Senlis is a town of some 16,000 inhabitants just 25 miles/40 km north of Paris. It's close to Charles de Gaulle (CDG) airport and the town and château of Chantilly. I was in Senlis [sã-LEESS] two weeks ago and I was struck by the medieval character of the town's narrow, winding streets. It seems untouched by the passage of time — at least the old center of town does.
Central Senlis was declared a "protected zone" that covers nearly 100 acres in the town. Medieval buildings and many monuments have been carefully restored. The town organizes a varied program of cultural events to keep things lively, from what I've read.
The cost of keeping the old town authentic and interesting is subsidized in part by tax monies flowing in from what is called une zone d'activités — a business park — outside town on the A1 autoroute that leads to nearby Paris on the south and Lille and Brussels to the north.
Senlis itself is about 2,000 years old, as far as can be determined. It was a Celtic city before the Roman conquest. For a time under and after the Romans, the town's name was Augustomagus, meaning "Augustus' market." It had status as a ville libre, of which there were only 10 in Gaul under the Roman administration, paying tribute directly to the emperor.
The temples, triumphal arches, palaces, and baths built by the Romans all disappeared over the centuries, with the exception a the Roman arena, of which visible ruins remain. Details of the town's history during the Middle Ages are sketchy, but Charlemagne and other Frankish kings weren't strangers to Senlis. In the year 987, it is said, Hugues Capet was elected king by his barons, meeting in Senlis. The Capetian dynasty — 37 French kings — lived on for nearly 900 years.
As late as the 13th century, judging by maps from that period, Senlis was a larger town than Paris. It was prosperous and known for its leather goods, woolens, and furs. It was an important market town for the region, and there were annual fairs and festivals. Senlis was even a wine town. The soil was sandy and light all around the town and was considered perfect for grapes. Even the king owned a vineyard there.
You get the idea. French towns have thousands of years of history behind them. Senlis is a beautiful place to visit, and it's especially close to the big Paris airport at Roissy. It's not quite a suburb of Paris, but it certainly is part of the larger Paris region, economically and geographically speaking.
When Walt and I arrived in France eight years ago, flying into CDG with our dog, Senlis was our first stop after we left the airport. It was a good place to take the dog for a walk after her 10 hour ordeal in the baggage compartment — she was fine, actually — and to get some lunch. Senlis has that old French feel and when you get there you know you're not in America any more, for sure.