On a bend in the River Marne, Meaux is a cultured city that rose to prominence in the 17th century.
This was when Jacques-Bénigne Bossuet, the “Eagle of Meaux” was bishop.
Bossuet was an influential theologian in the reign of Louis XVIII and one of history’s great orators.
His episcopal palace has been preserved, along with its beautiful garden and defensive walls, and holds Meaux’s art and history museum.
You can also visit Bossuet’s tomb at the resplendent Gothic cathedral, which fronts a fine square with cafe and restaurant terraces.
And if you’re partial to Brie cheese, Meaux has been making this variety for more than 200 years, with dairies around the city and even a Brie museum.
Lets explore the best things to do in Meaux:
1. Musée de la Grande Guerre
Inaugurated on Armistice Day in 2011, this museum is one of the world’s premier attractions dealing with the conflict from 1914-18. Meaux was chosen as it was as close as the German Army came to Paris during the war.
The museum recreates scenes from the war, going as far as building a replica battlefield that has both French and German trenches and No Man’s Land in between.
This is made all the more real by modern and multisensory museum design, with objects you can pick up, soundscapes and lots of multimedia presentations to go with the usual artefacts.
2. Meaux Cathedral
Any scholar of Gothic art will adore the city’s cathedral.
That’s because work was completed slowly, over the 12th, 13th, 14th and 15th centuries, so every phase of French Gothic design, from Early Gothic to Flamboyant is on show.
Despite all this variety the architecture still feels harmonious, and it’s the interior that really shines.
Here the vaults in the nave and choir rise to more than 30 metres, flooding the interior with sunlight.
If you’re on the Bossuet trail, you can visit his tomb carved from black marble and fenced off by a wrought iron grill.
3. Musée Bossuet
Meaux’s art and history museum is in Bossuet’s former home, the episcopal palace next to the cathedral.
This is from the 1100s and was then expanded in stages up to the time Bossuet resided here in the late 1600s.
The oldest rooms are on the ground floor, which hasn’t been altered much since the 12th century.
Room 7 of the museum deals with Bossuet’s time as bishop between 1682 and 1704, but there’s also medieval religious sculpture and a strong assortment of art donated to the city down the years and running from 16th-century mannerism to romanticism in the 1800s.
4. Le Jardin Bossuet
Local tradition has it that the 17th-century flower garden behind the Episcopal Palace was designed by a young André Le Nôtre, the man who worked wonders at Versailles.
Whether or not this is true, the parterre is a terrific example of landscaping from that period: There are four paths, hemmed by flowerbeds of roses, converging on a central fountain with a large mossy rock that was placed here in the 1800s.
The whole garden is edged by a double row of lime trees, and at the bottom is a stairway that will take you up to the Gallo-Roman walls, which we’ll come to later.
5. Vieux Chapitre
At the back of the courtyard at the Episcopal Palace, and joined to the cathedral by a timber-framed gallery, is a symbol of ecclesiastical power from the middle ages.
The chapter of clerics would meet in this turreted hall to discuss religious missions and advise the Bishop of Meaux.
You can walk up to their meeting room via a wonderful covered external staircase up the side of the building.
There was a dual purpose to the Vieux Chapitre as the ground floor was a tithing barn, used to store wine, wood and grain in a large vaulted room.
6. Remparts de Meaux
On weekends you have free access to the ancient walls that used to surround the entire episcopal quarter.
Now around 250 metres in length the ramparts follow a route plotted during the Gallo-Roman period and were later renovated and modified with works in 14th and 15th centuries when the circular defensive towers went up.
The highlight of the walk is the view over the delightful garden at the Bossuet museum, as well as the episcopal palace and the cathedral.
Word has it that Bossuet would come to the small hermitage in the Jardin des Remparts in the 17th century for some seclusion to reflect and write.
7. Old Centre
Meaux’s elevated status in the 17th and 18th centuries left it with many refined mansions from this period, which are all private properties but still deserve a look.
So it pays setting off and seeing what you can find.
On Place Saint-Maur get a photo of the Hôtels de Regnaudière and Longuejoue.
Then continue along Rue du General Leclerc, Rue Rochard and Rue Saint-Remy for La Sirène, Passelaigue and Macé de Montoury, all of which are beautiful.
