Fables and Champagne in Château-Thierry

© T. Joly
Hometown of writer Jean de la Fontaine, Château-Thierry boasts two interesting museums and the ruins of an impressive castle. There are also several Champagne producers in the vicinity.

[ Practical ]

Getting there
- By road
95 km from Paris on autoroute A4.
- By train
Direct TER trains from Paris Est railway station. The journey takes about 50 mn.
Hôtel Ile de France
Hôtel Hexagone
Ibis à Essomes
Le Saint Jean
La Symphonie des Saison
Musée Jean de la Fontaine
Open every day except Monday from 10am to noon and from 2pm to 5.30pm.
Admission : €3.70 / €2.30.
Tel : 0323690560
Château-Thierry tourist office
Tel : 0323835114
Even if Château-Thierry is less than 100 km away from Paris, the vineyards that surround the city and cover the hillsides overlooking the Marne River are well and truly part of the Champagne production area. Within a radius of 20 km you can visit several wineries producing the world’s most famous wine and their champagne match in quality those made around Reims and Epernay.

Caves de la Maison Pannier © T.Joly
 Four millions bottles
The two closest are Champagne Gérard et Olivier Belin, at Essomes-sur-Marne, only 3 km away, and Champagne Christophe Lefévre, at Bonneil, 8km away. As to the largest one, the Pannier House, it is right in town and is also interesting to visit for its huge cellars set up in former quarries. Dug between the 12th and 15th centuries, they gave the stones that served to build the castle. Four millions bottles age peacefully there and audiovisual shows trace the story of the vineyard, the champagne making process and end with a guided tasting.
But, most tourists head to Château-Thierry for another reason, because it is the birthplace of one of France’s most famous writers. Tales author Jean de la Fontaine whose worldwide known Fables have been translated in many languages.

Musée Jean de la Fontaine © T.Joly
 Jean de la Fontaine’s house and museum
Born in 1621, he spent his childhood as well as a great deal of his life there and his home is still visible. Nicest building in town, this 16th century private mansion has been turned into a museum in his honour. Room after room, visitors discover his sources of inspiration, documents written by himself, period furniture, original editions of the Fables, illustrations of his works by various artists including Chagall and Dali, translations and so on.
The memory of the writer is also perpetuated throughout the town with statues depicting him and metallic or flower sculptures inspired by his Fables.
Little known, the Hotel Dieu’s Treasure Museum is equally interesting. Set up in this former hospital founded in the Middle Age, it features 18 rooms - including a beautiful 17th century chapel and an ancient apothecary with its porcelain jars - and houses 1 300 works 12 of which are listed as Historical Monuments.

Hôtel Dieu © T.Joly
 Imposing fortress
A collection made up of paintings, sculptures, ceramics, furniture, liturgical clothing, gold jewellery and silversmith pieces. There is as well a collection of chirurgical instruments in use in the late 19th and early 20th centuries when the Hotel Dieu was still the town hospital.
Another testimony of the past power and wealth of Château-Thierry is given by the imposing remains of the castle situated on a 200 m high hill dominating the town. Comprising 19 towers, four gates and a rampart with a perimeter of 900 m, it was for centuries one of the largest fortresses in France. But Napoleon 1st decided to raze it to the ground in order to create a platform where he planned to place dozens of cannons. The last few years, works enabled to almost restore it to its past splendour and ramparts now look almost as they where when constructed.

Castle © T.Joly
 Equestrian falconry show
Excavations have also unearthed its medieval kitchens that were among Europe’s largest. A free interpretation centre traces the construction and the history of this fortress with a model and a ten minutes long film. Besides, from April to October the main courtyard hosts an equestrian falconry show.
Apart these monuments there are very few buildings constructed before the 20th century because the town suffered great damages during the First World War. For a long time behind the front lines, it was captured by Germans in April 1918 and occupied till June when it was liberated by American troops. So, strong ties exist between Château-Thierry and the United States and the tourist office organizes on certain dates guided tours to follow in American soldiers’ footsteps.

© T. Joly
 Military monuments
In addition, in a close future, the Maison de l’Amitié franco-américaine being currently re-built will host an exhibition about the 1918 military operations. The fighting is also reminded by the Cote 204 Monument, well visible from town because it overlooks the Marne valley and the Champagne vineyards. Even more important for the American, 8 km away are the village of Belleau and the wood where US Marines got their first real taste of battle in WW1 and established their reputation for bravery. Stretching around a little chapel, the Belleau Wood military cemetery holds the remains of 2,300 American soldiers and in the village a small museum gives information about the battle.

Mars 21, 2014
Thierry Joly