Dec 19th, 2023, 10:00 AM

Discovering Dourdan

By Madeleine Kruger
Dourdan village. Image credit: Madeleine Kruger
A Breath Of Fresh Air Beyond Parisian Chaos

As Paris contends with the weight of being the European city with the fourth deadliest air pollution (according to “The Lancet Planetary Health”), the yearning for a space of tranquility to take a moment and breathe, slow down and be present with our surroundings apart from the urban chaos becomes preeminent. It’s in this pursuit that Dourdan, a small village just south of Paris, takes on the role of a serene exhale beyond the city limits. Whether you’re aspiring to clear your mind amidst the stress and intensity of the city or to take a quick nature retreat without leaving the Île-de-France region, Dourdan serves as the perfect day trip to take a moment to feel the air inside your lungs and listen to the stillness of the French countryside.

Dourdan forest entrance. Image credit: Madeleine Kruger

The town is conveniently accessible by the RER C from any stop in the city (ex: Paris Austerlitz, Musée d’Orsay, Champs de Mars, etc.) towards Dourdan la Forêt, where you can either exit in the town of Dourdan at the Dourdan stop or in the heart of the forest at the last stop, Dourdan la Forêt. A quick one-hour and 30-minute commute is all that separates metropolitan France from the lush green hills, gurgling rivers and thick forests that border the cityscape. 

Come in the early hours of the morning and take a walk around the village before anyone else is awake—down the narrow, winding streets that weave their way in and out of the forest, lined with the quiet, traditional houses of rural France. Cobblestone paths lead the way to the edge of the forest, where you can find little wooden bridges over creeks and fields of tall grass that sway in whichever way the wind blows. Consider taking a walk into the Dourdan National Forest covering 16 kilometers of woodlands and two mountains separated by the Orge Valley, a haven of oak and chestnut trees home to stags, roe deer, badgers and hedgehogs.

Alleyway in Dourdan. Image credit: Madeleine Kruger

After a morning of exploration, consider taking a lunch at the Brasseries Blanche de Castille, which offers a sunlit outdoor terrace in the summer and a cozy fireside experience in the winter. Even just to take a moment to enjoy a coffee, the cozy and welcoming atmosphere amidst the town and the forest is a perfect place to sit down and relax. 

Perhaps endeavor more into the historical side of Dourdan, exploring the ancient stone church resting in the middle of the woods and the town’s main attraction, its fortified castle, dating all the way back to the Middle Ages. Built in 1222 by Phillippe Auguste, the castle is still standing with its perfectly preserved Ogival arches, defense towers and terrace for panoramic views of the entire town and the extent of the surrounding forests. Or maybe give thought to getting lost within the web of overgrown dirt paths throughout the forest as Louis VII did in 1163, where upon becoming King, built and dedicated The Ouÿe Abbey as a thanks to the people of Dourdan for finding him.

The town of Dourdan. Image credit: Madeleine Kruger

Dourdan has a unique, quiet serenity, an essence of bygone eras intermingling with our contemporary age, offering respite and solace among the whispering leaves of its wooded terrain. At the intersection of history and nature, the town beckons travelers to immerse themselves among the wildlife and observe the rough-hewn surfaces of ancient stone walls, feeling the weathered textures of the Saint-Germain-l’Auxerrois church and fortified castle that have withstood the test of time. Whether you intend to spend your time in Dourdan in a state of quiet reflection or to treat the new terrain with the pursuits of discovery, the possibilities for exploration in this little village on the outskirts of Paris are endless.