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Gazeteer of France’s great oak woods – Compiègne, the king’s hunting ground

Gazeteer of France’s great oak woods – Compiègne, the king’s hunting ground

Published in October 2018, the book The oak in majesty, from forest to wine highlights the concept of forest terroir: a specific soil, aspect, and rainfall, as well as a particular exposure to sunlight, to which should be added the species or variety of tree, the density of plantation, as well as average age, all of which will influence the grain and quality of the wood. The value of a mature high forest will thus depend on both the terroir and in the way in which it has been “led,” as French winegrowers say, or managed, in the words of the forester.

The book, fully illustrated with photographies, compile, through a gazeteer with a lot of details about geography, mesoclimate and history, a list of twenty-six beautiful oak wood forests, as the forest of Compiègne.


The forest of Compiègne, the third largest national forest in France, forms a circle some 14 kilometers (8½ miles plus) in circumference to the northeast of Paris, and covers 14,300 hectares (35,335 acres). With a perimeter that has hardly altered since the Middle Ages, this ancient hunting preserve owes its fame to the kings of France. Such continuity has favored the great oaks, which need time to adapt to change, both climatic and political...

The beech is master here, occupying 41% of the forest, benefitting from 650 mm (25½ in.) of rainfall a year that falls on an essentially sandy soil with a limestone subsoil. In this traditional forest configuration of oak plus beech, cohabitation between common (20%) and sessile (7%) oak is harmonious. The forest is of mainly continental type, hence the prevalence of pedunculate oaks that need more water. Other broadleaf trees (23%) and conifers (9%) complete a forest cover of exceptional richness. 5,600 plant and 6,600 animal species have been counted, not including the raccoons that have been in the area since 2010. The forest is of moderate altitude, from 30 to 140 meters (100 to 460 feet), like most of those in the Paris region.

“We receive about three million visitors a year, with the châteaux of Compiègne, Pierrefonds, and the Clairière de l’Armistice,” explains Michel Leblanc, territorial officer for the ONF, “and the public expects a natural look.” The foresters are therefore careful not only to maintain small plots of old trees, as in the bioreserve of the Grands Monts, but now they do their best to renew the old beech groves with sessile oaks, that are better adapted to climate warming. Since it requires a century and a half to “make” an oak, a tree has to be planted today if we wish it to reach maturity in 2170.


Find out the entire gazeteer of France’s great oak woods, and much more, in The oak in majesty, from forest to wine written by Sylvain Charlois and Thierry Dussard.