Even though Oise in Northern France, not far from Paris is usually missing from most travel itinerary, it is a revelation as Kalyani Majumdar found out after visiting this picturesque place with its landscape, people and history
As I bicycled my way through the expansive undulating green flatland on both sides of the road that met the blue sky, it seemed like an endless horizon. When I decided to undertake immersive travelling through volunteering on sustainable and organic farms across France, I had no idea what was in store for me here in Oise.
Digging into the history
The geographic location of Oise in Picardy region is strategic to many important events in history as it has always been the passage to Paris and thus played an important role in communication during the two World Wars. Occupied from September 1914 to March 1917, ravaged by the battles of 1918, this peaceful region has had its share of bloodshed and war.
It was also the first French department to be liberated, and even the signing of the Armistice took place in Compiègne Forest in Oise on 11 November 1918. Moreover, this region is also associated with the sugar embargo of the 19th century. During the Napoleonic war in the 1800s, the British had blocked the French trade routes with the Caribbean Islands which led to massive shortage of sugar in France. As a solution, Napoleon I introduced sugar beet to counter the sugar embargo. The fertile lands of Oise grew it in abundance and the region grew rich. Whether you are a history enthusiast or a nature lover, there is something here for everyone.
Located in the middle of Oise, Donjon de Vez is hard to miss with its imposing grey structure that is surrounded by lush green landscape. It is a medieval dungeon dating back to Gallo-Roman period. Initially, it was a structure mainly made of wood and stone that was built to protect the Gauls against the invasions by the Barbarians, of which nothing is left today. In 1214, Raoul Ducheim, who later Latinised his name and came to be known as d’ Estrees, re-planned, fortified and restored the structure.
He added the three-storied living quarters, some of which still remains. In 1360, his great-grandson Jehan de Vez added the pentagonal-shaped tower. The terrace consists of machicolations and perhaps it was the primary defense system. At its present state, it is maintained by Caroline and Francis Briest. Because of their efforts they have given a new lease of life to the structure. It showcases permanent art installations—sculptures, paintings and stained glass artworks. Especially on a nice sunny day one could easily spend few hours at the Vez.
Sacy-le-Petit is a commune in Oise and dates back to pre-historic and Roman period. One can either drive down from Paris or board a train from Paris to Pont-Sainte-Maxence. There are taxis available at the station. The winding roads are dotted with houses made of red bricks mostly. The villages of Picardy region has a distinct culture and architectural style that can be seen in this commune as well. Before visiting this place while looking through images I had come across a photograph from 1940, of an abandoned French tank sitting on a farmland in Sacy-le-Petit, being inspected by the Germans.
It is the same commune, yet its serene beauty belies the gruesome bloodshed that this region has seen. From May to July would be the best time to visit this region when the flowers are in full bloom in the gardens, and farm lands are green. Sacy-le-Petit is majorly an agricultural area. There are inns and hotels available here for a comfortable stay. The popular places to visit nearby includes Compiègne.
Chateau de Sacy
I was fortunate to volunteer at the Chateau de Sacy in Sacy-le-Petit during the same week as the festival of L’Oise Verte et Bleu, L’événement Grandeur. It is a festival to celebrate and discover the culture of Oise that includes outdoor activities, local culinary feasts and so on. Chateau de Sacy is situated in the middle of a large organic garden and is surrounded by a lovely collection of tall trees. The chateau is steeped in history and is closely linked to the history of Sacy-le-Petit. In the 19th century, Claude-François and Madeleine-Félicité Dupressoir had decided to take over this house and brought along things that were dear to them from their old castle, items such as, woodwork, trumeau, fireplaces and plates, the balustrade Louis XIV.
Later on, as the region became rich by growing sugar beet during the sugar embargo they turned the two farms and a garden into a chateau. The current occupant is Hermine Williams, who inherited the house and is a descendant of Madeleine-Félicité and Claude-François Dupressoir. There are organised tours of the Chateau de Sacy that should not be missed. Cycling and walking are the best way to see the sights and mingle with the friendly locals. Every weekend there is a flea market nearby, and is a great opportunity to immerse into the local culture.
Perhaps the fact that this region of France has remained free from tourist traps, that it is still in its pristine form. For me, even now, Oise is embedded in my memory. It still continues to stir my imagination as I can still feel the wind in my hair and remember the intriguing stories that I have heard, some of which are now part of my story.
Photo Credit: Kalyani Majumdar