Just a quick walk down the road at the end of a June day in the South of France.
It’s been months since our visit in February to the Grande Galerie de l’Évolution in Paris’ Jardin des Plantes. But as the weather gets colder, and we turn back to the indoors, I wanted to share this jewel box of a museum.
With four floors, there is a lot to see. The first floor is dedicated to species of the sea and the second to those of the land but the top two floors take a more philosophical approach with exhibits on man’s effect on the environment and evolution, and the mechanisms of evolution.
On our visit, we began with the second floor and its signature parade of exotic animals.
(Look at that little pudge! It’s always hard to believe how much they change in a few months. Élie was fascinated, especially by the elephants which he loves, but when the automated recording of an elephant trumpeting activated, he clung to his Papa for dear life, despite the volume being well adjusted to the space and not overly loud.)
The second floor opens above to the soaring ceiling, the top two floors being large balconies that run the entire perimeter of the space. You don’t notice it at first, it is so natural seeming, but that ceiling and the walls of the second floor are fitted with lighted panels that gradually change color and intensity to mimic a day on the savanna changing into evening. Sounds of insects and birds float through the space until you suddenly realize that is has become quite quiet and the panels have turned an ominous blue gray. The sound of a sudden downpour and thunderstorm sweeps through the floor as flashes of lightning travel across the ceiling. Then, as suddenly as it arrived, the storm is over and the panels melt into the soft colors of a rainbow after the storm. It is brilliant. And magical. Eventually the panels fade to a quiet night with crickets providing their song only to eventually start again with a dawn breaking and the day beginning. It is a testament to the place that the guards we encountered took great delight in telling us the little details not to be missed, like the one who smiled and told us “A storm is coming but watch the ceiling, there is a rainbow after!” when we noticed the change in atmosphere.
Of course, every kind of animal can be find here from the large and impressive to the tiny and delicate. And not just animals, plants are just as important in this story.
The backdrop of the exhibits, the building itself, is just as much a reason to visit as what is on display. Built in 1889, the museum was actually closed for years between 1965 and its reopening, relatively recently, in 1994. It has that wonderful, moody mix of its time: the elements of classical architecture refracted through the lens of the industrial revolution and the age of steam.
So there you have a peek into this treasure of Paris. It’s a wonderful place to visit and wander, and a perfect museum for children, too. Definitely put it on your list for a day indoors and check their website for film showings for both adults and children.
And I had to share these chairs for visitors to rest in because I just loved their design – such a perfect mix of echos of the space’s architecture and a modern sensibility!
36 rue Geoffroy Saint-Hilaire, 70005 Paris
Jardin des Plantes
It’s not the first time we’ve been to Chenonceau, and, you might remember, not the first time I’ve written about it (1 & 2). But it is one of those places that you hold dear to your heart. There is something about it besides its location spanning the beautiful Cher River, or its grand but comfortable dimensions, or even its ornate detail. It must be its soul.
Halloween day turned out to be a glorious sunny day in central France and, lucky us, R and I had planned to leave É and his Mamette to have fun for the day while we went our way. The first time we’ve been gone that long since he was born I think.
It was autumn, my favorite season, and I knew I wanted to go soak up the inspiration and beauty of my favorite chateau. That we needed that. Luckily R was in complete agreement and, to our surprise, we realized it had been more than 5 years since our last visit, after our French wedding in 2011. So we set out for Chenonceau.
The Chateau dates to the 16th century when Thomas Bohier and his wife Katherine Briçonnet demolished the existing castle and mill to build the chateau we see today, minus the wing spanning the river. Katherine supervised the work and incorporated modern art and design, like the flights of straight rather than spiral staircases, a model brought from Italy.
Katherine lived for just two years longer after the castle was finished but she said and had carved into the doors, along with their initials ‘TBK’, this saying: “S’il vient à point, me souviendra” (If it is completed, I will be remembered). I think she succeeded.
