The Independent Traveler's Newsletter          PAGE THREE

                                                                                                                                                            by Arthur Gillette

  There is so much to see and learn about in the French capital that many (most?) visitors 
never venture beyond its boundaries, except perhaps to be jostled in the crowds thronging Versailles. 
And yet, good regional/suburban public transport makes it easy to discover many veritable treasures 
lurking just extra muros, in certain suburbs just outside Paris. 
Arthur Gillette* helps point the way in this new series.


…to Meudon, which you can reach by suburban rail from the Gare Montparnasse in all of a dozen minutes.   Its Latin name was something like Melodunum. The dunum part relates to English 'dune' and London's 'don', meaning 'hill' or 'hillock'.  And melo? Hmmm . . . something of a mystery there. Some sources say it refers to the honey ('miel' in French, giving us 'mellifluous' in English) that beekeepers produced in Meudon many centuries ago. Others affirm it stems from the yellowish color of much of its soil, which is quite sandy. Perhaps both?

In any event, before looking at the ground, when you leave he train station head upwards along Avenue LeCorbeiller for a ten minute climb up the dunum to the public park at the Grande Terrasse, one of the most stupendous vantage points in the Parisian suburbs. A castle was built here in the second half of the 16th century and rebuilt later by Le Vau, who also took part in the construction of Versailles.

To support the castle, this Grande Terrasse – no less than fourteen meters high - was constructed  as a horizontal  projection from the rather steep hillside. It is 260 meters long by 140 meters wide.   This is what the Old Castle looked like, viewed  in its heyday:

Meudon Castle in its heyday. Photo Credit Ville de Meudon.  All rights reserved.
The Old Castle at Meudon

Many of those you can see prancing about in this engraving were not commoners. Meudon’s Old Castle was, in fact, an aristocratic stopover on the main road from Paris to no less a place than Versailles.  For reasons my research hasn’t been able to fathom, a New Castle was built just above the Grande Terrasse ca. 1706 by that other major neo-classical architect Mansart. Here is an image of the two neighbors, clearly showing the still-extant gardens created by that other Versailles (and Tuileries) landscape genius Le Nôtre.

Aristocrats enjoying the New Castle.  Photo credit Ville de Meudon.  All rights reserved.
The New Castle at Meudon

The aristocrats were kicked out by the Revolution and Meudon’s Old Castle was used for artillery experiments. One of them went awry in 1795, and the Castle burned to the ground.  As for the New Castle, during the Franco-Prussian war it was occupied by the enemy and caught fire in 1871. Its vestiges were recycled at the end of the 19th century as an astronomical observatory, which it remains to this day.

Grande Terrasse.  Photo credit:  Wikimedia.

So, now you have the Grande Terrasse pretty much to yourself for a pleasant stroll. Not to forget an incredible view of Paris.  But don’t let yourself by totally mesmerized by the Eiffel Tower, Invalides & Co. The Grande Terrasse was designed as the center of an enthralling Grande Perspective several kilometers long.  Much of it is still visible (or at least guessable) today, viewed from one end and the other of the Grande Terrasse.  A plan is now afoot to restore as much as possible of the Grande Perspective. And here is an image of what it might look like.

         The Grande Terrasse with Views of Paris
Meudon Restitution of Grande Perspective.  Photo credit:  Wikimedia.

Now let yourself be tempted to follow what’s left of the Grande Perspective. Running from just below the observatory end of the Terrasse, road will take you to the right of the large hexagonal lake you see in the reconstitution (it still exists!) and on for a pleasant stroll in the Meudon National Forest. At the base of the Green Carpet you can lunch on the terrace (or, if it’s cold, inside) of a homey – no electricity! – little restaurant called Le Rendez-vous des Pêchers.

