If you’re the kind of person, when in Paris, who loves nothing more than lazing about flower-filled gardens, you’re more than spoilt for choice. It’s worth making the effort, however, to venture outwards a little, to one of the most charming parks you’ll ever see.
Parc de Bagatelle is situated on the western edge of Paris, in the Bois de Boulogne. Find your way to the gates on the Route de Sèvres à Neuilly (about a fifteen minutes’ walk from the Pont de Neuilly station) and you’ll soon spot, through the old sentry pavilions to the left, the Château de Bagatelle, a heart-stoppingly pretty creation that looks a little like a Ladurée cake, iced in pale-pink paint and decorated with creamy mouldings.
The neo-Classical confection was commissioned by the Comte d’Artois in 1775, after being challenged by sister-in-law Marie Antoinette to build a château in two months. Millions of livres, 800 round-the-clock workers, and 63 days later, his new home was ready. In response to the queen’s congratulations, the Comte shrugged ‘Ce n’est qu’une bagatelle.’ (It’s only a trifle.) And so the château’s name was born. Or so one story goes.
Etched in gold above the château’s doorway is the proclamation Parva Sed Apta — which roughly translates as Small but Suitable. Which is quite the humble brag: peer through the bow windows for a glimpse a wonderfully lavish music room, and you’ll well appreciate that while the Comte might have scrimped on size, not much else was spared.
While the château is rarely open, the gardens are for all to enjoy. It’s a favourite spot of Parisians for parties, picnics and Sunday strolls, especially in spring when daffodils and narcissus push through the daisy-speckled lawn.
Property of the City of Paris since 1905, the Parc de Bagatelle was cultivated and enhanced by a succession of wealthy owners during the previous century.
They especially loved adding follies — which is why you’ll see sweet pagodas here and there, often draped in a peacock or two.
Make sure to find the eastern gate, and its delight of neo-Rococo guardhouse.
From here, track south to the 1835 Orangerie, with its elegant parterre garden. This has been the gorgeous setting for the Festival Chopin for the past 36 summers. The current festival is playing until July 14; click here for details.
This is also the time of year to come for Bagatelle’s famous roses, on divine display in the rosaraie just to the south. Wind your way around the box-edged beds, bursting with topiaries and rosebushes in vibrant bloom, and through trellis walkways woven with rambling roses.
Since 1907, the month of June has seen Bagatelle host the Concours International de Roses Nouvelles, a competition that judges the best new varieties of the flower. So right about now the park is at its most wonderfully fragrant.
Take a bench seat in the pretty Chinoiserie-style pagoda that’s perched up top a velvety-green slope to take it all in. You’ll spot the towers of La Défence (Paris’s business district) in the distance, but the stress of modern life seems a world away in Bagatelle. Indeed, here is where you come to remind yourself of the importance of seeing la vie en rose.