Sceaux — Off the Tourist Track

I love cascades and fountains — still have a snapshot of Versailles gardens through the spray of its great fountain taken 20 years ago — and so when I learned of the cascades of Sceaux and that they were running on Wednesdays, we put a Wednesday trip to the park and chateau at Sceaux on our list of things to see.

Sceaux is a posh suburb of Paris and an easy train trip; we had instructions to the chateau from the Bourg la Reine station which were alas remarkably confused. This left us wandering through the streets searching for the park roughly a kilometer from the station.  A  little old lady who spoke not a word of English took pity on us and with our primitive French (luckily I knew the word escalier) and her leading us and pointing the way, we managed to get on track to find the place.  We have never understood the bad reputation of the French in America; we have always found them as helpful and charming as this  woman who seemed delighted that we could communicate with her in French, such as it was, and that we were visiting her neighborhood.

While popular with Parisians and locals, I didn’t run across anyone who appeared to be a foreign tourist at Sceaux, except Ed of course.

The current Chateaux which houses a museum, is not the original — or even the chateau that Colbert built to replace the one he knocked down to build his grand estate in the 1670s.  Colbert whom we met at Vaux le Vicomte — he is the minister to Louis XIV who engineered the downfall of Fouquet and seizure of that chateau by the crown — was the dominant force in estate development of that era. While the Colbert chateau was a victim of the revolution, his beautiful design for the gardens still stands; he used the same landscape architects here that designed the grounds at Vaux le Vicomte and later Versailles.  This chateau was built in the middle of the 19th century when the estate that had been allowed to revert to farmland after the Revolution was again developed as an estate, and later a public park.

The grounds are designed with sweeping vistas and great swatches of grass which this day were full of families playing.  There were several kites in the air and lots of kids kicking balls and running about.

The cascade of nine fountains and waterfalls runs down to a basin that feeds a series of long canals.    We had a picnic lunch on one of benches in a niche about halfway down the cascade.

There were locals fishing in the basin at the foot of the cascades.  May is field trip season in France.   Imagine living in a country where you can walk from your school to great museums and great cultural treasures like this one?

These masks by Rodin are at the base of the first level of cascades and about halfway down.

There are beautiful views all along the canals; you have to be careful which path you take or it is a long way around.  Here is Ed with the Pavillon Hanovre in the background; this is a building transplanted from downtown Sceaux into the park in 1932.

There are wooded rather wild areas and nooks and crannies to curl up with a book throughout the park.

We exited the park near the old carp pond that supplied the chateau with fish for the table.

This path takes one out of the wide swaths of lawn and manicured trees that make up most of the park and into a series of pretty little flower gardens.

The path out of the Parc Sceaux, leads through the town and then  into a local park.  The Jardin de la Menagerie, is  on the grounds of the cemetery for the pets owned by the Duchesse  du Maine.  She was married to one of Louis XIV ‘legitimized’  sons by the Duchesse Montespan. The stone pillars mark the graves of her canaries.

The park now caters to more modern recreational tastes.

And it includes one of the ubiquitous caroussels for French kids.We decided to return by a different train station and assumed that since we were in the same zone as Bourg de La Reine station that our tickets would be fine at the Sceaux station.

And we got a lesson in how the RER system actually works.  While in Paris one ticket works everywhere within the Zones 1 and 2 — once out of Paris into Zones 3, 4, 5 or 6 you have to have a ticket to a specific station.  It doesn’t matter that they cost the same, you will not be able to get through the turnstile with the wrong ticket.  This led to furious searches for enough coins to use the ticket machine since there was also no attended window at Sceau station and US obsolete credit card technology doesn’t work in automatic machines in Europe.

But a great trip.  A beautiful park.  Sceaux is a great day trip destination.

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11 Responses to Sceaux — Off the Tourist Track

  1. Raegan says:

    Fabulous!! I will file away for my next trip to France!

  2. Janet says:

    Be sure to go when the fountains are running —

    • Cheryl says:

      We are a couple from Australia and will definitely visit Sceaux when we are in France in May/June 2014. We are spending 2 weeks in Semur-en-Auxios (any hints for accomm), five days in Paris and around 10 days unplanned at present. Looking at Alsace region, have you visited this area. We have spent time in Normandy, Provence and week in Paris previously. Thank you so much for your wonderful blogs.

    • RichardRFC says:

      “Be sure to go when the fountains are running —”
      Sadly, that’s not possible now. I was at Sceaux this week (August 2017), and there were notices to explain that the cascades were not working, and all the levels had been drained dry to prevent further deterioration of stone and pipes. The great fountain at the bottom of the cascade was in good health, though, and the gardens were as beautiful as ever.

  3. Jen McGaw says:

    Hi Janet, today I got the RER B line from Notre Dame, and it was about 10 stops later we arrived in Sceaux. What a pretty place. I did not have d a map but followed some signs away from the station and basically stumbled on the Parc… It was cloudy then some showers and eventually sunshine! But I had to tell you I had the best day discovering the maze of walkways, the children’s playground, and hearing the fountains first without being able to see them and then being surprised by their surroundings…a magical day which I would do again! Thanks so much for your description of this day trip which inspired me to come and see for myself. I actually left Paris about 1pm and returned just after 5pm and seeing most of the grounds. Yes, I feel happy tonight. Thankyou.

  4. Felica says:

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  5. Ana says:

    I just visited Sceaux inspired by your beautiful pictures. It was perfect and just as you described except there were very few visitors. Mostly joggers. Today was supposed to be partly cloudy in the low sixties so that may have discouraged families. I find it difficult to enjoy gardens when the sun is very intense, so this was perfect for me. As it turns out it was quite sunny but not too warm. Lovely.
    It’s been a while since you posted in your blog and I miss your wonderful descriptions and observations. I hope all is well with you.

    • Janet says:

      Glad your trip went well; isn’t Sceaux delightful? I have a backlock of blog posts but haven’t had time to write. We are planning a trip to St. Petersburg in the fall and I hope to get some good pictures to post from there as well as Berlin, Prague and Paris again.


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