La Ferté-Milon and the Canal de l’Ourcq
I had visited La Ferté-Milon briefly about four years ago by car, but inspired by Annabel Simms’ write-up in An Hour from Paris (and now realizing that it is also accessible by public transportation), I went back to La Ferté-Milon last weekend for a walk along the Canal de l’Ourcq.
La Ferté-Milon is a small town in the Picardie region. Its claims to faim include a small footbridge designed by the then nobody, Gustave Eiffel and the “ruins” of an immense castle overlooking the town, though in fact the castle was never completed, never lived in. La Ferté-Milon was also the birthplace in 1639 of dramatist Jean Racine, considered one of the greatest French playwrights of the 17th century. And it was the site of the marriage in 1647 of poet Jean de la Fontaine and Marie Héricart. (They didn’t get along; it didn’t last.) I highly recommend reading more on the history of this quiet medieval town in Annabel’s book.
Canal de l’Ourcq
The Canal de l’Ourcq is the same Canal de l’Ourcq that enters Paris at Porte de La Vilette in the 19th arrondissement. There are two options for walking along the canal (following the GR 11) from La Ferté-Milon. For a slightly shorter excursion, walk northeast along the canal to Port aux Perches and back (i.e. with the castle behind you, turn right along the canal.) Annabel says it’s about 2 kilometers, though I would put it more at 3 km each way. In April through October, you can join a sightseeing or dinner cruise on a small river boat along the canal, leaving from Port aux Perches. For more information on the boat trips, see www.portauxperches.fr or contact email@example.com or Tel. 03 23 96 41 25.
The second option, which Annabel rightly points out is a bit more scenic, is to walk the 7 kilometers southwest to Mareuil-sur-Ourcq, and you can take the train back from there. We went to Port aux Perches and back and then to Mareuil-sur-Ourcq in about 3 hours, but walking at a fast clip.
There are limited food options in these small towns and no food along the canal in between, so I would recommend packing a picnic lunch.
Trains leave from Gare de l’Est seven days a week every hour at 51 past the hour. You cannot but tickets in advance online, but you can consult the latest schedules here. Buy tickets (€13.50 each way) at the big green “Vente Billets Ile-de-France” kiosk near the turnstiles. It’s best to buy the round-trip ticket at Gare de l’Est as the train stations at La Ferté-Milon and Mareuil-sur-Ourcq seem to be closed on weekends and your only choice will be the automated ticket machines. To get to La Ferté-Milon, you must switch trains in Meaux, but the schedules are coordinated so you should only have to wait a few minutes for the connecting train. (Note that the online schedule suggests switching at Trilport, but in fact it’s best to switch at Meaux. If you forget to switch, it’s not the end of the world. But you will be champagne tasting in Château-Thierry instead of visiting La Ferté-Milon!) Arrive in La Ferté-Milon at 54 past the hour. Trains return from La Ferté-Milon at 01 past every hour, or return from Mareuil-sur-Ourcq at 08 past the hour (and again, you must switch in Meaux). You could of course take the train to Mareuil-sur-Ourcq and back from La Ferté-Milon if you prefer to do the trip in reverse.
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