For a taste of Deauville (the Normandy resort town) on the fringes of Paris, you simply need to visit Enghien-les-Bains, à spa settlement which has been populated since at least the Middle Ages and perhaps even earlier.
Though best known for its casino today, the lake provides a gentle and peaceful escape from Paris and is home to vestiges from the universal exhibition, as well as a myriad of cafés, bars, and bistros. Here’s your ultimate guide to the best things to do in Enghien-les-Bains, as well as things to know before you go.
A brief history of Enghien-les-Bains
If you thought that the name ‘Enghien-les-Bains’ doesn’t sound very French, then you would be correct. In actual fact, the name comes from the town of Enghien near Mons in Belgium. Enghien-les-Bains has been referred to as such since the 1600s, when what was once a suburbs of the nearby city of Montmorency (what is now Enghien was little more than a fishing community) was inherited by the princes of Condé.
The Flemish branch of the French Royal family renamed the town of Montmorency as the duchy of Enghien. Though Montmorency never officially changed its name, the swampy marshland surrounding Enghien retained the new name.
It wasn’t until the 19th-century that the -les-Bains part of the name was added to both distinguish the French settlement from the city of Enghien in Belgium, as well as denote the spa-resort nature of the town. Since the 1800s, Enghien-les-Bains has welcomed visitors to its thermal spas and baths. The town is also home to one of the largest and most popular casinos in France.
Things to do in Enghien-les-Bains
The chief purpose many have for escaping from the hustle and bustle of busy Paris to the countryside is relaxation. As a result, most of the activities on offer around the lake are of a gentle nature and it’s incredibly easy to forget that you’re under a fifteen-minute train ride away from one of the most popular cities in the world.
Stroll around Lac Enghien
Of all the activities to enjoy in Enghien, one of my favourites is to take the 3.3 km walking route along the banks of the water and soak up the views. Around the lake, you’ll soon discover of parks, benches, and green spaces where you can simply sit, relax, and watch the world go by.
Admire Belle Epoque architecture
One of the most gorgeous aspects of Enghien-les-Bains is that there are plenty of buildings from the Belle Epoque era dotted across the shores of the lake. Some particularly interesting structures of note include plenty of wooden-framed villas constructed after the Normandy style, as well as Swiss-style chalets. Look even closer and you’ll also spy neo-classical villas, second-empire structures, and even a handful of Chateaux.
L’Église Saint-Joseph (Church of Saint Joseph)
One of the main historical buildings in the town is that of the church of Saint-Joseph, which can be found just steps away from the main thoroughfare which makes its way through the heart of the town. The first church was financed by a wealthy couple in town and was constructed between 1858 and 1860. The church was again modified in 1866 and in 1927 which resulted in the structure you can see today.
Theatre and Casino
Of course, no guide to Enghien-les-Bains would be complete without mentioning the theatre and casino. An all in one building on the fringes of the lake, the first casino was installed in the town in 1901, but was soon replaced by a newer building in 1909.
During the First World War, the structure was used as a military hospital. Then a law prevented gambling and the use of the building as a casino from 1920 right up until 1931 when the prohibition was lifted and the casino was once more allowed to open its doors. The last restoration of the casino and theatre took place in 2005. Visit today and you’ll soon discover a peaceful rose garden nearby.
Paris to Enghien-les-Bains day trip
Though you might want to make a weekend of your trip to Enghien-les-Bains, if you’re shorter on time, or simply wish to be whisked away from the city for a mere few hours, then you can easily take a day trip from Paris to Enghien-les-Bains.
The journey time between the two destinations is a mere 13 minutes on a transilien train (line H) from Gare du Nord. I personally recommend picking up some picnic supplies while in Paris before departing to Enghien-les-Bains as local markets and supermarkets are fewer than in the French capital. At Gare du Nord, there are also a variety of takeaway shops and small supermarkets.
Once in Enghien-les-Bains, there is a tourist office just across from the train station where you can get leaflets and brochures depicting guided walks (one for around the town and the other for a self-guided tour around the lake, which is the route I opted to take). The tourist office is open on a daily basis, though closed for lunch between 13:00 and 14:00. The brochures and leaflets detailing walks around the town and lake are free and the tourism staff are friendly and professional.