Il était une fois Bagatelle… Once upon a time, Bagatelle, a modest château surrounded by beautiful gardens, on the western edge of Paris’ 16th arrondissement. Tucked away inside the expansive Bois de Boulogne (twice the size of New York’s Central Park,) it is easy to miss. Many visitors do, because they don’t know about it. Even if they have heard of it, they may forsake a visit when they find out only two city buses (or a car) will take you there. After all, if you have seen les Tuileries, le Palais Royal and the Luxembourg gardens, you have seen the greatest Parisian gardens, right? Wrong.
Bienvenue aux Jardins de Bagatelle, the Parisian park who once inspired a fragrance by the iconic French perfume house, Guerlain. Welcome to a magical place, a lush haven a few minutes away from one of the world’s busiest cities. The story is too good not to tell: Le château de Bagatelle was born out of a bet, between Louis XVI’s brother, le Comte d’Artois, and his famous sister-in-law, Marie-Antoinette. In 1775, the Count needed a modest residence, a hunting lodge, or, as he came to call the place, “une bagatelle,” (a trifle, a sweet nothing.) The Queen argued her brother-in-law’s “folly” could not be built in three months. He proved her wrong and with the help of renowned neoclassical architect François-Joseph Bélanger (1744-1818) completed construction at great expense in 63 days. The King and Queen were invited to a lavish inaugural party two years later.
|Le Château de Bagatelle today,
“Parvus sed aptus” (Small but able)
|Visitors admiring the back of the castle and the French garden|
The château was interesting enough, but it is the surrounding park that captures the visitor’s heart. Designed in the naturalistic Anglo-Chinese landscape style (a walk in the Bagatelle gardens reminded me of favorite London parks,) the 59-acre property offers water gardens, complete with a waterfall and a grotto, a pavilion of love, a pagoda, and expansive grassy areas lined by gravel pathways where visitors stroll or pause on green benches. Some sections of the gardens were completed in the 19th century, as Bagatelle’s successive owners left their mark on the estate. Some favorite spots include…
|Le Château de Bagatelle seen from the waterlily pond
(inspired by Monet’s gardens in Giverny)
|The grotto and waterfall|
|This pathway circles the park. Inviting benches beckon visitors…|
I hardly met any tourists as I explored the grounds. To experience a true Parisian promenade, visit Bagatelle in the middle of the week when only a few locals are present, strolling, meditating, or just lounging on the comfortable benches, and in grassy areas. After a few minutes, you will forget you are just a few minutes away from downtown Paris.
|A park patron…|
As the estate grew, buildings were added throughout the 19th century. Today, many visitors admire the classical Orangerie (an elegant garden house where exotic trees can be overwintered, transported in gigantic planter boxes.)
|French-style gardens: geometric planting beds
where different plants and color combinations are introduced every year
Gardeners from around the world flock to Bagatelle year round to enjoy seasonal themed gardens near the potager (kitchen garden.)
|The Potager pavilion|
|Scented geranium (Pelargonium) display|
Finally, la pièce de résistance: A world-famous roseraie (rose garden,) created in 1905 after the City of Paris officially acquired the Bagatelle gardens. Since 1907, an annual international rose competition has rewarded the creators of new hybrid rose varieties. I was almost too late last week. Most roses had already bloomed, but there were still enough varieties left for a colorful and fragrant display. I had fun walking around la Roseraie and reading the name tags on many bushes (they are dedicated to celebrities and French icons past, and present.)
Late afternoon, as I was looking for a shaded place to sit down and regroup (this was an unusually hot day for this chilly Parisian early summer,) I walked past another local attraction: the gastronomic restaurant les Jardins de Bagatelle.
My favorite summer drink, la menthe à l’eau, had never tasted so refreshing, as I admired the building and grounds. I could just picture the inviting terrace on a warm summer night.
|Served with no ice, à la française…|
The first time I posted photos of the Parc de Bagatelle on French Girl in Seattle’s Facebook page a couple of years ago, and asked readers to identify the place in Paris, I did not receive a single accurate answer, not even from a few Paris-based readers.
This clearly shows what a special place Bagatelle still is. So why don’t you stray away from le Palais Royal and les Tuileries next time you visit Paris? Don’t hesitate to ride that bus through the affluent Neuilly-sur-Seine neighborhood: You will be rewarded when you walk through these gates, that’s a promise.
Jardins de Bagatelle
Bois de Boulogne
Route de Sèvres à Neuilly et
Allée de Longchamp –
Paris 16e arrondissement.
Metro: Porte Maillot +
Bus: 244 or 43
Open 7 days a week
Entrance fee: 6 Euros