Just 8km west of Paris, Rueil-Malmaison is a fertile, leafy suburb steeped in the history of the French Empire. Here you can get a better acquaintance with Napoleon’s wife, Joséphine de Beauharnais, until their divorce in 1810. You’ll discover the palatial home she shared with the emperor, wander the spacious grounds around it, and pay her respects at the church where she sits tomb.
Rueil-Malmaison’s beautiful gardens, dense forests and verdant banks of the Seine are almost filled with green spaces. So, if you are looking for a peaceful home on your Paris trip, with your own attractions, Rueil-Malmaison would be a good choice.
Let’s explore the best things to do in Rueil-Malmaison:
1. Malmaison Castle
Joséphine acquired the Château de Malmaison in 1799 and spent astronomical sums over the next few years improving the house and enriching the grounds.
It was even the seat of the French government between 1800 and 1802.
Meanwhile, Josephine has devoted most of her attention to the garden, planting 250 species of roses and establishing a zoo with zebras, llamas, antelopes and kangaroos.
Later, after her death and defeat at Waterloo, Napoleon stayed here for 100 days before exile.
This is an amazing property steeped in the history of this charming home.
Inside is a museum with ornate decorations, furniture, musical instruments and Sèvres tableware that belonged to Josephine and Napoleon.
From the day Joséphine bought Château de Malmaison, she has been eyeing the neighbouring property.
But the daughter of the banker who owned it refused to sell it, and Josephine didn’t get it until 1808, when a neighbor was found drowned in a pond. The 17 hectares are now a gorgeous park in English style, with wide lawns and mature trees such as Turkish hazel that have been around since the time of Josephine.
There is a statue of the empress of the famous 19th-century sculptor Vital-Dubray, the stage was erected by the 18th-century Château de Bois-Préau, which contains a Napoleonic museum, which is currently closed for renovations.
3. Petit Malmaison Castle
When the vast grounds of the Château de Malmaison were divided, this luxurious pavilion became a separate property and is now a unique attraction.
The church was built in 1805 by Louis-Martin Bertault, who would go on to design Josephine’s tomb.
The Queen was deeply involved in the work, as it was linked to her passion for botany, and one wing of the building is occupied by a greenhouse for the cultivation of rare tropical plants.
On one visit you will get to know Aimé Bonpland, the explorer and botanist who brought back all these plants from his travels.
It was also the second home of the painter Pierre-Joseph Redouté, whose depictions of Josephine Roses are still as popular as postcards.
4. Église Saint-Pierre-Saint-Paul
This stately Renaissance church is famous for housing the tombs of Josephine and her daughter Hortens.
Josephine’s funeral was held here on June 2, 1814, and her tomb was to be completed 11 years later, in 1825. It is a joint effort of architect Luis-Martin Besso and sculptor Pierre Catellier, and it is carved from Carrara marble.
Hortens was the daughter of Josephine’s ex-wife (her ex-husband was killed in the revolution), who later married Napoleon’s brother Louis Bonaparte.
Hortense died in 1837, and her magnificent mausoleum was inaugurated in 1858 by her son Napoleon III.
5. Bois de Saint-Cucufa
Much of Malmaison’s land is 200 hectares of forest, which was eventually acquired by the state in 1871 to become a park.
Here’s some Joséphine trivia, too, as she contracted the pneumonia that killed her after a walk by a park pond on a cold night.
There is now a two-kilometer interpretive trail that introduces you to the history of the park, as well as bike paths and, of course, a large pond over two hectares.
So come here for a jog, a relaxing stroll or a picnic by the water.
6. Mount Valerian
In 1841, Paris invested in an artillery fortification in preparation for an attack from what is now Germany.
This fortress on the top of Mont-Valérien is the main highland west of Paris and was involved in the Siege of Paris in 1870 and the suppression of the Paris Commune in 1871. But its darkest days came during World War II, when more than thousands of members of the French Resistance and other banned groups were executed here.
Later, the site was preserved by de Gaulle as a war memorial, with an eternal flame and a trail that traces the last steps of these warriors, and a chapel with graffiti of the condemned.
7. Musée d’Histoire Locale
The Old Town Hall is home to a museum that covers the history of the city, including some of its perhaps forgotten lifestyles and personalities.
For example, there are details on Rueil-Malmaison’s ancient winemaking industry, which was killed by phylloxera wilt in the late 1800s.
You can also learn about views from the Franco-Prussian War and the Siege of Paris, and if you have any lingering curiosity about Empress Josephine, you can enjoy it here.
Also from the Napoleonic era is a group of 1,600 figurines representing the emperor’s army.
Finally, there is an entire room dedicated to Édouard Belin, whose 1913 Belinograph was a precursor to wired photographs, capable of sending images over telephone lines, long before the invention of fax.
