Imagine you are going to take a beautiful 3 kilometer walk, from Saint-Rémy-RER station to the Church of Chevreuse.
Lush meadows, picturesque rivers and scenic views of the Château de la Madeleine, a medieval castle built on top of a hill which dominates the town, will delight you in the discovery of the renowned Vallée de Chevreuse.
The railway station in Saint-Rémy was first built in 1867. Until 1939, passenger trains operated as far as Limours; the remaining rails can be seen near the red house, on the left, which you can visit after leaving the station.
In this little red house, the former gatekeeper’s, you will find the tourist office and electric bicycles for rent.
Heading down towards the valley, turn left on the pedestrian and cycling path, Chemin des Regains.
On the left you will see the famous Coubertin estate. Its château, first built in 1696 by Bernard Fredy de Coubertin, was restored in the 18th century and reshaped in 1896 with a new lounge with a rooftop terrace.
The 17th century farm buildings and the impressive dovecote are next to the chapel.
What an interesting family!
- Bonaventure Julien de Frédy, baron de Coubertin (1788-1871), senior official of Emperor Napoleon I in Germany and high-ranking officer in King Louis XVIII army, was Mayor of Saint-Rémy.
- His son, the artist Charles de Coubertin, painted the altarpiece in the Church of Saint-Rémy, classified as a National Treasure.
- His grandson, world famous Pierre de Coubertin, the father of modern olympics, founded the IOC (International Olympic Committee) in 1894 and established the Olympic Charter.
- Pierre’s nieces, « baroness » Yvonne de Coubertin and her sisters, inherited the château.
As a philanthropist, Yvonne, together with sculptor Jean Bernard, set up the famous Pierre de Coubertin foundation in the château to preserve the practice of traditional buildings, arts and trades in a spirit of compagnonnage. It is still active with its renowned Ateliers Saint-Jacques (foundry, woodworking, stone cutting and metal and iron work). Among many other works of rare beauty, they have restored the gates of the Château de Versailles and the statue of Saint Michael the Archangel, the highest point of the Mont Saint Michel.
In the foundation park are sculptures of Rodin, Bourdelle, Bernard, Pan, throughout the amazing Jardin des Bronzes (Bronzes garden).
Take the path along the wall on your right: it encloses the former baroness’ own vegetable garden. Its production used to be sent to Yvonne’s charities, specifically her boarding house for young girls.
As you continue your walk, looking at the valley you will notice a white building half hidden among the trees, the Moulin des Clayes (Clayes mill).
It is one of the oldest watermills of the valley.
First built around 1206, it was both a grainmill and the Seat of the Manor. The Yvette river was diverted to increase the mill’s power.
The Seigneury of Saint-Rémy depended on the powerful Seigneury of Chevreuse, although their feudal lords were cousins.
In the XVIIth century, it was transformed into a bark mill. The Chevreuse valley was renowned for its numerous goats and their skin, used to make fine leather along river Yvette from the Middle Ages until the XXth century. The bark mill was used to grind the bark of oak trees suitable for the operations of the tanner in the preparation of leather for clothes, boots, furniture etc.
Renovated in the XIXth century to become a flourmill again, it was then sold as a private home to American sculptor Edward Bruce Douglas and his french wife, Marthe. He was a famous sculptor, son of the founder of the »Quaker Oats » company who had died on the Titanic.
Farther north is a square house with a beautifully decorated rooftop terrace: the Pan Wogenscky house.
World famous sculptor Marta Pan married architect André Wogensky in 1952. Wogensky worked with Le Corbusier from 1934 to 1944 and he built their dream house including a workshop for Marta. Large windows overlook the garden which is embellished by Marta’s sculptures, some made of stainless-steel created in the Ateliers Saint-Jacques.
To visit, you can contact the Marta Pan André Wogensky foundation.
Continue along the Chemin des Regains. On your left is the Ferme de Coubertin (the Coubertin farm).
It is a family farm, with 70 dairy cows, 32 goats as well as pigs and rabbits. Cheese, dairy products and other local products can be bought at the farm shop.
The crossroads is the borderline between Saint-Rémy and Chevreuse.
On your right, the Saint-Lubin school is built close to the site of the former medieval leprosarium, city mill and pillory nearby.
Continue on the pedestrian and cycling path and then take GR11 until you reach the banks of the Yvette canal and its enchanting promenade des petits ponts (little bridges walk). Turn left, follow the path, and after a few minutes you will notice an unusual building on the opposite bank of the canal: it is a drying area for tanned skins, the Séchoir à Peaux.
Dating back to the XVIIth century, this tannery still shows the various stages of tanning and leather work:
- the lowest part of the building was dedicated to cleaning and wet-working the leather
- the tanning pit is found at the back of the building
- the first floor was used tor drying and curing the leather.
Go on this path and go along the Canal de l’Yvette. Notice the long and narrow gardens where in medieval times ropes were produced.
Continue your walk along the Yvette canal with its numerous quaint wash houses until you reach the ruelle des Mandars (mandars street).
Continue your way up to the north and turn right into rue de la division Leclerc. Take the pedestrian street rue Lalande with the Cabaret du Lys, a XVIIth century tavern greatly appreciated by famous tragic author Jean Racine.
Chevreuse grew into a medieval city at the foot of the castle and along the Yvette, on a route between Paris and Normandy. It was thus a strategic place which required fortifications which crossed Lalande street.
The first enclosure, built between 1380 and 1420, was to defend the castle, the medieval town at its foot, Saint Martin Church, Saint Saturnin priory and the churchyard.
A second enclosure, much bigger, was built at the end of the XVIth century, surrounding also the gardens, wash-houses and the Yvette canal. Only one tower remains.
Turn left towards Saint Martin Church.
From Saint Rémy to Chevreuse, FD, SW.
Photos and documents: HB IGN popgouv Chevreuse, fondation de Coubertin, fondation Wogenscky-Pan