Marriage proposals in Paris are not a new thing—who could forget Tom Cruise and Katie Holmes halfway up the Eiffel Tower? While that may be a bit of a cliché (and we all know how that marriage turned out) there are many more inspired options for romantic moments. And I think, the year we lived in Paris, we found the best.
On Mother’s Day in France, the last Sunday of May, I got my choice of our family activity. I opted for a trip tothe Parcde Bagatelle inthe heart of the Bois de Boulogne in the 16th Arrondissement of Paris. As far as gardens go, Bagatelle is much less known than Luxembourg or the Tuileries, and that is one of the reasons it has so much more to offer. There is a small fee to enter if there are events going on (4 Euros for adults) and we see not a single tourist, selfie stick or vendor hawking Eiffel tower keychains. “Le jogging” is forbidden in this park, which makes it a calm oasis for a “ballade,” the French term for a leisurely stroll. Ultra-suave LVMH fashion CEO Pierre-Yves Roussel chose this park to propose to the billionaire American fashion designer Tory Burch in early 2017. She said yes.
The park is full of “follies,” or structures that are meant to delight and amuse. Its name, Bagatelle, is a game that the aristocrats used to play here, consisting of a slanted wooden board with holes and levers and small balls rolling down (the precursor to pinball).
At the entrance to the park there is a Château, which looks rather like a pale pink frosted wedding cake. It was built, along with the grounds, in 1777 after a wager between Marie Antoinette and her brother-in-law, Compte d’Artois, in just 63 days. To put this into perspective, this is less time than it took us to open a French bank account.
The garden of the Château is comprised entirely of peonies, which are at their prime in May. It is like walking into a bottle of Stella McCartney perfume! Then comes a garden of wild roses filled with roaming peacocks. We must see a hundred peacocks throughout the day, some of them up in the trees. Because it is mating season, they display their ample plumage for us at every turn.
Next comes a water lily pond filled with ducklings and goslings. At this point we begin to wonder what on earth could appear next, a prancing white unicorn? No, just a waterfall and a bridge that overlooks a koi pond with a white gazebo. It is like a world within a world, the magic shattered, only we see a sort of large muskrat swimming in the pond and a concerned old lady tells us that it has been chasing the ducklings and eatingthem.
There is a fancy restaurant at the entrance to the park, but for lunch we opt for the “buvette,” a kiosk-like bar serving coffee and cold drinks. We somehow procure a glass of premier cru white burgundy served in a coffee cup, perhaps from the staff’s private wine stash, and the kids loved their “chiens-chaud,” a French hot dog wrapped in a warm baguette.
When a freak rainstorm hits, we linger under our patio umbrella watching the peacocks and waiting for the rainbow.
The highlight of the park is the formal rose gardens which host an international competition every summer and feature more than 10,000 rose bushes in every shape and colour. When the rain abates,we set about choosing our favourite roses by sight and smell. There is also an entire garden dedicated to iris, which reminds me of my mother, as it’s her favourite flower.
Suddenly, we hear classical music coming from a white tent near the Orangerie. Musicians are warming up for that afternoon’s cello concert, part of the annual Festival de Chopin that takes place in the park in the spring. We spent more time walking the bridges and climbing through grottoes and pagodas with the other French families, many of whom had brought a picnic. At the end of the day even the children agree it was more fun than a trip to the water park (which would have been their choice) and it was certainly a Mother’s Day I will never forget.