Outdoor activities with a healthy dose of curiosity, brought to you by Laure Latham
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Marie-Antoinette wagered that the Comte d’Artois would never be able to build a castle in three months. The location? A piece of land in the Bois de Boulogne owned by the Comte d’Artois and notoriously known as a spot of libertinism or life’s guilty pleasures called Bagatelle (which means a trifle or a decorative little nothing). All night long, Jean-Francois Belanger the architect stayed up. At dawn, he had completed the entire plans of the future castle.
During two months, 800 workers labored tirelessly, day and night and on November 26, 64 days later, the Chateau de Bagatelle was inaugurated. Built in an English-Chinese style popular as a counter trend to the rigidity of 18th century French gardens, the Parc and Chateau de Bagatelle made it through the French Revolution, the Commune de Paris and are open to the public nowadays as a unique landscaped garden.
Bagatelle is famous for its rose collection as it houses 9,500 rose bushes representing 1,500 rose varieties. Each year, a New Rose Festival is held in June.
Whenever I stop in Paris, I like to go to Bagatelle. Getting out is always part of my “anti jetlag” plan. To each season its different flower beds or atmosphere. I was lucky to visit this year right when daffodils, hyacinths and tulips brighten up the green lawns of Bagatelle.
It’s a great place for a family stroll. Although children have to stear clear of the flower beds, they always marvel at the peacocks parading in the park and calling each other.
They also love the many alleyways and the intricate rock formations gracing the park. From fake islands with secret cave chambers to the phenomenal multi-tiered waterfall and pond, Bagatelle is worth its weight in rococo rock tunnels and bridges.
Under a bridge I pointed to my 5 year-old to a bush where I once saw a hedgehog as a little girl. My daughter wondered if the hedgehog would still be there which led me to remind her – once again – of my antique age. Hedgehogs don’t live that long!
After we failed to find a tunnel under the waterfall (although I was convinced there was one), we ran back towards the entrance for tea time.
Yes the best part of the visit usually comes towards the end as we like to stop at the Restaurant de Bagatelle which serves afternoon tea and drinks on the terrace. It’s a lovely spot that gets crowded during nice summer days but the trees whispering around and peacocks calling make it a great place to listen to the absence of cars in a city park. If you plan to go there at night, you’ll be pleased to learn that plans are in the works to make the currently pricey eatery into a budget-conscious bistro and a fancy restaurant.
Alas for us we got there past 5pm and pastries disappear magically after 5pm. My girls settled for a creamy and dense hot chocolate. See that grin? It’s the happy hot chocolated child.
Last mention for music lovers. The Orangerie de Bagatelle (where oranges and lemons trees overwinter to prevent freezing) hosts a marvellous Chopin and classical music festival each summer.