Château de Fontainebleau


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I am a city person at heart, but I am the first to admit that there is something delightful about small French towns. Everything moves at a slower pace, there’s an abundance of quaint old cottages and cobbled streets, and good, simple food reigns supreme. Most of the little towns that dot every region of France have something that sets them apart; a meandering brook, an old mill, or a tiny storefront selling homemade soaps, toys or chocolates.

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But almost all towns will share many of the same characteristics, too: a boulangerie or two, a dedicated boucherie, fromagerie and épicerie, a green-cross-emblazoned pharmacy, a brasserie/tabac with an endless supply of espresso and cigarettes, perhaps a traditional French restaurant or three and, set a bit further away from the quaint little food shops, a small supermarket. Usually, there’ll be a school, a bank, a post office and a church. Often, there’ll be a farmer’s market in the streets on the weekend. Sometimes there’ll be a little tourism office, museum or other attraction. But only rarely is there a world-class, breathtaking, awe-inspiring château, surrounded on three sides by dense, lush green forest.

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Less than an hour’s train ride from Paris (though I admit that including it on a Paris blog is an act of creative license), Fontainebleau is a veritable treasure. The town itself is charming, but the main attraction is something from another world. A royal residence from Louis XII all the way to Napoleon III, Fontainebleau is one of the largest and most exquisite medieval castles in the country. It may not have been the primary palace, but it was a beloved retreat, especially for the kings who loved to hunt in the surrounding woods (as most kings seem to like to do).

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With the sloped iron lavender roofs you find at the Louvre, and gigantic wings that form a central courtyard, the building’s facade is nothing if not grandiose. My favourite part of the exterior is the luxurious horseshoe stairway leading up to a second-floor entrance, a swirling structure constructed for Henri II in the 1550s. Inside, the velvet and gilt furnishings, crystal chandeliers, knick knacks and artworks help you imagine what it would have been like to visit a French king. Step into the ballroom, and you can imagine what it might be like to dance with one. But perhaps the most unique highlight is the Galerie de Diane, lined with books. This long hall was added to the castle in the 12th century so the queen could take a morning stroll, without having to go outside.

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Though I did visit on a winter’s weekday, I was pleased to see that the castle doesn’t suffer from the endless crowds that are always to be found at Fontainebleau’s main rival, Versailles. It is larger and more resplendent than Vincennes. And it is far more accessible from Paris than the famed castles of the Loire valley. In short, Fontainebleau may be the best château, on all fronts, for travellers to Paris. Quite the claim for just another little French town.

Xx La Muséophile

Château de Fontainebleau

77300 Fontainebleau, France (train station: Fontainebleau-Avon)

Museum homepage

Full price: 11 euros

Reduced price: 9 euros
Opening hours:
October to March: Wednesday to Monday 9.30am to 5pm

April to September: Wednesday to Monday 9.30am to 6pm

Closed Tuesdays

2016 exhibitions at the Musées de la ville de Paris


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If there’s one task this blog seeks to achieve, it’s to show readers how diverse, exciting and varied the museums of Paris truly are. I will always love the Louvre and the d’Orsay – after all, their collections are unrivalled anywhere else – but there is such a pleasure in discovering a tiny little museum, in a corner of a quiet Paris street, where you may well be the only visitor on a weekday afternoon.

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Among the gems I’ve covered on Les Musées de Paris, readers flock first to famed and fancy spots like the Musée Rodin or the Musée du Luxembourg, and with good reason. But there is also a network of precious, specialised museums you should not miss, run by the City of Paris, and often focused on individual writers or artists. These range from the monumental (and thus ill-named) Petit Palais, to the Maison de Balzac, Cernuschi, Bourdelle, Cognacq-Jay, Vie romantique and Moulin museums. You can discover twentieth-century sculpture at the Zadkine, Romantic literature at the Victor Hugo, archeology at the Notre-Dame Crypte and fashion at the Palais Galliera. And what’s more, throughout 2016, each of these museums will be showing a range of special exhibits.


I’ve already noted down a few I cannot miss, like “Balzac et les artistes”, “L’Oeuil de Baudelaire” and “L’Or du pouvoir”. Which do you absolutely need to see? Check the full calendar here and find a new favourite Paris museum in 2016.

Xx la muséophile

Musée Albert-Kahn

I have a thing about forests. Whenever I’m told to imagine my happy place, a place I can retreat to in my mind, to relax and be peaceful, I imagine a forest. Not a dusky Australian bush scene of eucalyptus and brown rivers like the one I grew up near (though I do love those, too). A lush, deep green forest. A European forest.

