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Versailles didn't knock my socks off, what about Malmaison?

Versailles didn't knock my socks off, what about Malmaison?

Old Oct 23rd, 2000, 09:39 AM
  #1  
Karen
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Versailles didn't knock my socks off, what about Malmaison?

Hello,

We're planning a return trip to Paris next year and I'm trying to plan at least one day excursion. We visited Versailles last time, which I had really looked forward to, only to feel a little let down. I can't put my finger on exactly WHY.....the empty rooms, the stagnant water in the gardens, the huge crowds? I don't know, but although I'm glad we went, I have no desire to go back.

I'm hoping to see a home/palace of historical interest which is...well...perhaps maintained a little better? Has anyone visited Malmaison, and if so, what did you think? Are there any furnishings or objects of interest there that you enjoyed? We're just trying to decide if it's worth the three hour one-way trip, or if it will be another Versailles. Thanks.
 
Old Oct 23rd, 2000, 09:44 AM
  #2  
elaine
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I haven't been to Malmaison, but I can recommend Vaux le-Vicomte. I liked Fontainebleau very much as well, but I do recall a lot of empty rooms which you
said you'd didn't care for. No huge crowds like Versailles, though.

Vaux was built by Louis XIV's finance minister Nicolas Fouquet. When Louis saw this lavish chateau, he was moved to hire the same architect and landscaper, and tranform his hunting lodge at Versailles into the palace it became. Fouquet was eventually arrested on what some said were trumped-up charges.
You can visit Vaux for candle-lit visits evenings 8:30pm-midnight from May through October.
Vaux is open May through October 10am-1pm and 2-6pm, gardens open all day.
Hours vary in the winter. To get there, take a train from Paris's Gare de Lyon to Melun, (about 25 minute ride) then take a taxi to the Chateau. The taxi ride is about 10 minutes, costs the equivalent of $15-18 (5/99).
www.parisplus.com/parisdayexcA_O.html has a bus tour combining Fontainebleau and Vaux-le-Vicomte
For train service, go to : http://voyages.sncf.fr/
 
Old Oct 23rd, 2000, 09:50 AM
  #3  
elaine
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I forgot to give you the website
www.vaux-le-vicomte.com/eng/accueil.htm

the one for Fontainebleau (the train stop for which is only about ten minutes from the Melun stations, near Vaux le Vicomte)
www.fontainebleau.org
 
Old Oct 23rd, 2000, 11:13 AM
  #4  
Lesli
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I, too, was rather underwhelmed by Versailles.

Although it's not a historic home, I highly recommend a daytrip to Chartres. The cathredral there is truly magnificent, and the tours given twice daily by Malcolm Miller (at 12 and 2:30) help you to understand and appreciate what you're seeing even more, and realize how much you've still yet to see. The town is also charming, and it's an easy train trip from Paris. Well worth the journey - I've done it twice and would go back several more times.
 
Old Oct 23rd, 2000, 11:16 AM
  #5  
Christina
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I believe Malmaison is on the RER A line a few stops past La Defense (at Reuil) and is a suburb of Paris so perhaps you are referring to something else that is 3 hrs away (it's only 15 min or so)? In any case, I have not been there but have a good friend who went there who has great taste, has traveled a lot (and studied in France a while) and SHE says Malmaison sounded interesting but was boring and a real waste of time, so I trust her opinion. I think that if you regard Versailles as rundown, poorly-maintained and disappointing with bad gardens and water, you will not be thrilled with any chateau around Paris, even in the Loire Valley (or anywhere, perhaps--you might like the one in Cesky Krumlov in the Czech republic, it is furnished fairly well). I have never seen one in France completely furnished and I thought the Versailles gardens were rather grand. Any major tourist venue will have tons of tourists, also, if it is good, at least in any popular traveling season. I would suggest that no chateau is worth a 6 hr/day trip as there are tons of places you could see that would provide much more of interest and are within two hours or less one way, even entire cities (ie, Lyon has several things of interest). Personally, I preferred Fontainebleau to Versailles, and also thought Chantilly was very nice, but it is not furnished as if someone lives there. Even some of the more beautifully-restored Parisian grand houses/mansions (hotels particuliers, etc) are not furnished as if someone lives there that I can recall (the Jacquemart Andre museum is a beautiful mansion you may like and not as crowded as more well-known museums). I liked Victor Hugo's apartments very much on Place des Vosges, also, as there is some furniture and you get a sense of his family living arrangements, but it is not a grand house. Perhaps for furnishings you should just visit decorative arts museums (ie, the apartments in the Louvre, there is some of this type of thing in the Carnavalet museum in Paris, also, and there is a superb dec arts museum in Lyon, one of the best anywhere). Also, Strasbourg has an excellent museum within a palace right in the city center and it has some furniture and decorative items in it that I liked very much, but it is probably 4 hrs from Paris. Overall, probably Fontainebleau would be your best bet as it's smaller than Versailles, extremely beautiful with wonderful gardens (but if you insist on fully furnished, I wouldn't know what to recommend).
 
