Far away from the glittering lights of Paris (okay, not that far, you can still see the Eiffel Tower!), you’ll find a green park hanging above the city. Rows of trees, an endless maze of paths, passageways and the feeling of a neverending summer. There was once a château here, there are still plenty of flower borders to be spotted and it’s the perfect place to escape the crowds of Paris. This is Parc de Saint-Cloud, an oasis of green filled with oodles of history at the end of metro line 10!
Parc de Saint-Cloud: One of the most beautiful gardens in Europe
Also known as the ‘Domaine National de Saint-Cloud’, the park covers 460 hectares and was awarded status of a historic monument in 1994. Today, it is a great place to enjoy a Parisian picnic or to enjoy some outdoor activities away from the bustle of busy capital city life. Wander around the landscaped gardens, enjoy a spectacular view over Paris or simply learn about the history of the place at the local museum.
One of the best things to see in Saint Cloud (that still remains to this day) is wandering around a beautifully landscaped garden by acclaimed designer André Le Nôtre. Born in the early 1600s, other iconic designers by Le Nôtre include those at Château de Chantilly, Château de Sceaux, and Château de Fontainebleau.
Another must-see attraction of the park Saint-Cloud is Marie-Antoinette’s rose garden. Around the world, the French queen is remembered for her lavishly opulent lifestyle, her ‘play-farm‘ at Versailles and is often quoted as having said: “let them eat cake“. The rose garden still remains to this day and now grows flowers used at state functions.
Château de Saint-Cloud: Mystery, assassination and murder
Once upon a time, a grand French château sat in what is now space where families enjoy time together and people walk their dogs. Château de Saint-Cloud was built between 1570 and 1701, various generations and eras adding their mark to the ever-growing building.
Overlooking the mighty River Seine, the first castle on site was constructed a wealthy banking family from Florence. The grand mansion in Saint-Cloud was called “Aulnay hotel” at this time and was one of the most opulent buildings in the entire region.
View of the estate of Saint Cloud by Étienne Allegrain, 17th-Century, Étienne Allegrain
However, the tranquility within this oasis of opulence just outside the Paris peripherique was not to last long. Shortly after the château’s initial completion, in the 1580s, Henri III was assassinated here by monk Jacques Clement. Clement came from a family of French farmers and was born on a date forgotten to the history books. Deeply devoted to Catholicism, he vowed to wipe out the heretics and was referred to as ‘Captain Clement’ by his fellow colleagues and clergymen.
Henri III, on the other hand, was never destined to be King. After all, he was the fourth son of Henri II and Catherine de Medici (you know, the King who was accidentally wounded by a joust, and the reason Catherine de Medici relocated the royal residence from Place des Vosges to Tuileries). Destined to live a lavish life, fate had other plans for Henri III following the unfortunate death of his father.
General view of Château de Saint-Cloud, Parc de Saint-Cloud and rest of Domaine, 17th Century, M. Pernelle
The Death of Henri III in Parc de Saint-Cloud
For a brief period, Henri III was also elected King of Poland, at the age of just twenty-one years old, and he also held the title of Grand Duke of Lithuania for a while (you might remember that Luxembourg is the only country which remains a Grand Duchy to this day.)
In Clement’s eyes, the King, Henri III, was a traitor to Catholicism after the French King had ordered the assassination of the Duke of Guise, a young noble with plenty of political promise. In 1589, Clement approached Henri III, beckoning the King forward under the pretence that he had an important message to give him. It was then that he stabbed the King with a concealed knife. Shortly after Henri III’s death, in Château de Saint-Cloud, Henri IV was declared King of France.
The assassination of King Henry III by the monk Jacques Clement, 16th-century engraving by Frans Hogenberg.
The death of Henri III may have been widely welcomed by the people of Paris but further misfortune was to befall the domaine of Saint-Cloud. In 1785, the Château was purchased for Marie Antoinette as she felt that the palace would be the perfect place for her children to play away from the packed streets of Paris. Following the French Revolution, Josephine and Emperor Napoleon III held their Spring and Summer courts at the palace.
Shortly afterwards, during the Franco-Prussian war, the château was occupied by Prussian troops. As a result, the French fired shells on the grand château and the building caught fire on the 13th October 1870. The fire was fierce and the building was left an empty shell. In 1872, the decision was taken to rip down what little remained of the château. Today, the Musée du Château de Saint-Cloud documents the fascinating history of this near-forgotten French mansion…
Le château de Saint-Cloud after 1870