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If I had to choose between nature and civilisation, I would still choose civilisation. I’m a city person and, as my job and my blog show, I live for culture; films, books, history, museums. But I also live for forests.

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So any Paris museum that combines the things I live for has a special place in my heart. Such is the case for the Musée Albert-Kahn, in the inner-West suburb of Boulogne-Billancourt. Just beyond the city borders, at the end of the line 10 metro, the Kahn features a wide range of historic photos and film gathered by its eponymous founder. An Alsatian banker and philanthropist, Kahn was fascinated by the variety of the natural world and in the early 20th century, travelled the globe collecting what he called his Archives de la planète.

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The museum holds these archives, which are worth the visit in themselves. But the Albert-Kahn’s true treasures are its ten acres of wildly diverse gardens. There are pristine contemporary Japanese gardens (replete with a tea house), prim English lawns, a lofty glasshouse and pretty French flowerbeds.

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But better than all that, there’s a mini forest. Just outside of Paris, in the grounds of a museum. My happy place.

Xx la muséophile

Musée Albert-Kahn

10-14 Rue du Port, 92100 Boulogne-Billancourt (métro Boulogne- Pont de St Cloud)

Museum homepage

Full price: 4 euros

Reduced price: 2.5 euros
Opening hours:

1 October to 30 April, Tuesday to Sunday: 11am to 6pm

1 May to 30 September, Tuesday to Sunday: 11am to 7pm

Closed Monday

Château de Versailles


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Decadence. Indulgence. Excess.

What other location in France (indeed, Europe, and maybe even the world) embodies these words as much as the Château de Versailles? Home to the French royals from the reigns of Louis XIII to the ill-fated Louis XVI, Versailles came to be the resplendent palace we think of it as under Louis XIV, known lover of art, ladies, debauchery, and all things pleasurable- and expensive.

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Wander up the leafy streets of the Paris suburb of Versailles from the train station, and you will be struck by the palace’s gilt-gated facade. The scale of the château is boggling, and just standing in the courtyard will give you an idea of how much glamour, decoration, luxury, and gold drips from every wing, every corner and every tiny detail.

The castle interior is intricately decorated with sumptuous furnishings, artworks, fabrics, mirrors and, unsurprisingly, a lot more gold. The famed hall of mirrors is exquisite, though as I’ve written about before, I’m a fan of historical living quarters, so my favourite room in the castle is the queen’s gold-and-baby-blue bed chamber, replete with a secret door to her velvet-panelled boudoir.

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Beyond the palace itself lie the seemingly-endless grounds. If the weather is fine, meander along the many paths and admire the manicured hedges, ponds peppered with sculptures, rose gardens, wooded areas, and monumental, domed Grand Trianon. Stop for a drink at one of the salons de thé set in the grassier areas of the grounds, and maybe even find a field of sheep or two.

Further afield, you will come upon Marie Antoinette’s little village, a mock-pastoral collection of cottages built for the queen herself, where she would retreat with a select number of friends and servants to experience a “simpler” life. I love the atmosphere of the Queen’s Hamlet, and I can see what she found charming about such a place, so far from the glitz of the castle. And yet there is something disturbingly patronising about the village.

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Versailles is inarguably gorgeous, a feat of architecture and a hub for 18th-century art and culture. During its golden years, the court hosted many artists, like playwright Molière and Rococo painter Fragonard. The royals and their designers were responsible for major advances in fashion, and brought a decadent playfulness to the art of French dress. Perhaps above all, Versailles was a place of wealthy people and expensive things, and the result was inevitably beautiful and impressive.

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Yet there was a dark side to Versailles, if an invisible one. Louis XIV’s and (later) Marie Antoinette’s decadent, debaucherous lifestyles ran France’s economy into the ground, and the unworldly Louis XVI could do nothing to save it. As royals and aristocrats feasted, the French public starved. As the Crown spent wild sums on maintaining its wasteful ways, the French working class were taxed far beyond their means. As the King funded the American Revolution, a grassroots movement on French soil planned its own.

Inevitably, unceremoniously, spectacularly, Versailles crumbled at the hands of the Revolutionaries. Members of the Court either fled in fear, or lost their heads at the guillotine. Versailles was doomed from the start, for it was built on an untenable system of extravagant inequality.

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And that’s why I feel so apprehensive not just about Marie Antoinette’s village. It was crushingly, painfully, woefully hard to be a peasant in 18th-century France. Playing at being one for fun sums up everything naive and unjust about what Versailles represented.

