I'll start this trip report with the last place we saw on Sunday. It's called Le Tortoir, and I don't know why. The term « tortoir » seems to have something to do with a kind of stick that was used to wind up and tighten down a cord or rope holding a load on a wagon. (The Robert dictionary says: Bâton qui sert à tordre et à serrer une corde (pour assujettir une charge sur une voiture, un bât, etc.). Tortoir or tordoir is also an old term for a press used to extract oil from seeds or grains.
Le Tortoir that I'm talking about, located near the big towns of Laon and Saint-Quentin in Picardy, is an old priory, or prieuré in French. A priory is a monastery run by a prior, who doesn't rank quite as high in the Catholic hierarchy as an abbot, who presides over an abbey. The priory was home to a religious community. This one is in the northern French region called Picardy.
The priory called Le Tortoir dates from the 14th century, and it was a leper colony or hospital at one point in its history, according the what I've read. The fact is, Le Tortoir is in a valley and deep in the woods, kind of isolated even today, near the village called Saint-Nicolas-aux-Bois. It is privately owned and no tours are given. All you can do is admire it from the road.
We went there this afternoon after have a look at the town of Senlis, which is impressively picturesque in a medieval way. It's not far north of Paris, and very close to Chantilly. Then we drove through Villers-Cotterêts, an old town where the Renaissance French king François Ier liked to spent time, hunting in the surrounding forest. It was at Villers-Cotterêts in 1539 that King François signed a decree making French, not Latin, the official language of his kingdom for administrative purposes.
Then we drove on to Soissons, which has a beautiful cathedral that had to be nearly completely rebuilt after the Great War of 1914-18. We had lunch in a crêperie. Soissons, a much bigger town (pop. 30,000 or so) than the others we visited, seemed almost strangely quiet and deserted on a hot, muggy Sunday afternoon. Maybe all the inhabitants went out into the countryside or to the coast for the long holiday weekend that just ended.
Finally, late in the afternoon, we left the main road, visiting the ruins of the old fortified Château de Coucy and seeking out two — yes, two — priories at Saint-Nicolas-aux-Bois (Saint-Nicholas-in-the-Woods), in a surprisingly thickly wooded valley. The valley landscape has a lot of little lakes all around, which makes it and even the most modern house look picturesque — reflections and all, you know. Greenery.
I was exhausted by the end of the day, after getting very little sleep the night before because of meterological mugginess and the buzzing, biting mosquito(es) of Paris. But I did okay driving, enjoyed my day with CHM, and I'll be ready for another busy day today. It was raining when I went to bed last night, but it just cloudy this morning.