Sometimes, I wake up on a Saturday morning, and it’s glorious, warm weather outside, but alas, I don’t have anything planned to make the most of it.
After the initial grumble about how disorganised I am, because the rest of Paris has planned ahead and got out to the countryside or seaside, my boyfriend and general partner in crime, reminds me that all hope is not lost, for there’s still plenty left to explore in Paris and its outskirts. And it turns out he was right.
We swiftly got ready, and jumped on an RER train to Issy, south of the Boulogne woods (and a mere 20 minutes from the Eiffel Tower), where we started our adventure – I’ve popped a map of our itinerary below.
Island-hopping on the Seine from Saint-Germain to Séguin
Our first stop was Saint-Germain island. I had no idea how many islands there were on the River Seine, some of which have pretty detached houses and apartments, while others, are adorned with large green spaces, like Saint-Germain.
It’s not far from the city centre but it feels like being miles away. The continuous roar of traffic falls away, leaving room only for the sound of the trees rustling in the breeze. Children fall about laughing, adults guard picnics, and if you’re a bit of an art buff, then even you are in for a treat with this towering Jean Dubuffet artwork plonked in the middle of the island.
An abstract work 12 metres high, the ‘Tour aux Figures’ (tower of figures) was inaugurated in 1988, just after the artist’s death, and today is one of the artist’s biggest in situ artworks. Known for his rebellious streak, his outsider art questioned the notions of beauty and high culture in the 70s and 80s.
Walk through the park and hop on to the next island, the Ile de Séguin, where you’ll find the shiny Seine Musicale performance arts space, which hosts a diverse offering of plays and concerts. However, if you haven’t booked tickets, the futuristic scarab-like structure by avant-garde Japanese architect Shigeru Ban, is still worth stopping for.
A new lease of life for the abandoned Rothschild mansion
It’s not like we make a habit of trespassing often, but the lure of this abandoned chateau crouching behind overgrown wreaths in the Edmond de Rothschild park, was just too great not to have a wander inside.
Once in the park, among people sunning themselves, and children playing out on the manicured lawns, we jumped the rotting fence, wiggled through the overgrown hedges, and climbed the staircase to the large artfully crumbling Louis XIV mansion house.
Covered in graffiti, there it stood, tall and proud, a relic of a time passed. Finished in 1861 and commissioned by the banker James de Rothschild, it was still magnificent. Sadly, during the Second World War, it was abandoned, ransacked by allied troops and never lived in again.
The chateau and its eerie interiors, reminiscent of its former grandeur, became a temple for clandestine parties, a canvas for graffiti artists, and a place of refuge for the homeless.
It wasn’t until recently that the chateau was snapped up by a developer, which will restore it to reopen it to the public in the coming years.
In the meantime though, we had a snoop around and there’s a singular atmosphere loaded with the energy of departed souls. The urban explorers in us made us wish the chateau could stay just the way it was instead of being scrubbed clean of its visible layers of history.
Chateau Rothchild – 3 Rue des Victoires, 92100 Boulogne-Billancourt
From Paris to Melbourne at the Reef Club
All that urban exploring certainly worked up an appetite, so we stopped off the Reef Club, a restaurant on a boat docked on the River Seine. And its owners have successfully honed the perfect holiday vibe here, with the mix of water sports and smart seating up on deck where locals come to soak up the sun while nursing a glass of rosé. We’ve written a full post about the Reef Club, so check it out for all the details.
Reef Club – Face 11, Quai du 4 Septembre, 92100 Boulogne-Billancourt
Jardin des Serres d’Auteuil
Possibly one of our favourite places in Paris to escape the urban frenzy, is these magnificent, five elegant Art Nouveau green houses which date as far back as 1761.
They house a remarkable collection of rare, exotic plants and trees, a palm house, as well as an aviary. There are guided tours of the garden all year round, and a classical music festival is held here every year if you want to plan ahead.
We especially love especially loving coming here in winter, as it feels like being in the Amazon all year around.
Jardin des Serres d’Auteuil – 3 Avenue de la Porte d’Auteuil, Paris 75016
The café where it’s always time for a holiday
One of our favourite hang-outs for the laid-back twenties vibe, is The Holiday Café designed by Franck Durand, the editor and creative force behind the dream-inducing Holiday magazine.
It looks like it belongs in a coastal town tucked away in Georgia, and it’s tiny, so make sure you get there early or outside of peak meal times to nab a table. If you’re still hungry after your stint at the Reef Club, then it serves salads, plates of smoked salmon and black truffle fusili gratin, which should do the trick.
The Holiday Café – 192 Avenue de Versailles, Paris 75016