8. Musée des Gardes Suisses
The Swiss Guard is a Swiss mercenary force founded by Louis XIII in 1616 to protect the king.
These soldiers were known for their loyalty, and during the Revolution, nearly 900 were massacred while trying to defend the Tuileries in 1792. The museum is housed in one of three barracks built for the Legion in the mid-18th century, and each week a detachment will leave the building for Versailles to lighten the Medal of Honor there.
The building is recognized as a “Historic Monument” in France and holds uniforms, documents and other memorabilia related to the regiment.
9. St. Cloud Park
If Rueil-Malmaison is all about empire, the neighbouring suburb of Saint-Cloud has a taste of royalty.
You can see this heritage at the Parc de Saint-Cloud, the famous French “Jardin Notable”, known as one of the most beautiful gardens in Europe.
Best of all, you can get a great view of Paris from the La Lanterne observatory, with the Eiffel Tower and Sacré Coeur sparkling on a clear summer day.
As for the royal family, the park was once home to the Chateau de Saint-Cloud, a royal palace destroyed during the 1870 Siege of Paris. Marie Antoinette especially loved the house and planted the garden that still exists today.
10. Grognard Studios
The building is a peculiar 19th-century factory that once forged thousands of copper, zinc and tin plates for carving.
Gone are those days, and the two halls of Atelier Grognard are now an evocative venue for temporary art exhibitions.
When you come to Rueil-Malmaison, you should know what’s going on here, because the quality of art here is high: in the last few years, there are prints by Dubuffet, sculptures by Miró, Impressionist paintings of the Seine , abstract expressionism of the 50s and works from the famous Ruart family.
11. Arc de Triomphe
Rueil-Malmaison is located on Line A of the RER commuter train network.
As a result, you can reach the Charles de Gaulle Etoile station below the Arc de Triomphe in just over 10 minutes.
Not only is it one of the monuments that can be recognized by almost anyone in the world, but it is also the perfect complement to the Château de Malmaison.
Everyone knows what the Arc de Triomphe looks like, but not everyone knows that it was built to commemorate Napoleon’s conquests and to honor the French soldiers who died during the Revolution and Napoleonic Wars.
You can learn about French military history by studying six reliefs from key moments in these conflicts, then climb the roof and follow the 12 radiating avenues straight down arrows intuitively.
12. Paris Museum
In less than 20 minutes you can reach the Châtelet – Les Halles station, roughly halfway between the Centre Pompidou and the Louvre.
So you can plan a day of cultural activities, first immersing yourself in the modern and contemporary art of the Musée National d’Art Moderne.
Every movement and period in modern art is here, including Picasso, Matisse Braque’s landmark works, and many more we couldn’t list.
Then there is the Louvre, the largest museum in the world.
Assuming you’re fascinated by an obscure ancient civilization or historical period, you’re sure to find a detailed gallery about it here.
For others, there are dozens of paintings that are part of the common consciousness: with Vermeer’s “The Lacemaker,” Delacroix’s “Liberty Leading the People,” and, of course, the Mona Lisa.
One of the great advantages of living in the western suburbs of Paris is that you have easy access to Versailles.
Another must-see in the area is less than a 20-minute drive away.
Also, if you only have a day to visit this huge palace and its grounds, you can spend more time exploring.
Because you don’t want to waste a minute, gaze at the awe-inspiring art in the various royal apartments, the Hall of Mirrors and the French History Museum inside the palace.
Or outside, the flower beds, the orangery, the Grand Trianon, the Grand Canal and the Queen’s Hamlet need as much time as possible.
14. Île de la Cité
Back in Paris, the shortest walk from Châtelet – Les Halles is one of the city’s natural islands, packed with iconic sights and activities.
Of course you have Notre Dame, a masterpiece of French Gothic art, probably the most famous church in the world, and a place sealed in history by Victor Hugo.
But you should check out the Conciergerie, a medieval palace turned prison.
You can enter the dungeon where Marie Antoinette is awaiting execution.
Don’t forget the Pont Neuf, the oldest surviving bridge on the Seine in Paris and the boarding point for magical cruises on this unparalleled river.
As if to confirm Rueil-Malmaison’s upscale and leafy image, there are three golf courses in the area.
Le Golf de Paris welcomes beginners, experts and everyone in between.
There is a 9-hole par 35 course and seven different practice facilities, one of the longest in Europe.
Golf Blue Green Rueil-Malmaison is a bit more demanding, a par 32 for 9 holes on the Seine.
Then there’s Harrah’s Lupin Golf, a 9-hole par 32 set in mature woodland on the southern edge of the San Cucufa Forest.
Where to Stay: Best Hotels in Malmaison, Rueil, France
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