Here’s a new event to add to your list of what to do while in Paris. In a suitably populist move for a Socialist, French President François Hollande has opened the gardens of his official residence, the Élysée Palace on the last Sunday of every month. You can get a glimpse of life at the early 18th century mansion from 12 – 5 from October to March, and from 1 – 7 the rest of the year. Prior to this, the only way to visit the gardens was to brave the immense lines during the annual Journées du Patrimoine in late September when doors to many normally off-limits buildings are opened to the public. If you didn’t want to wait in line, there was another alternative; you could be important enough to be invited to the annual presidential garden party on July 14. Oh, your invitation got lost in the mail? Mine, too.
Before it was the residence of the President, the Élysée was the grand home of the Comte d’Evreux. When it was built, between 1718 and 1722, the area was fairly insalubrious due to swamps. The landscaper had his work cut out for him to create formal gardens like Le Nôtre had created at Vaux-le-Vicomte and Versailles. Louis XV bought it in 1753 for his mistress, Madame de Pompadour, who made the gardens larger and more elaborate.
The mansion changed hands again in 1773, and the new owner, financier Nicolas Beaujon, put his own stamp on the gardens by transforming them into the trendy naturalistic English style. Beaujon then sold it back to the crown under Louis XVI who used it for visiting ambassadors. Then it changed owners again, when the king sold it to the Duchesse de Bourbon who added many embellishments, including a pagoda and obelisks. Post-Revolution, Napoléon stripped away the excess, the better to highlight the particularly beautiful trees in the garden.
The lovely mansion first served as the residence of the President in 1874. Recently, the garden was renovated in 1992 and again in 1996 by the new Le Nôtre, Louis Benech. It comprises four acres that include a wide variety of trees as well as a manicured lawn, all of which is maintained by nine gardeners.
The word Élysée (ay-lee-zay) comes from the Greek word for where souls go in the afterlife, Elysium. Les Champs Élysée, then, are the Elysian Fields. If you think that strolling through the Élysée gardens yourself would represent a little bit of heaven on earth, go to the Avenue Gabriel entrance. Allow about two hours for the wait to enter, but perhaps the crowd will be a lot smaller by the next time I get to Paris.
- Palace of Versailles Murals in the RER C. (henriettaricher.com)
- Elysee Palace Wines Fetch Nearly $1 Million (cnbc.com)
- Contemporary Art in the Gardens of Versailles: The Politics of an Eulogy (artperuses.wordpress.com)
- Saturday with La Tour d’Eiffel et Champs-Élysées (rashmiprasadparis.wordpress.com)