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Le Creusot
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LE CREUSOT means one thing to French ears: the Schneider iron and steelworks, maker of the first French locomotive in 1838, the first steamship in 1839, the 75mm field gun – mainstay of World War I artillery – and the ironwork of the Pont Alexandre-III and the Gare d'Austerlitz in Paris. The last Schneider died in 1960, whereupon the company was broken up, and a number of different companies now carry on the tradition: Creusot-Loire manufactures specialized steels for the French military and nuclear industry, while Alstom manufactures parts of the TGV.

The town's main attraction is the Écomusée le Creusot-Montceau in the Château de la Verrerie on place Schneider (June to mid-Sept Mon–Fri 10am–noon & 1–6pm, Sat & Sun 3–7pm; mid-Sept to May Mon–Fri 10am–noon & 2–6pm, Sat & Sun 2–6pm; €5.95). Built as a glassworks in 1786–87 – Louis XVI was a shareholder before losing his head – the Château was sold to the Schneider family in 1838 and transformed into their private home and the administrative centre of their business empire. The Schneiders were paternalistic but despotic employers, providing housing, schools and health care for their workers, but expecting "gratitude and obedience" in return.

Today, the Château houses a museum dedicated to the iron and steel industry, with oil paintings of various Schneiders and their forges, mock-ups of workers' quarters, examples of local glass work, giant model trains and a large coin-slot push-button model of an old metal works. The neighbouring Salle du Jeu de Paume traces Le Creusot's role in the development of metallurgy through models and photographs, beginning with the earliest iron forges and ending with today's nuclear industry. The peculiar cone-shaped constructions in the courtyard of the Château were glass furnaces; one of them was transformed into a tiny Neoclassical theatre where plays were put on to entertain the Schneiders' wealthy and influential guests, and can be visited on regular Tours.

A more recent development in town is the huge Parc Touristique des Combes, which boasts a narrow-gauge steam train (April–Oct; €4.30), a karting track, a 435-metre-long dry luge piste (April–Oct; €2.30) and an unusual panorama. From the top of the Combe des Mineurs the view takes in the modern steelworks, the gleaming white Château de la Verrerie and the terraces of old workers' houses, all set against the northeastern bulwark of the Massif Central.

Pages in section ‘Le Creusot’: Practicalities.

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