- What is this? Jean-Jacques Rousseau Park is a 50 ha garden located in Ermenonville Forest, Oise département, about 40 km away from Paris.
- Why is worth the visit? The present-day park is the best preserved remnant of ancient Ermenonville garden — the first English-style garden outside England. Philosopher Jean-Jacques Rousseau (from whom the park took its name) lived there his last days and was buried in the garden’s Poplar Island. Thus, the site became a very famous & visited place in the years prior to French revolution. It was directly inspired by The Leasowes garden in the English Midlands. In turn, Ermenonville garden greatly influenced later English Landscape designs such as Berlin’s Tiergarten, Wörlitz Park (both in Germany) and the Anglo-chinese garden of the Petit Trianon palace in Versailles.
- Interpretation: Despite its historical importance, it is generally agreed that Jean-Jacques Rousseau Park is not one of the foremost English Landscape gardens. Dismanagement and property issues have degraded the original beauty of the garden: the ancient estate is now divided between different owners, breaking the garden’s original harmony.
Dear friends, we decided to visit J-J R park on Tuesday, 14 july 2015. Since there is no train or RER station in Ermenonville, we decided to go by car (it’s an about 50 minutes ride from our home in Suresnes). We woke early in the morning and we went through the Periphérique and the excellent and free Autoroute du Nord. As 14 july is the French national day, the road was almost empty. By Charles-de-Gaulle Airport we changed to A 104 and shortly after to N2 highways, where we enjoyed the show of seeing the taking off of the planes very close to us. There, the landscape changes, as we enter in the countryside. The wheat fields ready to be harvested extended vastly as golden oceans, both sides of the road.
Near the village of Plessis-Belleville we get off from the highway and we take the modest N330 road. From there, the way leading to Ermenonville and J-J R park is well indicated. We passed in front of a small Air France airfiel. I was surprised by the flatteness of the landscape, as I expected a rugged terrain as in La Chevreuse is. Anyway, we where driving directly to a big forestry mass.
Ermenonville is a nice, small French community. We did not see much commercial or even human activity. We passed through the village and we saw an open space and a round tower of indoubtful medieval aspect, so we realized that we were not far from the park or the castle and we decided to park the car right there, in a well conditioned, free public parking and get to the park by foot.
To gain the park entrance you must to cross the river. The reception building is in a corner. Inside we found an (unusual) gentle French attendant sorrounded by a lot of flyers from every tourist attraction in Oise département. After paying the 5 € fee, she offered us two maps of the park and adviced us to start de visit in the original starting point of Rousseau’s era (some 100 meters away from the present-day entrance).
KThe park seemed to be very ancient & wild. Indoubtfully, it knew better times concerning care. Sometimes we were not sure of being in an old park taken back by the forest or in a forest modified by human’s hand. But the mix of wilderness, old fabriques (decorative constructions) and loneliness (we were practically alone there, with the exception of the participants in a fishing contest) gave to the place a very charming, romantic taste, somewhat similar to Northern Navarre landscapes. It is a perfect place to meditate while you walk through.
We choose to sourround the lake, which is bordered by many impressive, big trees, in a clockwise sense. In the middle, it lays the (perhaps) most important spot of the garden: Poplar Island. There, Rousseau was first buried in 1778, and its remains stayed there until being traslated to Panthéon in Paris. I must acknowledge that it is a very impressive place. It is easy to imagine the people who came to pay its respects to the philosopher after his death.
After sit for a while, we climbed up to the western part of the park. There, the open landscape changes into a forest. Is there where most of ancient fabriques are located; we stopped in the (possibly) the most beautiful of all, the Temple of Modern Philosophy.
Walking through the forest both of us experienced a strange feeling of unrest, as if a ghost or witch could appear suddenly at any moment.
We left the park two hours and a half after our entry. The gentle woman of the reception adviced Merewyn to lunch in a nearby crêpérie. It was really a good choice. After lunch we marched through the so-called ‘Writer’s Trail’ to Chaalis Abbey, but it resulted of little interest. Before our depart we approached again to Ermenonville’s 18th century castle, now a luxury hotel, to take some photos. Unexpectedly, nobody came to kick us out so we went to the castle’s back side and took some nice shoots of the building and also of its Petit Parc.
After visiting a nearby village, we drove back to Paris without further complications, exhausted but happy. My personal conclusion is that J-J R’s park has suffered because lack of care an fragmentation of property. With no doubts, with appropiate care and re-unifying it with the Petit Parc would improve dramatically its beauty — it has a big potential. In any case, it is a unique place with a lovely romantic charm. Maybe it is not worth the ride from Paris to see it alone, but in my opinion any one-day or two-day trip to Oise countryside (maybe visiting also Senlis, Chantilly, or Royaumont Abbey) must include Jean-Jacques Rousseau Park.
TO GO FURTHER:
- Other beautiful, surviving examples of 18th century English Landscape gardens in Paris area include:
- Parc Monceau in Paris.
- Désert de Retz in Yvelines.
- Parc de Bagatelle in Paris.
- Petit Trianon and Hameau de la Reine in Versailles.