Relive the Splendours of the First Empire for a Day in Rueil-Malmaison
The western Paris suburb of Rueil-Malmaison is indissociable with Napoleon Bonaparte. From the Château de Malmaison, the residence of the French Emperor and his beloved "sweet and incomparable" Josephine, to the Church of Saint-Pierre Saint-Paul, where the Empress is buried, the town is infused with the history of this legendary couple.
During the Imperial Jubilee, which takes place every September, history lovers can relive the pomp of the First Empire during a great procession of musicians and soldiers from the Emperor's Great Army. Costumed actors even allow you to salute Napoleon"in person,"escorted by his chief of staff, and Josephine, surrounded by her ladies-in-waiting.
The private life of the Imperial couple
With a 5-zone Paris Pass, it takes only 20 minutes from Paris on the RER A to reach this historic town. The first stop on your pilgrimage should be the Château de Malmaison, open every day from 10am to 12.30pm, and included in the Paris Museum Pass. Bought by Josephine in 1799, this beautiful palace was the setting of Napoleon and his beloved's private life for many years.
After crossing the tent-shaped entrance hall, you will find yourself immersed in the daily life of the palace's former owners, including Josephine's bedroom, where she died in 1814, and the music room, where you can still see the Empress's harp. Don't forget to peek into the Marengo Room, where weapons that belonged to Napoleon are displayed.
A rose is a rose…
Your visit continues in the palace grounds, which remain steeped in the spirit of the Empress. It was here that Josephine cultivated a number of exotic plants and vegetables, as well as one of the greatest rose gardens in the world. Expertly restored, the garden of antique rose varieties has regained a splendour worthy of its former owner, who was one of France's first great women botanists.
Next, why not walk to the Brasserie du Château, only five minutes away, to enjoy a traditional French gourmet lunch. But save room for a stop after at the renowned master chocolatier Gilles Cresno's boutique, in Rueil-Malmaison.
After lunch, it will be time to head for the Church of Saint-Pierre Saint-Paul, a listed historic monument.
Here you can find Josephine's superb tomb in Carrera marble, mounted with a statue of the Empress on her knees, a homage to the famous painting by David, "The Coronation of Napoleon." Opposite, under another marble sepulchre, lies her daughter, Hortense.
As you leave the church, you can delve deeper into the world of Josephine at the Boutique de l'Impératrice, which offers a large range of objects linked to the period of the First Empire, as well as to the town and its history.
Napoleon and Josephine weren't the only famous denizens of Rueil-Malmaison. Tucked on the banks of the Seine, at less than 20 km from Paris, the town, as well as its river banks and "guinguette" dance halls, became, at the end of the 19th century, one of the favourite settings for artists, including Monet, Renoir and Sisley.
On fine days, take a stroll in the Parc des Impressionnistes, only 30 minutes on foot from the palace, over the Passerelle des Gallicourts footbridge.
Inspired by Monet's gardens in Giverny, the park is a veritable open-air Impressionist canvas, with water features and a wide variety of plants and trees.
To complete the artistic experience, you can then head back to the Atelier Grognard, a former industrial factory located next to the Château de Malmaison, to enjoy its rich programme of temporary exhibitions.
You might also like...
- Copyright image: Jarry-Tripelon / CRT Paris Ile-de-France