To the west of Paris in the neighbouring department of Yvelines lies glorious countryside. It’s very different from its city neighbour and pretty villages and castles dot the landscape. In the area known as the Haute Vallée de Chevreuse, the graceful Château de Breteuil has been in the hands of the same family for over 300 years. The grand house itself dates to the 18th century, and one hundred years later would play host to a secret meeting between the French government and the future King Edward VII. But it’s the gardens of this lovely locale, classified jardins remarquable, which make it an unmissable stop on your visit to this area and makes for a fabulous day trip from Paris.
Gardens of the Chateau de Breteuil
There’s a classic French garden with a miroir d’eau or a reflecting pond lined with white marble statues, a smooth lawn and mosaic’d boxwood and topiaries. The Jardin des princes, formerly known as the English garden and renamed in honour of the secret meeting mentioned above, is truly delightful. In 1904, the Entente Cordiale between England and France was signed here. 23 years before, secret meetings with the then Prince of Wales and leading French figures took place to lay the foundations for the agreement. Behind this walled garden is a cacophony of colour and fragrance – pink and white blossoms herald the beginning of spring, daffodils, tulips and snowdrops surge delicately from the rich soil, and the heady scent of roses assails the senses.
Visit in spring and stand under the white cherry trees in full blossom for a wonderful photo. Or sit on an old stone bench and inhale this romantic, heavenly garden. An entrancing labyrinth entertains both young and old. And waiting in the centre of the maze is Old Mother Goose.
There’s more to this château than just history and elegant gardens. For children, it’s pure magic. Charles Perrault was a famous fairy tale author from the 17th century, and a great friend of a long-dead lord of Breteuil, and scenes from eight of his most famous fairy tales can be found all over the outbuildings of the château grounds.
Look in on Cinderella in the stables getting dressed for the royal ball, watch out for the murderous Bluebeard, or keep an eye on Sleeping Beauty in her enchanted slumber. And don’t forget to be on your guard when Little Red Riding Hood arrives at her grandmother’s cottage, the fearsome wolf is lurking. There’s a fantastic playground in the grounds, with slides and climbing equipment, and benches in the shade if you want to bring your picnic lunch. The Château de Breteuil is open throughout the year, but the fairytales are only on Sundays and in school holidays. Details: www.breteuil.fr/en
Discover the romantic ruins and magical fountain at the nearby Abbaye des Vaux de Cernay
Explore the Vallee de la Chevreuse
Melissa Barndon lives in an old woodshed in the Yvelines department with her French husband and two children. She thinks there is no better place to be than France for its rich and turbulent past. Her blog MadameMellissane.com is about the delights of French history.
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