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 ended) there are many more inspired options for romantic moments. And I think we’ve found the best.
On Mother’s Day in France, I got my choice of our family activity and opted for a trip to the Parc Bagatelle. It’s in the heart of the Bois de Boulogne in the 16th Arrondissement of Paris. My daughters had rallied for a trip to Carrefour (yes, the grocery store) but I pulled rank.
Bagatelle is much less known than Luxembourg or the Tuileries, and that is one of the reasons it is so much better. There is a small fee to enter (3 Euros for adults) and we saw not one tourist with a selfie stick nor people hawking Eifel tower key chains. Jogging is forbidden in this park (seriously) 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 fashion designer Tory Burch earlier this year. She said yes.
The park is full of “follies,” or structures that are meant to delight and amuse you. 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 bother-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 was like walking into a bottle of Stella McCartney perfume! Then, comes a garden of wild roses which was filled with roaming peacocks. We must have seen a hundred peacocks over the day, some of them even up in the trees. It being mating season, the males were happy to display their ample plumage for us at every turn. Next, a water lilly pond, which was also filled with ducklings and goslings. At this point we’re all wondering what on earth could appear next, a prancing white unicorn? No, just a waterfall and a bridge overlooking a koi pond with a white gazebo. It was like a world within a world. Truth be told, we did see a sort of large muskrat type creature swimming in the pond and a concerned old lady told us that it was chasing the ducklings and eating them.
There is a fancy restaurant at the entrance to the park, but for lunch we opted for the “Buvette,” which is the French term for a kiosk-like bar serving coffee and cold drinks. We somehow procured a glass of premier cru white burgundy served in a coffee cup (we think it was the staff’s private stash) and the kids loved their “chiens-chaud,” a French hot dog wrapped in a warm baguette. There was a freak rainstorm (the weather was up to 30 degrees that day) so we lingered 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 June. There are more than 10,000 rose bushes here, in every shape and colour, so when the rain abated we set about choosing our favourite roses by sight and smell. There is also an entire garden dedicated to iris, which was even more stunning. Suddenly, we heard classical music coming from a white tent near the Orangerie. The musicians were warming up for that afternoon’s cello concert, part of the annual Festival de Chopin that takes place in the park. We spent some more time walking the bridges and climbing through grottoes and pagodas with the other French families, many of whom had brought a picnic, then made our way back out. At the end of the day even the children agreed it was much better than a trip to the grocery store.