A Relaxing Stroll in the Parc de Sceaux

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A Relaxing Stroll in the Parc de Sceaux
Majestic and serene, the spacious perspectives of the 17th-century Parc de Sceaux invariably have a calming effect on the nerves. Despite its vast appearance, the park is surprisingly small. Its château-museum, statues, fountains, canals and staircase waterfall, as well as the rich diversity of its walks and its wildlife, are all contained in less than two square kilometers. But it is always possible to find secluded corners, even on weekends when the park is at its busiest. It is the most accessible of the classical parks surrounding Paris, just 10 km south of Notre Dame and 13 minutes by train from there on the RER B line, but little known to foreign visitors who are more likely to head to Versailles. The park was originally created for Jean-Baptiste Colbert (1619-1683), the Sun King’s able and hard-working chief minister. As it is a quarter the size of Versailles, strolling around it is a relaxing and satisfying experience. Sceaux, owned by the Hauts de Seine département, is more user-friendly than many larger parks owned by the State and caters for local needs, including sports facilities, a restaurant and three buvettes. It leaves a lasting impression of sober elegance, laced with moments of quiet discovery and enjoyment, very much in the spirit of the Grand Siècle that Colbert did so much to bring into being. Engraving of the château de Sceaux in Colbert’s time by Adam Pérelle, Wikimedia Commons Colbert bought the domain of Sceaux in 1670, enlarged the 16th-century château and commissioned André Le Nôtre to design the park. Le Nôtre made clever use of the sloping terrain to create a play of perspectives, culminating in the Grandes Cascades, a staircase of nine waterfalls and fountains leading to an octagonal pond and later prolonged by another green vista. Engraving of the Grandes Cascades and the Octogone at the end of the 17th century by Adam Pérelle, Wikimedia Commons In July 1677 Colbert invited Louis XIV to Sceaux, having prudently first made sure of a warm welcome for him from the villagers by halving their taxes. The royal visitors were impressed by the “marvelous cleanliness” of the apartments, unusual for the period, the banquet, the music and the fireworks, followed by a performance of Racine’s Phèdre in the Orangerie. As he emerged, the king was acclaimed by all the villagers dancing under the illuminated trees of the park. Enchanted, he remarked that he had never been more agreeably entertained. Statue of the twins Castor and Pollux by Jean-Baptiste Tuby, 1670-1680, overlooking the Octogone, ©Annabel Simms
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Lead photo credit : View of the Grand Canal from the Château de Sceaux, © Annabel Simms

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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.

Comments

  • David Mulligan
    2021-06-12 05:49:54
    David Mulligan
    Looks like this place goes on my ''must see'' list the next time I am in Paris. I enjoyed this article very much. I have been to Paris many times yet I had never heard of Sceaux. Thank you.

    REPLY

    • 2021-07-02 01:39:09
      Thank you David, and the other readers who wrote in response to this article. I really enjoyed revisiting Sceaux and writing about it witth fresh eyes.

      REPLY