No-one can ever pretend to know everything about a city, especially one that is as vibrant and ever-changing as Paris. But it still comes as a surprise sometimes when you find out about a stunning park you’ve never heard of before…just on Paris’ outskirts! And so it was that, on a sunny Saturday afternoon, I made my way to the Chateau and Parc de Bagatelle, within the Bois de Boulogne on Paris’ Western edge.
The Château de Bagatelle
The château was first built as a (small!) hunting lodge in 1720, for the Maréchal d’Estrées, and its name comes from the Italian bagatella: “trifling/petty thing”. If you do visit, have a look at the inscription on the porch over the main entrance: (Horace’s words to describe his own house) “Parvus sed aptus” roughly translated as “Small but able, sufficient for all needs.” It merits a wry smile.
The Parc de Bagatelle
Born of a bet between Marie-Antoinette and the Count of Artois, her brother-in-law, the 24-hectare park was built in an astounding 64 days, including the reconstruction of the château. Built in Anglo-Chinese style (which was very en vogue at the time) by the Scotsman Thomas Blaikie in 1777, the park is just as breathtaking as when it was first opened – thankfully avoiding destruction during the Revolution, although numerous changes have been made over the centuries.
Now, most visitors come to the park, either by accident, or to see the famous rose garden (the Roseraie de Bagatelle) created by the aptly-named Jean-Claude-Nicolas Forestier, where an international flower competition has been held every year since 1907. When I say “by accident” I mean that many Parisians aren’t even aware of its existence. Walking through the Bois de Boulogne, many stumble across the park as if it were a mirage; an oasis of waterfalls, peacocks, geese and stunning flowers. From some places you can see the neighboring skyscrapers of Paris’ financial district, La Defense, but in others you feel completely cut off from the busy roads and fast pace of the city.
Of course, everyone talks about the roses (12,000 varieties apparently), which is why May-June is when you’ll find the park at its busiest. But if you come a month earlier, in April, you’ll still find breathtaking floral displays, and perhaps be able to really appreciate the peace and tranquility the park has to offer. Photographers, gardeners and history enthusiasts, this is a must-see, not just for the pleasure you’ll get out of introducing it to your French friends!
How to Get There
Unless you really like walking, we recommend taking the bus that goes direct from the Porte Maillot metro station. Take either the bus 43 (to Neuilly- Bagatelle) and get off at Place de Bagatelle or the 93 (to Suresnes-de Gaulle) and get off at “Place de Bagatelle”.
The Bagatelle Park is currently FREE (!) until June 6, so if you’re coming to Paris soon, there’s no reason not to bring a picnic and spend a sunny afternoon relaxing.