Old Oct 23rd, 2000, 12:00 PM
  #6  
Robin
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Karen--

This is a little off-track, but if you are particularly interested in furnishings, don't miss that portion of the Louvre. It's easy to get caught up in all of the other incredible things there, but the tapestries, furniture, silver, etc. are spectacular, and some are displayed as rooms. My friend the design student, who was also disappointed by empty rooms, or those that weren't really "period" loved this.
 
Old Oct 23rd, 2000, 12:04 PM
  #7  
kk
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Wow, Christina, that was a really informative post. I also was underwhelmed by Versailles.
Even when they are beautifully maintained, there is something very cold and unemotional about those grand stone piles (as the Brits call theirs) when they are devoid of furniture and decorations.
I plan to keep your post and refer to it on my next trip to France. thanks.
 
Old Oct 23rd, 2000, 12:22 PM
  #8  
Al
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This may be a sidetrack, but when it comes to furnishings (authentic ones that have always been where you will see them), we found Het Loo, once the home of the Dutch royal family since the late 1600s, to be a knockout. Just outside Apeldoorn, not far from Arnhem, Het Loo is now a national museum and no longer inhabited by the family. It underwent a 7-year refurbishing when the last member moved out a decade ago. Het Loo sits in the midst of a small forest, with marvelous formal gardens with statues and gazebos in back. Once the home of William and Mary, the same royal couple who were invited to England, the palace is simply fabulous, complete with stables, fountains, boxwoods galore, and bursting with floral displays. One reason the furnishings are genuine (unlike those gathered from hither and yon at Versailles) is that the Netherlands and its royal family escaped the wreckage of revolutions.
 
Old Oct 23rd, 2000, 12:25 PM
  #9  
elvira
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Malmaison is not 3 hours away, so possibly you're thinking of another place? I found Malmaison interesting, but then I'm a Napoleon buff. Most chateaux aren't crammed with furniture - in real life, there wasn't as much furniture as you might imagine, and what the Revolutionaries didn't burn, thieves and time have stolen. If you want to see a house as it should be, then the Victor Hugo home, as mentioned, Delacroix's home/museum, or Balzac's home would be right up your alley (certainly not grand, but at least 'fully-furnished'). Even the Napoleon apartments at the Louvre are, er, minimalist in their furniture.

Now here's some work for everyone: the Duke and Duchess of Windsor had a home near the edge of the Bois du Boulogne, and Al Fayed has bought it and restored it to its original grandeur. So 1) where is it and 2) is it open to the public? Now THAT ought to satisfy the over-the-top crowd (I being one of them).
 
Old Oct 23rd, 2000, 12:38 PM
  #10  
kk
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"The Duke and Duchess of Windsor spent their final twenty years together in this charming mansion (see photo)on the edge of the Bois de Boulogne in Paris. The Duchess employed Stephane Boudin, one of Europe's leading interior designers, to make a home fit for a former King - the Duke had briefly reigned as King Edward VIII, but chose to abdicate because he wanted to marry the Duchess, a twice-divorced woman.
The Duke died in 1972. The Duchess lived on at the house, in increasingly poor health, until her death in 1986. During the last years, the fabric and furnishings of the house were allowed to fall into disrepair. Mohamed Al Fayed acquired the property in 1986. He undertook a meticulous process of restoration and ensured that all the historic Windsor possessions, furniture and furnishings were catalogued and preserved. For some years, the house was open to scholars and the public. In February 1998 the contents were auctioned, with the proceeds going to children's charities."
--all this courtesy of
http://www.alfayed.com/windsor/index.html
Mr. Fayed himself.
 
Old Oct 23rd, 2000, 12:46 PM
  #11  
elvira
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kk, I have that website and printed out the info before my trip - but it does NOT give an exact location, and take my word for it (because I tried to find the place by wandering around) the Bois du Boulogne is HUGE.

 
Old Oct 23rd, 2000, 12:56 PM
  #12  
kk
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Elvira, I thought you knew the answers and were just quizzing us, so I was just showing off my web skills. The Bois de B is huge, indeed. I gather you never saw the house, er, chateau!
Did you see the villas of Palladio, though, in Italia?
 
Old Oct 23rd, 2000, 01:29 PM
  #13  
Karen
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Hi again and THANKS everyone! Wow, I never expected to read so many great responses to this, I really do appreciate all of you taking time to type out helpful information.

I thought I read in one of my guide books that Malmaison was three hours outside of Paris by train...maybe I looked at the wrong place. Good to know it's closer than I thought. I realize that many palaces and chateaux were victims of the Revolution and that many furnishings and such found their way to other homes, and that no republican government is going to invest to restore the grandeur that a monarch once enjoyed. But Versailles just seemed like one, long, endless, dusty hallway to me, full of paintings of former nobles and not much else. It rained the day we were there, and every fish in the stagnant water came floating belly up to the top. Not quite what I had pictured.

I also read in a book that Malmaison had a Napoleonic museum on the grounds with lots of original items belonging to Napoleon and Josephine, but it doesn't sound like that is the case (?) Thanks for all the tips about the other places, will definitely do some more research.

