Cité internationale de la langue française: why you should go!


Northern FranceCultural Heritage

Benjamin Gavaudo / CMN
© Benjamin Gavaudo / CMN

Reading time: 0 minPublished on 13 February 2024

Visiting another castle in France? Yes, but not just any castle! The Château de Villers-Cotterêts, the seat of the Dukes of Orléans, has been restored under the aegis of the Centre des Monuments Nationaux and transformed into a unique cultural centre: the Cité Internationale de la Langue Française. Located in an exceptional forest north of Paris, the birthplace of some of the most famous writers in French literature, this place of discovery and learning offers a fascinating visual and aural journey to the heart of a language that is constantly renewing itself, from cinema to rap!

Playing with words

The permanent exhibition at the Cité internationale de la langue française is a fun way to discover the infinite richness of French as a world language, with some 150 objects, documents and works of art and around 60 interactive displays in 15 rooms. Visitors can discover Stromae's "mots-valises" while listening to his songs, follow the evolution of certain words into French via a 360° projection inside a dome, listen to King François I or Joan of Arc, find the perfect book in a "magic library"... Young and old alike can even compete on a giant word mix grid and have fun comparing the regional variations of names: we say pain au chocolat in Paris and chocolatine in the south-west of France! By the way, do you know why the Château de Villers-Cotterêts is so closely associated with the French language? It was here in 1539 that King François I signed the decree that gave French official status at the expense of Latin. Can you decipher the text displayed in the last room of the tour?

Admire a unique architectural heritage

A hunting lodge when it was first built (1532) under François I, and then a fief of the Dukes of Orléans, this castle, much loved by the kings of France, now boasts a priceless decoration typical of the early French Renaissance. Sculptures, mullioned windows, defence towers inherited from the Middle Ages... Five years of major renovation work have restored the splendour of this important residence in French history. Among the architectural treasures of the royal residence, don't miss the grand "royal" staircase with its coffered panels decorated with sculptures of salamanders, foliage and fleurs-de-lis, and the Italian-influenced Saint-Nicolas chapel with its abundance of winged cherubs, cornucopias, garlands and ribb.

Attend a live show under the great glass roof

The heart of the Cité internationale de la langue française, the Jeu de Paume courtyard, has been transformed into a spectacular atrium. At a height of 10 metres, a huge glass roof with a rhomboid mesh reminiscent of Renaissance motifs creates a "lexical sky" in which hangs an incredible variety of words, from slang to regional expressions and more literary forms. It's a treasure trove to be admired day and night, not only on the tour but also during the shows. Whether it's literature, performing arts, visual arts or digital arts, the cultural offer promises to be as rich as the French language itself!

Explore a land of major writers of the French language

Alexandre Dumas, a holy monster of French literature, as well as Jean de La Fontaine, universally known for his fables, Jean Racine, a great author of classical theatre, and Paul Claudel, poet, writer and man of the theatre... All these masters of the French language have one thing in common: they were born and often grew up in the Villers-Cotterêts region of Hauts-de-France! An ideal place to discover their literary worlds. A stone's throw from the Château de Villers-Cotterêts, you can visit the Musée Alexandre Dumas, where the memory of the prolific author of The Three Musketeers* and The Count of Monte Cristo* lives on, and in La Ferté-Milon, the Musée Racine, labelled Maison des Illustres, where the playwright spent his childhood. You can also visit the Musée Jean de La Fontaine in Château-Thierry, in the house where he was born (reopening in 2024), and the house of Camille and Paul Claudel, where the writer and sculptor took his first artistic steps.

Breathing fresh air in a green setting

The writer Alexandre Dumas praised "the beautiful beech trees with their polished silvery shells" and "the beautiful oak trees with their dark, rough bark". After this cultural bath, you can take a big natural bath in the grounds of the Château de Villers-Cotterêts and the neighbouring Retz forest, classified as an exceptional forest, a distinction shared by only 15 forests in France. On foot, on horseback or by bike, you can explore its 13,000 hectares in search of the most remarkable trees: one of the oldest oaks is said to be 365 years old! There are a dozen walks, including a 14-kilometre literary walk in the company of Catherine Blum, the heroine of Alexandre Dumas's novel of the same name, considered the first French detective story. A 30-kilometre cycle route will soon link the Retz forest with the château of Pierrefonds, restored in the 19th century by the famous architect Viollet-Le-Duc, and the château of Compiègne, a jewel of French neoclassicism. The Cité internationale de la langue française is also a stop on the European Route d'Artagnan, Europe's first cultural equestrian route, which follows the footsteps of the famous musketeer as imagined by Alexandre Dumas.

Route d'Artagnan

Find out more: - Discover the Cité internationale de la langue française - Exploring Hauts-de-France, north of Paris - All the content on the tour is available in French, English and German. An application is also available in Italian, Spanish, Dutch, Arabic and Chinese, as well as in French sign language.

How to get there By train: 45 minutes by regional train (TER) from Gare du Nord in Paris.

Also worth reading: In the footsteps of famous people from the Hauts-de-France region Cultural stopover in Chantilly


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