Known also as the ‘Chateau des Dames‘ (castle of the ladies), Chenonceau was seized by the crown from Katherine’s son for unpaid debates and King Henri II’s mistress, the famous Diane de Poitiers took up residence. She oversaw the building of the wing over the river, at that time a bridge, and extensive flower and vegetable gardens. While she was particularly fond of Chenonceau, she was forced to give it back to Henri’s widow at his death, Catherine de Medici, who transformed the bridge into a 2-story wing where she hosted spectacular fêtes and balls. The first fireworks seen in France were displayed over Chenonceau.
The clever contraption above has a weight on the other end of the rope which hangs out the window over the river. As the weight drops down, the movement rotates the spits on the fire in the kitchen!
The bedroom on the second floor where this arrangement was is called the Five Queens Room for Catherine’s two daughters and three daughters-in-law, one of whom was Mary Stuart, Queen of Scots. There were so many people visiting I wasn’t able to photograph them, but Mary’s guards left fascinating graffiti carved in the chapel walls on the first floor, including “Man’s anger does not accomplish God’s justice.”
Year-round the chateau is filled with the amazing arrangements of Jean-François Boucher. They are always perfection and are an integral part of what keeps the chateau and its history alive for visitors. You can follow his work on Instagram.
The line of ladies of Chenonceau continued when Louise de Lorraine withdrew to mourn her husband, King Henri III, to this room on the top floor in 1589. With black walls adorned with the symbols of mourning and dark textiles, Louise would have glowed in royal white mourning clothes in this room. While hers was the last royal residence of the chateau, the line of women mistresses continued even through the World Wars when Chenonceau played an important role as a hospital.
Here I promised myself that I would offer a visual tour of our time at Chenonceau and not go into too much written detail! But I love this place and its history is such a fascinating and important part of its soul.
If you can, plan your visit to the chateau so as to finish in the dying light of the day before you leave. The magic of the windows spilling golden light onto the gardens and river is not to be missed! Like being able to peek in to see the household of Catherine de Medici bustling around preparing for the evening meal to be laid. The past still lives here.
open year round with special decorations for the holiday season
The seasons are turning. But I guess I should start with Hello! How have you been? It always feels overwhelming how much there is to catch up on but let’s say that here we have been busy loving a bright baby boy turned toddler, spending time with loved ones and friends, and just generally working at the great balancing act of life. Ya know?
But the seasons are turning now, outside and at home. My little love has started his first year of preschool. He is a bit past 2 1/2 years old and that feels oh so very young to me but now, in the third (fourth? I’m forgetting already!) week I am finally picking up a smiling boy at lunchtime instead of a devastated one. It feels both amazing (chunks of free time to get things done!) and heart-wrenching (my baby-who-will-always-be-my-baby, isn’t a baby anymore).
But these new free mornings! Oh do I have big plans. I am nothing if not overambitious with my to-do lists. And I can’t wait to share more on those plans very soon. First, though, I wanted to share my dusk walk through my mother-in-law’s garden, one of the first of many more moments to come I hope of re-tending that creative spark.
Motherhood brings so many things into sharp focus (and others are thrown out of field), perhaps none of these being more evident to me now than my absolute need for the natural world. To see it, to study it, to be near it, to be inspired by it. I need nothing more than 5 minutes and my camera in the garden to let my mind go and my creative instinct out. So here’s to more inspiration, and passions, and adventures coming up! Enjoy a little peek into the potager.
Hello again! It seems I haven’t mastered the working/being a mama with baby at home/having a life balance yet. Has anyone? Ha! But that seems like a post for another day. I wanted to pop in with a couple glimpses of the beautiful Sancerre region of France I took this weekend because, well, how could I not share this?!
We went for what felt like a super short visit to R’s grandparents because usually we get to take advantage of a long weekend at this time of year as November 1st (All Soul’s Day) is still a work holiday for a lot of French people but this year both Halloween and All Soul’s fell on the weekend. Dart! But we had two frankly balmy (near 70°F!) days and we tried to soak up those views as much as possible.
We also climbed to the attic and investigated some of R’s old toys for É which was so sweet – like opening a time capsule that, I’m sure, feels like it was just yesterday for both of us. This little guy was quickly adopted and I love his glowing red wheels with the pumpkins in this shot.
