Lyons-la-Foret is a picturesque village, hidden in the heart of one of the oldest and largest forests of Normandy, where the beech trees are several centuries old.
Like many pretty villages in Normandy, there are magnificent half-timbered houses, pink brick or tinted cob style, typical of the region and mostly dating from the 17th to the 18th century. This miniature medieval village with 800 inhabitants has tearooms, cosy restaurants, and antiques shops luring you in…
What to fall in love with at Lyons-la-Foret
You won’t be surprised to discover that many artists have made their way to the Eure department to stay in this village. Claude Monet and Jean Dollfus captured the beauty in their paintings. The composer Maurice Ravel penned some his most wonderful compositions in Lyons-la-Foret. Poet Isaac de Benserade, a great rival of Molière at the court of Louis XIV, lived there in the 17th century.
Lyons-la-Foret maybe recognized by eagle eyed movie fans – it was the location for two different movies versions of Gustave Flaubert’s novel “Madame Bovary”, one by Jean Renoir in the 1920’s and later by Claude Chabrol in 1990.
The village has 11 remarkable heritage elements or Historic Monuments. Here are some you shouldn’t miss when you visit, and don’t forget to pop to the tourist office. The friendly team are happy to advise you on places to visit.
The history of Lyons-la-Foret
The village was built on the border between the former Kingdom of France and the Duchy of Normandy. Records from 936 reveal that William I, Duke of Normandy used to stay there. He was fond of the forest and established a vast residence there. In 1060, William the Conqueror ordered the construction of an important fortress in Lyons, which was considered a strategic location. Henry I of England, also known as “Henri Beauclerc”, son of William the Conqueror completed the build.
Lyons-la-Forêt became French in 1202 when king Philippe Augustus of France conquered the city and the castle. From then on, the castle of Lyons became a royal residence. Several French kings sojourned here, lured by the forest and good hunting grounds. The English took Lyons during the Hundred Years’ War and dismantled the castle in 1436.
It stood where today you will find the famous Place Benserade in the center of Lyons-la-Forêt. The streets in the town centre form a central ring around the old feudal mound.
What to visit in Lyons-la-Forêt
The covered market
A must in Lyons-la-Forêt! It is in the heart of the village. This covered market dates from the 14th century and has never been modified. It was built with oak wood from the Lyons forest. In 1776, the Duke of Penthièvre carried out a restoration of the covered market to protect it. The local producers market takes place three times a week – Thursday, Saturday and Sunday mornings. Exhibitions by contemporary artists and concerts also take place at this classified as a historic monument.
Maurice Ravel’s house
You will find Maurice Ravel’s house, known as “Le Fresne”, in rue d’Enfer. He lived here until the 1920s and notably composed the Tombeau de Couperin while there. Locally the street is called “Hell” because it is steep and was difficult for horse-drawn carriages and walkers. Unfortunately, this house cannot be visited as it now belongs to a private individual.
Les 3 water mills
Following the river through the village, will bring you to the Place des Trois Moulins. The three water mills were built in the 14th century and in fact Lyons was one of the first places to have electric lighting in France, powered by one of the mills. There is a small but pretty garden popular with petanque players.
The village was originally called Saint-Denis, and the church of Saint Denis dates mostly from the 15th century, and partially from the 12th century (sections of checkered sandstone and flint walls) and 16th century (bell tower, north chapel, turret and vault).
The Cordeliers convent
The Cordeliers convent was built in 1624 by Jean Le Blanc and Marin Anquetil, prosecutors for King Louis XIII, and by Jean de Courcol. At the time, up to eleven monks lived there on an almost self-sufficient basis and wealthy women were welcomed until the French Revolution. In 1793, the convent was declared a national property and converted into a fabric printing factory, then a glassworks and is now privately owned.
The façade of the Benedictine convent, a classified Historic Monument, is built on the old ramparts of the village. Made of brick, chalk and flint it dates from the 12th century and was used as a hunting lodge by King Charles IX. It was not until the 16th century that it became a convent. Today, it is a primary school.
Take a detour
Lovely Les Andelys and its castle Chateau Gaillard is located 25 minutes away by car
Monet’s house and garden at Giverny are 45 minutes away by car
How to get there
There’s no direct public transport to Lyons-la-Foret. You can take a train from Paris to Gisors or Rouen but there’s no onward bus service, so you’d need to take a taxi.
Chantille de Lincourt is a photographer who specialises in small villages and French heritage. Find out more on her blog www.villagesetpatrimoine.fr