Denis, the building has a lot to say for itself too.
The choir, from 1144, is something special as it was the first complete example of Gothic architecture, becoming the model for Northern France’s cathedrals.
6. Stade de France
If you can avoid the traffic you’ll only be 15 minutes from the spiritual home of French sport.
This arena was completed in 1998, and it’s where the French national football and rugby teams play their home games.
Most memorable of all, France lifted the World Cup here in 1998. It could be that you’ve booked seats for a sporting event or one of the concerts held here in summer.
Or you might just want to feel the atmosphere at the largest sporting venue in the country, in which case you can go on a behind the scenes tour.
You’ll find out about the groundbreaking techniques used in construction (the high-tech roof alone cost more than €45 million), and hear little anecdotes about the stars that have graced this turf.
7. Axe Majeur
While you’re on the architecture trail, the nearby suburb of Cergy has a bit of an edge but is scattered with avant-garde architecture from the 70s and 80s.
This is best summed up by sculptor Dani Karavan’s Axe Majeur, which was begun in 1980 and only finished in 2005. You’ll realise how it could have taken so long when you see the size of the project: It’s a 3.2-kilometre line of monuments, descending from the hill in Cergy and across the Oise River.
There are 12 “stations”, each signifying a different aspect of Cergy’s past, like the riverbanks painted by Impressionists like Pissarro and van Gogh.
One station, the Esplanade de Paris high above the River, has distant views to the capital.
8. Château de Maisons
Just on the opposite bank of the Seine, the Château de Maisons was designed by the brilliant 17th-century architect François Mansart.
He is credited with spearheading France’s Baroque movement, and the Château de Maisons is still seen as one of the perfect expressions of this design.
It was ordered by René de Longueil, the Superintendent of Finance and from the moment the property was completed it was adored for its game-changing style and beauty.
When you visit you’ll be dazzled by the luxurious interior updates made in the 18th century by the Comtre d’Artois, Louis XVI’s brother.
9. Forêt de Saint-Germain-en-Laye
Château de Maisons is on the eastern boundary of this 35-square kilometres that takes up almost an entire meander of the Seine.
Like most of the ancient woodland around Paris, the Forêt de Saint-Germain-en-Laye was a royal property used for hunting.
Now it’s criss-crossed by a web of avenues and roads, giving you easy access to huge swathes of oak and beech forest where kings like Louis XIV used to ride.
On your travels you’ll happen upon some beautiful monuments, like the Château du Val, built for Louis XIV in 1675, or the Pavillon de la Muette, an elegant hunting lodge for Louis XV.
10. Musée Tavet-Delacour
Around 15 minutes in the nearby suburb of Pontoise is a small but worthy museum in a gorgeous 15th-century Gothic mansion.
Inside you’ll find Pontoise’s historical collections, which include a cache of 20th-century art as well as some peculiar items relating to the French monarchy.
The art exhibition has pieces by Arp, Matisse, Signovert and Legros, as well as Otto Freundlich, who put abstraction on the map in the early-20th century.
For amateur historians there is medieval sculpture and manuscripts from the 18th century.
11. Musée Camille Pissarro
Also in Pontoise is a museum that recalls an era in which the western suburbs were home to the Impressionists and Post-Impressionists who painted the Oise and Seine.
Pissarro chose Pontoise, where he stayed for 17 years, but van Gogh and Cézanne settled just upriver in Auvers, as we’ll soon find out.
Despite bearing his name, the museum only has one work by Pissarro, Barges à La Roche-Guyon from 1864. But the museum still deserves a visit because of sense of continuity with Pontoise’s past, as well as for pieces by Signac, Daubigny, Cézanne and Guillaumin.
Just ten kilometres north of Ermon is this town, which is probably best known as the place where van Gogh died and is buried.
But that doesn’t tell the full story, because the Dutch artist spent several busy months painting the town.
He was also just one of a long list of Impressionists and Post-Impressionists who came here to paint, the most illustrious of whom were Daubigny and Cézanne.
You can take a tour to compare van Gogh’s paintings to monuments that haven’t changed much in the last 130 years.
Château d’Auvers has an art interpretation centre, where rooms and scenes are decorated in the late-19th-century style and projected with paintings by the masters of the era.
13. Paris Sights
In Ermont you can hop on the Transiliien or RER C commuter trains and be in the capital before you know it.
Even if it’s your first time in the city you’ll already have a clear idea of the best things to see, because the city’s monuments are known to all.
But to refresh your memory there’s the Seine and its book markets, the Notre-Dame Cathedral, the Eiffel Tower, the Arc de Triomphe, the outlandish Pompidou Centre and an untold array of parks and neighbourhoods with their own personality.
Follow in the footsteps of artists in Montmartre, and writers like Gertrude Stein, Camus and Hemingway in the Latin Quarter.
14. Paris Culture
It’s no exaggeration to say that almost every taste is catered for in Paris.
If you want high culture there’s the Palais Garnier for ballet and the Paris Opera.
But if you prefer live music from any number of genres the city is bursting with great venues, especially around the 10th Arrondissement.
And the same applies to museums where the world-class Louvre, Musée d’Orsay and Musée d’Orsay are just the start.
History buffs need the Musée National du Moyen Âge or Petit Palais, scientists will get lost in the Cité des Sciences et de l’Industrie, the Palais de la Découverte and Musée des Arts et Métiers.
And contemporary art lovers can choose from the Musée National d’Art Moderne (at the Pompidou Centre) and the new Fondation Louis Vuitton.
15. Paris Must-Dos
And after all this there are a few things that you still have to do before you go home.
In the 2nd Arrondissement you can amble through the Passages Couverts, refined 19th-century shopping galleries with metal and glass roofs.
You can also book a date with the city’s dead, so to speak, at the Père Lachaise Cemetery, the Montmartre Cemetery or the stacks of anonymous bones at the Catacombs.
And we haven’t even mentioned dining, whether it’s a cafe for a croque-monsieur, a brasserie for escargots or a legendary fine dining restaurant like Roger la Grenouille or Lasserre.