The Chateau d'Ecouen & Renaissance Museum Are One
"What Is At Ecouen"
The city of Ecouen (pop.7.3K) is a bed-room suburb of Paris, 11.4 miles from the Paris center point. Originally it was a dependency of the large Chateau of that name that stands on a promontory above the town where it has a commanding view of the vast Plaine de France. Being North of Paris, it is only 5 miles from the Charles de Gaule Airport and is under the flight paths. If one is indifferent to that fact, Ecouen could be the ideal suburban commute for work in Paris. Installed in the Chateau sjnce 1976 is the Musee National de la Renaissance. To the south of the Chateau are its grounds, the Forest of Ecouen. Nearby is an ancient church with good stained glass. The city has also converted the ancient grange into a multipurpose community center.
"Why We Visited Ecouen"
We carefully planned this visit as part of a series of trips to France (usually omitting Paris). We did them independently using a rental car which was picked up and returned to an Airport. We always planned an early stop after arrival at some interesting spot (often still in the Ile de France) moving then to a resting place where jet lag set in. After a nap and a late dinner (the usual time in France) and a night of sleep, we have found that our pituitaries had adjusted to the time shift. We think the Cluny in Paris and the Cloisters in NYC are the greatest artistic and cultural experiences. The Musee National de la Renaissance was created mostly from the reserve collections of the Cluny and a stop there was intriguing but something we did not want to do from Paris. Logistically it was ideal! (It would have even been better if the restaurant had existed then for our lunch before departing).
"Is Ecouen Even Worth a Visit?"
Michelin rates it 2*. The Chateau is readily visited from Paris either by RER line D to Garges-Sarcelles or by SCNF (Gare du Nord) Transillien Paris-Nord to Ecouen-Ezenville; at both stations Bus 269 then goes past the Chateau stop (in opposite directions). Up the hill in the forest is the chateau. This trip is easier than many other chateau trips. The chateau itself is impressive with architecture and military defenses worthy of its rumored architects Jean Goujon and Jean Bullant. After all the owner was Anne de Montmorency, Francois I chief military man, reputedly the richest man in France. Originally its entrance was built to exhibit the gift of Michelangelo's "Slaves" from a grateful Francois I. The interiors are impressive and the mantelpieces even more, but there it ends. The museum pieces are weak specimens compared with Cluny. I am not an expert on the Renaissance minor arts in France, Italy and the Low Countries, nor can I list the Labors of Hercules or the Amours of David displayed in a large number of excellent tapestries in a sequence of large rooms. Admittedly, they are worthy of study but we needed help. You can saturate yourself with ceramics and furniture, metal-work, arms, clocks , etc. At last there are Limoges enamel and a fine Chapel. There is a dearth of paintings, I guess the Louvre has grabbed them all and would not even give up copies or "School-ofs". (If it is worth looking at, it belongs in the Louvre; even if few people visit the French and Northern paintings). This year the Museum has tried eliminating admission fees to increase visitors, but I bet it was a failure. One of their biggest deficiencies is that no audio guide is offered and they have no "block-buster" exhibits. They wouldn't dare return the Slaves. They should study the Cloisters in NYC and the Cluny and figure what makes them work. Chantilly is a better day-trip from Paris or if you can do it try Vaux-le-Vicomte (See our Tips on these).