A Tranquil Walk Along the Seine from the Château de Malmaison

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A Tranquil Walk Along the Seine from the Château de Malmaison
The elegant little Château de Malmaison is in a lovely setting within easy reach of Paris, which is why Napoleon and Josephine chose it, but has few international visitors. You could make your visit even more satisfying by taking a little-known walk through the Parc de Bois-Préau next door, which once belonged to the château, to the church where Josephine is buried in the historic centre of Rueil. It is an attractive little town with a market, a good brasserie next to the church and a total absence of tourists. You could end the trip with a short bus ride to Bougival to take a beautiful 3 km walk along the Seine at a spot made famous by the Impressionists, past the house of Georges Bizet to the RER station at Rueil-Malmaison, 25 minutes from central Paris. The Château de Malmaison. Photo credit: Annabel Simms The more you know about Napoleon and Josephine, the more rewarding the visit to the château will be. These two highly successful self-made people had a lot in common and each died with the other’s name on their lips. Josephine de Beauharnais was a 32-year old widow with two children, from a minor aristocratic family in Martinique, living on her beauty and her wits in the precarious world of the Directory which governed France from 1795 to 1799. She was six years older than the rising but socially unpolished young general when he met and fell in love with her. They married a few months later in 1796 despite the opposition of his family, who felt that he could have done much better. It seems that she was not in love with him and that Napoleon was furious when he found out about at least one lover soon after their marriage. He turned out to be a devoted stepfather to Josephine’s children and all the evidence is that she eventually fell deeply in love with him. The divorce in 1809 was reluctantly arranged so that he could marry again when it was clear that she could not provide the Emperor with an heir. He made a generous settlement on her, including Malmaison and its valuable contents, insisted that she keep the title of Empress, and continued to support her financially despite her extravagance. He once remarked that the only thing that ever came between them was her debts. They stayed good friends until her death at Malmaison, aged 51, in 1814. After his abdication on 22 June 1815 Napoleon spent a final few days at Malmaison before leaving France for exile on St Helena. The 17th century château was acquired by Josephine in 1799 and Napoleon paid for it on his return from Egypt. He employed two young architects to do major renovation work on it between 1800 and 1802 although he curtailed their more ambitious plans to remodel it completely. Unlike Rambouillet and St Cloud, former royal châteaux which became Napoleon’s later residences, Malmaison was redesigned as a private country house where the First Consul could work, entertain and relax. Between 1800 and 1802 the government known as the Consulate (1799-1804), of which Napoleon was the leading member, met there frequently, in a more informal atmosphere than that of the Tuileries.

Lead photo credit : The Seine at Bougival, courtesy of Wendy Sweetser

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Annabel Simms is an English resident of Paris, with over 20 years' experience of exploring the Paris countryside by train, bus, boat and on foot. She is is the author of "An Hour From Paris" (3rd edition 2019) and "Half An Hour From Paris" (2nd edition 2023). Her website is http://anhourfromparis.com.


  • Lucrecia Rousseaux
    2022-10-18 11:14:36
    Lucrecia Rousseaux
    Bonjour Paris is THE best way to really discover the awesome, not so published, places Paris has to offer. This article about Malmaison is an example of all you could miss if you only read a guide book. The stroll is beautifully described and offers a wonderful tour! Thanks!!!


    •  Annabel Simms
      2022-10-21 01:11:15
      Annabel Simms
      Thanks Lucrecia. I'm so pleased you enjoyed reading this. It will be in the updated edition of my guidebook, Half An Hour From Paris, to be published in January 2023.