And as a religious centre Meaux was home to many religious congregations whose properties are still visible, like the convents of the Visitation and Ursulines, and the House of the Augustines at Faubourg Saint-Nicolas.
8. Parc du Pâtis
On a loop in the Marne to the south of Meaux, the Parc du Pâtis is a large and varied natural space rather than a landscaped garden.
You can walk a footpath next to the Marne or cut inside to flowery meadows, woods and at least ten large ponds, some crossed by cute little bridges.
The abundance of water attracts dozens of bird species, like the brightly plumed Eurasian golden oriole and the kingfisher.
And when the sun’s out in summer there’s even a public beach for swimming in the Marne, and a nautical centre to hire a rowboat.
9. American Monument
As mentioned earlier, the German Army was stopped just outside Meaux during the First Battle of Marne in 1914. This event is now regarded as a turning point in the early stages of the war and in 1932 the USA put up a monument here in memory of the French troops that lost their lives halting the advance.
The monument, portraying Liberty in tears, was sculpted by Frederick William MacMonnies who had studied at the École des Beaux-Arts in Paris in the 1880s.
The statue is just next to the First World War Museum on the battlefield.
10. Brasserie de Meaux
About halfway to Trilport, a couple of minutes from the centre of Meaux, is a young brewery that is part of the craft beer revolution and started operating in 2015. The Brasserie de Meaux sources its ingredients from the cereal farms in the local countryside and makes blonde, white and amber beers.
You can show up for casual tours on Fridays and Saturdays, or pre-arranged group visits any day of the week.
The tour is €3 a head and, as you’d expect, concludes with a tasting session of your choice of the brewery’s three beers.
11. Local Delicacies
Even though it’s quite a small place, Meaux’s reputation for food is big.
We have to start with brie de Meaux, the soft cow milk’s cheese that is enjoyed far and wide and is protected by an appellation of origin label.
If you’re a cheese fanatic then be here between April and September when the cheese has been maturing for just the right amount of time and is at its creamy best.
Something to take home with you is moutarde de Meaux, which is a coarse grain mustard that comes in the most adorable vintage pots.
And on top of all this the city also gives it name to types of carrots, strawberries, pickles, an apple and a brie salad.
12. Maison de Brie de Meaux
If you’re truly brie-crazy you can drop by this little attraction that will tell you everything you need to know about the brie de Meaux AOP. There’s information about the history of this cheese, and you’ll be talked through the differed stages of production, from milking the cows to maturing the cheese in the cellars.
You’ll also be told about the stringent guidelines that each cheese-maker has to follow for the brie to have the “brie de Meaux” label.
13. Disneyland Park
At 15 minutes, Europe’s most popular theme park is close enough that you can use Meaux as a cultured home to return to after a day of fun and magic for the smaller members of your family.
Disneyland Park is where kids can meet their favourite Disney characters and princesses, and of course hop on any number of themed rides.
The various “Lands” hardly need introduction, but for the uninitiated there’s Main Street USA, Frontierland, Adventureland, Fantasyland and Discoveryland.
Just some of the unmissable rides are Indiana Jones and the Temple of Peril, Space Mountain – Mission 2 and the huge haunted house, Phantom Manor.
14. Walt Disney Studios
Still in the Disney Resort, Walt Disney Studios is up there in the top five most-visited theme parks in Europe.
This attraction is inspired by the world of movie-making and has a studio theme, with rides and shows set on “lots”. Youngsters and Pixar fans will be crazy for the Toon Studio, where Crush’s Coaster is rated among the best rides in the entire resort and is based on the turtle from Finding Nemo.
The park also stands out for its all-action extravaganzas, particularly the Moteurs Action! stunt show on the Backlot, with cars, jet skis, motorbikes and a lot of pyrotechnics.
15. Val d’Europe Shopping Centre
Right by the resort, but a separate entity, is an enormous shopping mall that is the linchpin of the new town of Val d’Europe.
With Belle Époque-style architecture, the galleries are lit by arching metal and glass roofs.
There are some 140 shops and services to make use of, all less than 20 minutes from the centre of Meaux.
In the basement you can also find Sea Life Paris, a family-friendly aquarium containing the freshwater species living in the Marne and Seine, as well as more exotic creatures like rays, sharks and turtles.