Laon

Centre of Laon, with the cathedral Notre-Dame of Laon in background

Laon is a city in the Aisne département of Picardy, in northern France.

Get in

There are regular train services from Paris, leaving from Gare du Nord. As of July 2012, prices from Paris to Laon average about €23 one way (second class). Also regular trains from Reims, or Amiens. The train station in Laon is located in the new town, at the foot of the medieval city which is on top of a hill.

With a car, you have an interchange (number 13) on the A26 motorway (from Calais to Reims)

Get around

Walking from the new town to the medieval part of the city is certainly doable, but only if you're fit and don't have heavy luggage with you—the 300 ft climb is a steep one. There is a funicular railway called POMA which runs from the train station up to the Hotel de Ville (town hall) every five minutes or so throughout the day. It takes about 3 minutes and costs €1.10 one way. There is also a local bus service. If you're bringing a car with you, you should probably park it in the new town, as there is very little parking available in the medieval Haute Ville.

See

Two of the oxen at the northwest tower of Notre-Dame Cathedral

The fine early Gothic cathedral is one of the finest in France, with openwork towers and a four-storey nave elevation. Its architecture influenced many other medieval European cathedrals, including that of Notre Dame in Paris. The interior is extremely light and spacious. The west towers feature an octagonal top storey with square turrets at the angles on top of the square bottom storey. They are decorated with the figures of sixteen oxen, said to commemorate a miraculous ox that appeared to pull a cartload of stone to the hilltop site.

Nearby stand the Hotel Dieu (medieval hospital and almshouse), the cathedral chapter, and the town's museum. The museum in particular has a fine collection of classical antiquities, and the striking 'transi' tomb (showing the effigy of a decaying corpse) of 14th century clergyman and royal physician Guillaume de Harcigny. In the museum's grounds stands a fine twelfth century octagonal Templar chapel, newly renovated.

At the other end of the medieval town, the remains of the abbey of Saint-Martin-de-Laon include its church and some of its associated buildings, including the cloister garden (now the city library's courtyard) and some of the chapter house.

It's worthwhile taking a walk around the old town, admiring the houses—almost all built between the 12th and the late 18th centuries—and the spectacular view from the town walls out across the Picard plain or hills.

Do

Climb the cathedral tower. The tourist office (very warm welcome), in a twelfth century building next to the cathedral, arranges tours, and it is best to reserve your tickets before time as numbers are limited.

Visit the underground (see in tourist office)

Walk in the medieval city, marvellous.

Buy

Pave de Laon sweet pastilles.

A famous local cheese : Le Maroilles. Strong and tasty. If you buy one, provide a cooler

Eat

Gothic stained glass windows in the Cathedral

Les Arcades (place du Général Leclerc) is centrally located and good for people watching, but over-priced and the food isn't great. The service was also pretty indifferent.

Brasserie Le Parvis's (3 Place du Parvis Gaultier de Mortagne) main selling point is its location—sitting outside, you can have your meal while looking up at the cathedral. The service was better here but still a little distracted.

Drink

Brasserie Le Parvis (outdoor)

Also close to the cathedral in a pedestrian plaza called "Marché aux herbes" : Créperie Agora (outdoor)

Sleep

Hotel-Restaurant de la Banniere de France is located just behind the Hotel de Ville in the historic centre of the city. Old and cosy hotel, appreciated by English travellers

The Hotel des Chevaliers, located on the rue des Seruriers just beside the Hotel de Ville (town hall) is good for the budget traveller. The upstairs rooms have been tastefully renovated; the rooms on the first floor are in a little bit of a Seventies time warp but all are comfortable and spotlessly clean. The owner is very friendly, lots of good suggestions for places to go.

A cosy B&B : La Maison des 3 Rois Chambres d'hôtes, located 17 rue St Martin, near the historic centre

Modern hotels also, but not in historic city : Campanile, Ibis, Ibis Budget, Hotel Saint Vincent, Première classe, Fasthotel. You need a car.

Go next

Little beautiful villages, around south of Laon : Bruyeres, Nouvion le Vineux, Presles, Urcel (old churches), or Bourgignon (village of the LeNain brothers, both painters)

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