Bonneuil en Valois France…..A train journey of about 45 minutes from Paris Gare de Nord to Crepe en Valois and a slow drive for another 20 minutes towards Emmeville through the thick Retz forest, unfolded into a charming scenery of green, valleys, canola fields,foxes, meadows, grazing cows and horses. The road again wound into the forest and the drive rushed through tall trees, shadows, sun rays, paused seeing scared, wild deer and “slow speed on sighting”sign board warnings of wild boar or animal crossings. to finally open out into a colorful, quiet town.
Bonneuil en Valois was a small town was made up of traditional medieval houses, of which some were renovated. The unpolluted air was filled with a wandering smell of fresh grass, pine, fragrances of flowers in gardens, and wild bushes. Above all, standing tall upon a hillock overlooking the habitation of a few hundred homes was a primitive church, belonging to the 10th century. This had been declared a heritage monument and was under restoration.
The habitation was a fairy tale setting, clean, having houses with chimneys, small gardens with statues of elves among flowering shrubs, with blooming creepers and vines entwining the fences. Most of them had trimmed shrubs that also served as a fence, as well as a home to many nesting tiny birds and sparrows. They lined beside a motorway that climbed up and down the uneven mountainous terrain while passing through the quite town.
A local boulangerie and a small dairy farm, apart from farming, were the only commercial activity that could be seen. Many of the people were farmers, retired pensioners or those working in Paris who visit home during the weekends. I walked through this peaceful countryside to the town center which had a Marie or municipal office, post office, a play school and a world war memorial. Sitting on a bench under the cool shade of tall trees, I watched children disembark from a school bus that had arrived from the neighboring town of Emmeville. My nieces were among them and they hugged me a warm welcome, before holding my hands and walking me on the pedestrian side walks,towards home.
The afternoon was still young and after lunch I stepped out to check out on what the town had to offer. I climbed the easy steps leading to the church and enjoyed the enchanting view of town from atop the hill. The church of St.Martin, looked ancient, mossy but yet fascinating. It created an aura about the medieval architecture built upon the sand tone walls, marble altar, cobble stone flooring as well as the tall steeple used as bell tower which later came to have a clock. The peculiar rounded pillars on one side of the church looked Roman and was quite contrary to the square pillars on the opposite side of it. This I presumed, could be due to a later construction, replacing the ancient, that might have weakened or broken down at some point of time. The pillars supported heavy wooden beams with cross frames, stacked with clay tiles, that made up for the roof. It was a peaceful feeling to pray under this roof, which unlike in most other French churches were of steel and tin which had replaced those which were either burnt down during the revolution or during the wars. The altar and tabernacle although simple, commanded respect making me feel that I was treading hallowed ground. A wooden pulpit decorated with flower pots suggested that there were no sermons preached for quite some time. An old Latin bible and a few statues adorned the corners of the entrance to the church. Coming out of it and walking around the church, I got a glimpse of the cemetery and noticed tombstones dating back to the 17th century, revered with vases holding fresh flowers. The many revered tombstones suggested that this town had many good people both among the living and the dead. Sitting on a wall opposite to the church, I enjoyed the cool breeze. musing upon how the European Renaissance, Reformation or the World wars had passed through this town without making any major impact.
Fancying the view of the pretty houses down town, I recollected on the many pages from town’s events, which had made it proud by getting into the books of heritage. They revealed that in the early 10th century it was inhabited by the Roman farmers and hunters. It had been known by many names of which the long standing ones were, Bonogilum and Bonolium. It later, became a hunting ground for the Merovingian kings of France. Transforming into a place of rest it soon became a court to Charle le Chauve the grandson of the great French King Charle Magne. The last days of Jean of Arc prior to her being lured into captivity near Beauvais, was said to have been in the abbey up in the forest around Bonieul. History since then which passed through the dynastic wars moved away from here to a fairy tale castle at Pierrefonds nearby and later during the French revolution and the Napoleonic phases to neighboring, Compeigne, the second capital of France. The Revolution brought to town governance and a mayor. The world wars thereafter left it in and out of German occupation and influence but however this habitation was considered, cared and loved as a valley of peace, by every one who came in, resided or just passed through it.
I climbed down hill and walked around town with a feeling of tranquility I had never experienced before. To sum it all up, I tell you; that it is here I enjoyed, a colorful fragrant stage called nature, Where the wind becomes a musician, humming tunes through grassy meadows, drumming flutters in leaves, to the songs of chirpy birds. It was here, when some times the slow drizzle or falling rain accompanied by a trickle of a flowing steam, strummed chords to the croaking toads and creaking night insects, playing songs that one could never, ever have thought of. Bongolium, Bonolium or Bonneuil was the derived from the name of a river flowing nearby. This name in Italian or in Latin begins with ” Bono” meaning good and in French “bonne” which too meant “good”. Yes, Bonneuil was good to me. It gave me great satisfaction to have been here and witness a still surviving house of prayer, where I was enchanted by the sound of natural music and where I allowed nature to write a few pages of peace into my life. Bonneuil is truly a traditional little wonderland of quite beauty,hatmony of civilizations and charm; which surely deserves at least a day’s visit while you are travelling in or around France.