 
Old Oct 23rd, 2000, 04:16 PM
  #14  
Al
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For a peek at what 18th century furnishings were really like, visit the Musee Nissim da Camondo, next to the Parc Monceau in Paris. Your Paris musee pass is good for this mansion. The metro goes quite near; station Monceau.
The home was the residence of a rich Jewish/Turkish family at one time and is named for their son killed in the First World War, and was given to the French people upon the death of the last family member who cared to live there.
 
Old Oct 23rd, 2000, 07:50 PM
  #15  
elvira
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Ah HAH I think I've figured it out. Chateau DE Malmaison is where wife #1 got exiled (Napoleon also spent time there before he dumped her) and it is about a 15 min train ride to Rueil-Malmaison (then either a bus ride or a 20 min walk to the Chateau). It is full of Josephine and Napoleon stuff.
Chateau Malmaison (no DE) is a vineyard in Bordeaux owned by Rothschild, and it would be a 3 hour trip.
If you think Napoleon was probably the greatest military genius in history, go visit the Chateau de Malmaison. If you are a pinhead, and think he was just a short little Corsican, go anyway.

Besides all that, the tourist office in Rueil-Malmaison runs tours with a Napoleonic theme.
 
Old Oct 23rd, 2000, 08:53 PM
  #16  
Karen
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Elvira, you're too kind! Thanks for that clarification, that's exactly what I must have looked at. Of course I want the E&J "de" chateau!

Now as far as Napoleon being the greatest military genius in history, HE no doubt shared that opinion, but he also thought he was Alexander the Great reincarnated, did he not? Yes, he is certainly one of great figures in history, most intriguing. We spent some time at the Musee de L'Armee during the last visit, and even saw the Napoleon exhibit when it toured America some years ago (we saw it in Memphis, TN). Fontainbleu is already on the list, sounds like Malmaison might be too now. Just didn't want to be too disappointed or feel that it was a waste of precious time, especially if I could see artifacts elsewhere, because as usual, our vacation time is pretty limited. I don't like to rush around trying to see everything all at once, I just choose a few things and I tell myself that I'm coming back!

Now, you're going to watch the documentary about him on PBS next month, right?

 
Old Oct 23rd, 2000, 09:36 PM
  #17  
elvira
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You bet yer sweet derriere I am. At Carnavelet Museum there are a few Napoleon things as well. Do you know there's only one street in Paris that is named after him, and it's rue Bonaparte - no Napoleon anything. Poor little guy - got the shaft on that one.

kk - yes we did see lots of the villas, and got into 3 of them (I got into only two) one of which was villa Pisani and *guess* who was a one-night visitor there...that's right, our favorite little colonel. Saw his bathtub, too.
 
Old Oct 24th, 2000, 06:15 AM
  #18  
meg
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If you are at all interested in Napolean and Josephine, Malmaison, and the French Revolution, YOU MUST read Sandra Gullands trilogy on Josephine. I believe the first one is "Tales of Passion, Tales of Woe". I first heard about them on that great fiction thread that was going around a few months ago. I bought the first one as pre-trip reading (I LEAVE FOR PARIS TOMORROW!). I was absolutely glued to the book. When I finished the first one, I went straight to the bookstore to buy the next two. I've read the second one and I am saving the third for post-trip reading. I would love to go to Chateau de Malmaison, but I don't think I'll have time. You really must read these books!!!
 
Old Oct 24th, 2000, 06:29 AM
  #19  
Al Godon
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In my experience a visit to Versailles suffers because of the crowds. You cannot see anything without being knocked about by the surging mobs.
Tour groups come through like they owned the joint and procede to behave like a fullback going off tackle. I wanted to go back and take another look at the
Hall of Mirrors. It was like a salmon swimming upstream, but I just bumped into people until I got there. Being slender, I could squeeze through small openings. Fortunately no one took exception to my ramrod tactics.

I will say this: if you did not like Versailles, you are not going to like Schönbrunn either. It is big, crowded, hot, and full of old furniture. Moreover, the outside is colored what many people regard as a hideous yellow. (I think Maria Theresia was color blind; or else she like jaundiced hues. I don't think Franz Joseph cared; he rarely came outside for a look anyhow.)


Vaux-le-Vicomte is beautiful and relatively uncrowded. Forquet had enough sense to let the three designers do their thing, whereas I sense the controlling hand of Louis in the design of Versailles. Same three designers but somehow Versailles to me lacks the artistic and architectural homogenity and completeness of Vaux.
The recreation of the gardens at Vaux was a mammoth undertaking because after good old Louis sacked the place, the grounds and the building deteriorated.
My understanding is that the grounds grew up in weeds and trees with considerable erosion further damaging the original layout.
 
Old Oct 24th, 2000, 06:38 AM
  #20  
kk
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Al, I for one loved Schonbrunn in Vienna and was underwhelmed by Versailles. You even get used to "Maria Theresa" yellow after you've been in Vienna for awhile.
I loved the Schonbrunn gardens, the palace, the way the grounds were kept up, EVERYthing. And just the reverse I felt at Versailles. I must admit my expectations were high for Versailles, especially having seen Sweden's version and Russia's version on my very first trip to Europe as a university student. And Prussia's version, I've seen lately. I prefer every single one of them to the original. IMHO,
 

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