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In the Upper Chevreuse Valley, when the sun comes out, the tops come down. Of the convertibles, I mean. That’s how you know spring is finally here; under the sunshine of the newly verdant trees, open-topped red cabriolets, sleek motorbikes and packs of colourful cyclists compete for space on the twisting, turning roads. There are castles and châteaux, crumbling medieval abbeys and watermills, and a lovely, meandering stroll along the petits ponts of the Yvette river. It’s a short drive from Paris, only an hour or so to the southeast. Paris is exquisite, but here, the slow-moving river bordered by undulating green hills, dotted with stone houses and church steeples is a fairy-tale setting. Officially known as the Parc Naturel régional Haute Vallée de Chevreuse, the area encompasses more than 25,000 hectares, and there’s a lot to see. Chevreuse This charming petite cité médiévale, which gives its name to the valley, is home to one of the most recognisable sites in the area - the Château de la Madeleine. The castle fortress casts a protective eye on the village below from its hilltop perch, as it has done for over 1000 years. It was named for the Saint Marie-Madeleine Chapel, built in the 13th century, but unfortunately destroyed prior to the French Revolution. Chevreuse was considered a prime position, marking the boundary between the duchy of Normandy and France, and its prosperous tanning industry made it a wealthy town.
The castle was constructed in the 11th century to keep the inhabitants safe from pillagers, and later fortified during centuries of war; only the original stone keep remains. It is free to visit, and the main tourist office of the region, the Maison du Parc, can be found inside the castle grounds. It’s a steep drive, cycle or climb to the top, up the sharp Chemin Jean Racine, named for the 16th century poet who lived in one of the castle’s towers for a while, but there’s a pleasantly shady footpath for your walk back down to the town. After visiting the small centre ville, call in to The Alchemist, a former herbalist shop and now acclaimed sirop (syrup) bar and boutique where they create the most sublime concoctions. Sit outside on the terrace, with a view to the Château de la Madeleine above and sip a revitalising mix of Verveine Gingembre or a sweet and refreshing Fraise à la menthe. Don’t leave without popping inside to choose from the gorgeous selection of artisanal syrups to take with you. Through the village of Chevreuse runs a tiny offshoot of the Yvette river, gently traversing timeworn cottages, ancient wash-houses, and a medieval tannery. There are 22 petits ponts, or little bridges, that span the river, crossing various pathways. A popular walk for locals and visitors, this promenade is hidden behind high fences sandwiched between the backs (or
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