Versailles was a glittering monolith of pleasure and indulgence that ignored, and fuelled, a well of national suffering. Even Napoleon thought it would be a bit gauche to take up residence there, once he became France’s self-proclaimed Emperor, and that’s saying something.

However, the château’s current role breathes new life into its beauty, for these days it is a museum. And what are museums but a slice of culture and history made available to one and all? I think the Revolutionaries would approve. And I hope, deep down in her heart, that sheltered, silly, but fundamentally not-unkind queen would, too.

Xx La Muséophile

Château de Versailles

 Place d’Armes, 78000 Versailles, France (RER line C)

Museum homepage

Full price: 15-18 euros

Reduced price: 13 euros
Opening hours:
1 April to 31 October: 9am to 6.30pm

1 November  31 March: 9am to 5.30pm

Closed Mondays

Art Lovers’ Paris, free this week


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When I’m not pottering around on Les Musées de Paris, I’m writing about Paris in many other places. One of my favourite projects is writing e-books for the wonderful Unanchor Travel, which publishes travel e-books filled with beautiful photos, detailed maps and expertly-curated itineraries for destinations all over the world.

Unanchor books are available direct from their website, as well as on Amazon. And in a rather fabulous deal, every Unanchor book will be available for free on Amazon for 48 hours, this Thursday and Friday, September 3 and 4 2015.

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La muséophile‘s books can be found here (Melbourne), here (Richmond), and most importantly for LMdP readers here (Paris!) Feel free to snap them up for free this week. Just please, pretty please, leave a review if you like what you’ve read; reviews are what make Amazon go round!

Happy reading, happy wanderlust!

Note: if you don’t use Kindle, you can adapt the e-books to your phone or tablet using Amazon’s Kindle Reader app.

Musée Cognacq-Jay


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What do we want to see when we go to a museum? Sometimes we’re looking for the strange and new, something that makes us think or feel differently about the world around us. Sometimes we want to see the familiar, something we’ve read or learned about but never had the chance to see in the flesh. And sometimes we want something in the middle; something we’ve never set eyes on, but which reminds us of what we know. Sometimes we want to see a different side to something we already understand.lesmuseesdeparis cognac jay 1

That’s how I feel when I visit museums set in the space people once lived in. In these adapted home museums, you stand in the middle of preserved living quarters from another time. Finding yourself in Marie Antoinette’s chambers at Versailles or Joséphine Bonaparte’s dressing room at Malmaison is an alien experience; these women lived among unimaginable riches, and seeing their gilt clocks, bejewelled furnishings and velvet-tasselled canopy beds shows us how very different their lives were to our own.

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Yet there is also something intimate and familiar about standing in the very room in which these women napped, snored and put on their makeup. Imagining them rolling out of bed and splashing water on their faces from the porcelain pitchers displayed right in front of us allows us to see these abstract, often famous figures as real humans, who inhabited real bodies in the real world.

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This intimacy is one of the main reasons I love the Cognacq-Jay museum of 18th-century art in Paris. The museum is located in the elaborate Hôtel Donon, home to Théodore-Ernest Cognacq (1839–1928) and his wife Marie-Louise Jay (1838–1925), with views of the surrounding Marais streets. It is filled with rare 18th-century artworks and objects collected by the Cognacq-Jays throughout their lifetimes.

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But what I love most about this museum is how it still manages to feel a bit like the home it once was. Right down to the plush, stubby silk bed in which they did their napping and snoring. Just as we all do (especially the snoring, if you happen to the be l’Américain).

Xx la muséophile

Musée Cognac-Jay

8 rue Elzevir, 75003 (métro Saint-Paul/Chemin Vert)

Museum homepage

Permanent collections: free

Opening hours:
Tuesday to Sunday: 10am to 6pm

Closed Monday and Public Holidays

Musée de la Poupée


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I never really latched on to those scary stories about sentient, murderous dolls when I was a child. Maybe it’s because I managed not to see any of the Chucky movies until I was old enough to simply laugh at them. But no matter how many sleepovers ended up being a competition over who had the creepiest doll horror story to share, I just couldn’t work myself up to be frightened by them.

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I’m not sure where she is now, but I had a perfect, blonde-locked porcelain doll when I was little that I simply adored. Her long-lashed eyes would open when I sat her up, and gently close when I lay her down for her nap. She wore a Dorothy-esque blue and white-checked dress and little patent Mary-Jane shoes. Her hair was a perfect, glinting, Alice in Wonderland yellow.

