Home to the famous Brie de Meaux, this easily accessiblearea of France harbours a rich wartime history, alongside a wealth of entertainment venues

 

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A recent familiarisation trip to Seine-et-Marne. (L-R) Annabel from Travelbound, Diane from Richmond Coaches, Chris Wales from Coach Tourism Council, Brian from Wayahead Travel and Sue from Albatross Travel

The vast county of Seine-et-Marne in France – named after the Seine and Marne rivers – covers Marne & Ourcq, Disneyland Paris, Brie & Morins, Provinois Bassee Montois, Centre Brie and Fountainebleau. Crossed by the Marne River, Meaux is a historic town situated within Seine-etMarne, and is over 2,000 years old. Meaux is known for its flavoursome mustard and mild Brie de Meaux, with a detailed and informative exhibition about the famous cheese housed in the heart of the city. The exhibition is open exclusively to groups. In September 1914, Meaux witnessed the Battle of the Marne – which saw an offensive carried out during the first 10 days of the month – resulting in French victory. “The Victory of the Marne” saw the German Army pushed back beyond the Somme. Meaux marks the centenary of the First World War, echoed through various memorial sites. The Museum of the Great War (Mussee De La Grande Guerre) educates on the everyday life of the French soldiers who battled in Pays de Meaux (0164 33 02 26, www.tourisme-paysdemeaux.fr). Parc des Felins in Nesles is the only wild animal park of its kind in Europe, home to nearly 140 felines from every continent. Roaming 71 hectares, Parc des Felins is home to Asian lions, spotted American panthers, beige sand cats and pale white tigers. Five designated pedestrian loops escort visitors from Africa to Asia and Europe to America, whilst the 4D cinema transports visitors to depths of India. Additionally, the Isle of Lemurs is home to 40 free-roaming lemurs from over five different species (0164 51 33 33, www. parc-des-felins.com). Fontainebleau is located 60 kilometres from Paris and is a popular, scenic holiday resort in Seine-et-Marne. Chateau de Fontainebleau is a big draw, significant as the site where Louis XIII was born and where Francis I “invented” the Renaissance and Napoleon bid farewell. Napoleon I beautifully restored the Chateau de Fontainebleau, which he completely refurnished following the French Revolution. A World Heritage Site, Chateau de Fontainebleau houses the Grand Apartments, the Diana Galley, the Napoleon Museum, the Chinese Museum of Empress Eugenie, the Francis I Gallery and the furniture featured in Marie Antoinette’s boudoir (0160 71 50 60/70, www.chateaudefontainebleau.fr, www. fontainebleau-tourisme.com). Barbizon is located one hour from Paris and houses a multitude of art galleries and antique shops to explore. Barbizon Painters Departmental Museum – formerly the meeting place for young painters – sees a ground-floor exhibition that recreates the convivial atmosphere of the ‘Ganne Painters,’ complete with artwork, furniture and décor. Upstairs, two rooms remain as they were, with walls plastered with drawings and quick sketches by such artists as Narcisse Diaz, Rosa Bonheur and Theodore Rousseau, whose studio is located nearby. Across the street stands the studio of Jean Francois Millet – known for The Angelus and The Gleaners – with the space also serving as a gallery for local artists (0160 66 21 55, www.museepeintres-barbizon.fr). Barbizon may be suited to more active groups, who can take advantage of its exceptional natural environment. ‘Painters’ Trails’ are available for those wishing to hike in the footsteps of Barbizon’s famous landscape painters, complete with free downloadable audio guides (0160 66 41 87, www.barbizontourisme.fr

Commemorating Seine-et-Marne’s wartime history is The Museum of the Great War, dedicated to the many soldiers who fought and died in the Battle of the Marne

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The Liberty in Distress by Frederick MacMonnies dates back to 1932 and has been presented within the grounds of The Museum of the Great War

Seine-et-Marne is the home of Napoleon’s beloved Palace of Fontainebleu, and is the site of two seminal World War One battles. The Battle of the Marne – the “Miracle of the Marne” – took place in 1914, and saw 70,000 men from the British Expeditionary Force (BEF) prevent the German Imperial Army taking Paris, resulting in four years of trench warfare on the Western Front. The Second Battle of the Marne took place in 1918, and saw the American Expeditionary Force (AEF) fight their first major battle against the Germany Army, whose defeat culminated in the Armistice 100 days later. The Museum of the Great War in Pays de Meaux has been carefully constructed on the sites of these battles. Built to commemorate the centenary of the Battle of the Marne, it marks the first French National Museum dedicated to the Great War 1914-1918. The Museum of the Great War is located East of Paris and close by is the location where French troops were taken to the frontline. The British Expeditionary Force (BEF) withdrew through Meaux towards the end of a long retreat from Mons, with The Museum of the Great War located a short distance from where the French and American troops halted the Germans in 1918. The Museum of the Great War details how the British saved Paris, France and Europe in the Battle of the Marne, and how the Americans saved Paris, France and Europe in the Second Battle of the Marne. It also educates about the French Army of 1914 and contemplates the French sacrifices made from 1914-1918. The Museum of the Great War has been based around the vast collection of JeanPierre Verney, which mainly includes artefacts from the American Expeditionary Force (AEF) of the time. It features large pieces of military equipment, mainly selected to illustrate the contrast in technology between 1914 and 1918. Handling collections are evident throughout, alongside sensory uniforms and equipment. Within the grounds of The Museum of the Great War stands the Liberty in Distress – an impressive white statue by Frederick MacMonnies, which was presented to France by the USA in 1932. Seine-et-Marne still 099-1retains buildings from the time. Combine a visit to The Museum of the Great War with the British Memorial to the Missing, commemorating the battle at La Ferte Sous Jouranne in 1914. Additionally, visit the Royal Engineers’ Memorial to where the pontoon bridges across the River Marne. The American Memorial commemorates the victory at Chateau-Thierry in 1918, with the impressive Dormans Memorial honouring those who fought and died during the battles of the Marne. For full details of The Museum of the Great War visit www. museedelagrandeguerre.eu