Despite it being only two days, we managed to squeeze in a bit of adventuring an visiting new-to-me places and seeing them in another light for R. The country roads – I don’t even know how to resist wanting to see what is just around every bend!
Sunday afternoon ended on the hillside among the vineyards looking back at the town of Sancerre as the evening’s shadow swept over it. It changes so fast at that time of day but for a few brief minutes, the fields turned an almost iridescent violet that I would have loved to drink in for a while. I only caught the tail end of it here.
There are even more images over on instagram because of course I couldn’t help from overgramming.
Here’s to November! I can’t believe it is here. But I’m trying to get myself into the holiday season gear because here it comes!!
May was full of not only long weekends here in France, but a strange mix of weather highs and lows. The weekend of (American) Mother’s Day corresponded to a summery high that made you feel like you were on vacation in your own town. I had wanted to visit Josephine Bonaparte’s home at Malmaison for a few years but the timing was never right – Malmaison is known for its roses and I really wanted to visit when they were in bloom. Unfortunately, we were a mere two weeks early for the roses that weekend but that didn’t bother us in the least because what we discovered was a fascinating building surrounded by wildflower lawns and bordered by a beautiful bois (wood).
The Chateau de Malmaison is not big like Versailles or perfectly conserved like Chenonceau but what makes it worth a trip is its visitable size (you aren’t completely exhausted by the end) and its fascinating history. Many chateaux in France are furnished as they may have been or were during the French renaissance or before but the Bonapartes’ chateau is from a much younger period and one that you don’t often see in such a context. Bought by Josephine while Napoleon was in Egypt, the chateau was decorated almost completely around the theme of military campaigns (albeit, the very rich and fashionable version) and classical and Egyptian motifs. This influence is in every detail – the arrow shaped curtain rods, the x-benches used throughout, the striped wall hangings – but what I found most striking were the wonderful and saturated color combinations in so many rooms.
On the first floor, one of the first rooms you visit is the billiard room which happened to be my favorite palette in the house – that wonderful verdigris green contrasted with the vibrant orange. Then the music room with cobalt blue walls lined with saturated red upholstered furniture trimmed with black. And everywhere, even on Josephine’s harp, the military detailing.
On the other end of the first floor, past the dining room, are Napoleon’s council room and library where the military imagery is on full display, the council room being swathed in draped striped fabric to mimic a military tent ornamented with regal eagles, lions, and mythical creatures.
When Napoleon and Josephine divorced, she kept Malmaion and lived there until her death. The upper floor is a mix of rooms that show her softer, simpler style and spaces that were converted to exhibition rooms after the house became a museum. On display are stunning collections of hand-painted china she commissioned displaying scenes of Egypt, artworks she collected from both classical and contemporary artists, and David’s original painting of Napoleon Crossing the Alps (originally commissioned by the King of Spain, four versions were eventually made).
The gardens around the chateau were converted to the English style by Josephine and remain beautifully simple and natural, much of the lawns being taken over by wildflowers. The gardens are also home to some remarkable trees, brought back from Napoleon’s travels.
While the Chateau de Malmaison is not the grandest castle, it is worth the visit on a longer trip to France for the uniqueness of its story and interiors. Access is very easy and parking is right next to the castle. But be sure to plan some time to visit the Bois-Préau next to it, planning a lunch picnic there is a great idea, because it will only add to the enchantment of the visit which truely feels like you’ve escaped Paris for the afternoon. Oh, be sure to take the well-done audio guide that is included in the price of admission. Although, you may be required to share as Romain was!
Avenue du château de Malmaison
It’s a sunny, warm Friday here and another week has melted into a long holiday weekend here in France (three in the month of May!). I’m feeling buoyed by a clear head and small victories (and the pieces of sweet strawberries Élie is feeding me) after a number of false starts yesterday. Choosing joy today! And so I’m looking forward to trying out a simple pickled radish recipe with these radishes this weekend, as you may have seen on instagram already. I anticipate pickled radishes on everything for a while!
So I’m wishing you a good Friday and a lovely weekend. What will you be up to?