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That said, I didn’t feel particularly excited about paying a visit to the Paris doll museum. The idea of a multitude of staring dolls didn’t seem like my cup of tea. But tucked away down a tiny lane only a few metres from one of Paris’ main museums, the Pompidou Centre, the Musée de la Poupée is a (weird) breath of fresh air. Small but passionate about its subject matter, the doll museum reminds me of so many other super-specific museums in the city (like the funfair, automaton and eyeglass museums). There’s something very charming about devoting an entire museum to such a niche, and I can think of few places other than Paris in which such museums could have a place.

Xx la muséophile

Musée de la Poupée

28 rue de Beaubourg, 75003 (métro Rambuteau)

Museum homepage

Full price: 8 euros

Reduced price: 4-6 euros
Opening hours:
Tuesday to Saturday: 1pm to 6pm

Closed Sunday, Monday and Public Holidays

10 Things: Paris Art and Culture


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I’m rather thrilled to share the fabulous new website 10 Things and their freshly-published, spot-on Paris guide.

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I had the pleasure of selecting their Art and Culture list, and bringing the museums of Paris to new readers. It was a true challenge to narrow down my favourite art and culture spots in the city, but there are plenty of LMdP highlights, from the Maison de Victor Hugo to the Musée de la chasse et de la nature. The list ranges from the stately and chic to the quirky and downright odd. Just the way we like it on this blog.

Find the guide, with some truly beautiful images, here.

Hurrah for Paris museums, art and culture!

Xx la muséophile

Château de Vincennes


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Not all museums are for all travellers, and certain Paris historic sites will appeal to some and bewilder others. I personally love the Musée de la Chasse et de la Nature (though not as much as l’Américain) but I know its penchant for animated taxidermy isn’t for everyone.lesmuseesdeparis chateau de vincennes 3

But no matter who you are and what you like, you can’t wrong with a château. They are grand and mesmerising and serene and exciting. If you haven’t visited a French château before, you should absolutely make the trek south to the stunning region of the Loire, home to the most wondrous collection of castles in the world. But if you don’t want to stray too far from the capital, Paris has plenty of them, too.

The king of the castles is doubtless the glittering, golden monolith of Versailles, 45 minutes from the city to the southwest. Further to the north, outside of the sleepy town of Rueil, lies the English-style castle Malmaison. Slightly further afield, but well worth the journey, is the monumental Château de Fontainebleau, surrounded by forests.

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But perhaps the most unique château near Parisis just a short ride on the metro, in Vincennes. The Château de Vincennes doesn’t have any of the glitz of Versailles. Neither does it sport its original furnishings (or convincing remakes) like Fontainebleau. But it is a gem of history.

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Built by Charles V and occupied throughout the ages by royals, Vincennes is a true Medieval castle, replete with moat, drawbridge, cathedral, soaring towers and dungeons. Quiet and composed, you can wander the grounds barely disturbed, to discover ballrooms, writing chambers and even latrines. Rather uniquely, the castle employs just the right amount of interactive technology. In one room, you can hear authentic Medieval music through a discreet touch display. In another, a guard will offer you an iPad to scan over the room, showing reenactments of the jewel-coloured tapestries and gilt edgings that once decorated the now-bare stone walls.

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In fact, that app summed up what I find so great about Vincennes, compared with other châteaux; the castle doesn’t try to dress up its smooth stone facades with imitations of the past. It gives the visitor a creative glimpse into what the castle was like centuries ago, without obscuring the peaceful simplicity of what it is like today.

The Château de Vincennes gracefully bridges the gap between the then and the now, a fact that’s only reinforced by the path visitors take home. Stepping over the Medieval drawbridge, above the moat now lined with lush grass, within moments they arrive at the shining, modern metro station right outside the gates.

Xx la muséophile

Château de Vincennes

Avenue de Paris, 94300 Vincennes (métro Château de Vincennes)

Museum homepage

Full price: 8.5 euros

Reduced price: 5.5 euros
Opening hours:
Every day, May 21 to September 22: 10.30am to 1pm and 2pm to 5.30pm

Every day, September 23 to 20 May: 10am to 5pm

Coffee Cities Series


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La muséophile loves coffee. A lot.

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Over the last year, I’ve been publishing my coffee recommendations for my favourite cities, with the fabulous Epicure and Culture. With this week’s Edinburgh edition, the series has come to an end (until I can get to know some more cities, at least). The series includes magnificent cities like Paris, London and New York, as well as some smaller, more personal locations across Australia, the USA and Europe, like Launceston, New Orleans and Reykjavik.


Have a read through the archives here, and share your favourites, too. And if you enjoyed the series, you may wish to follow on with my new venture, on that other glorious beverage, wine.

Xx la muséophile


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