Back in central Meudon you can visit another historical monument, a kind of mini-castle built in the 16th century by royal physician Ambroise Paré and later lived in by Molière’s widow, Armande Béjart. Today it houses the Municipal Museum (11, rue des Pierres). In addition to collections presenting the town’s history, it has a garden that hosts the only vineyard left in Meudon, which until World War II produced much wine, not to forget some very avant-garde sculptures.  In fact, in addition to its historical attractions Meudon has played quite a role in modern esthetic creation. It was here, for example, that a Sunday party sculptor, Antoine Bourdelle, met innovative American dancer Isadora Duncan, who was teaching courses at a Meudon hotel. She soon modeled for his allegorical bas relief La Dance which still graces the early Art Déco façade of the 1913 Théâtre des Champs Elysées in Paris. [For a visual preview go to the web site for the Ville de Meudon at and click on Voir le film de presentation.]

Jardin du Musée.  Photo credit Ville de Meudon.Fountain in Parc at Meudon.  Credit unknown.New Castle converted to Observatory.  Photo Credit Ville de Meudon.
The Jardin du Musée, the fountain, and the Observatoire

It is perhaps not surprising that, at about the same time, Igor Stravinsky and Claude Debussy gave, in Meudon, a first private performance of the former’s rather violently innovative Rite of Spring. When, also in 1913, it was publicly premièred at the Théâtre des Champs Elysées – danced by a "lightly clad" Vaslav Nijinsky – there was scandal and a riot!

Sculpture by André Bloc.  Photo credit:  WikimediaMuch closer to us and even more startlingly modern are the huge, sharply angular habitacle (dwelling space) sculptures created in the 1960s by architect André Bloc at his Meudon Villa. Go to and click on 'Meudon' for a preview of two of them. The Villa André Bloc is now privately owned, but can be visited one Sunday a month upon prior reservation at

Have you found this article prejudiced in favor of Meudon?  Well, perhaps.  You see, I live there!

Contact Arthur Gillette at for information about his 
Paris Through the Ages Strolls, trips to Senlis and Vaux le Vicomte
and for more delightful bits of the history of Paris!


2011 Bordeaux Harvest Tour
Château Coulon Laurensac.  Photo property of Ronald and Margaret Rens.  All rights reserved.
Château Coulon Laurensac
Ronald and Margaret Rens at their château

Be one of the lucky ones to enjoy an all-inclusive wine tour of Bordeaux for 6 days and 5 nights.  The Bordeaux Harvest Tour includes visits to top châteaux such as Haut Brion, Pichon Baron and Château Yquem, and meals will be served in Bordeaux châteaux and two-star Michelin restaurants.

Best of all, you will have accommodations in the 18th century Château Coulon Laurensac, the home of your English-speaking hosts, Ronald and Margaret Rens.  Ronald is your expert guide; he is a Wine Master and certified wine expert.  Deluxe transportation is provided for the entire stay, and the small groups of no more than six allows personal attention throughout the week.

  • Experience the Bordeaux châteaux in full harvest action on this unparalleled Harvest Tour.  You'll visit and taste at First Growths Yquem and Haut Brion! This tour is really without equal as everything just buzzes with action and anticipation.
  • You’ll visit and taste at leading chateaux in Saint Emilion and Pomerol that normally stay closed to the public.
  • Dine at Bordeaux's finest Relais et Chateaux Michelin (two star) table.
  • Indulge in gourmet meals and be invited in Classified Growth tasting rooms and our own Château Coulon Laurensac.
  • All estates visited on this tour are Classified Growths.

The Rens invite you to share this fascinating and unique tour with them.  And, all levels of experience, from debutants to connoisseurs, are welcome. 

Barrel Hall at Château Mouton Rothschild.  Photo courtesy of Ronald Rens.

When? September 26 to October 1, 2011.  Please contact Ronald Rens directly by clicking here.  He will let you know promptly if the remaining spaces on this tour are still available.

Tour Price? € 3995 per person, double/twin occupancy.  One single room available. (Includes all taxes, tips and gratuities.)



Château de la Barre.  Photo copyright 2011 by Count and Countess de Vanssay.  All rights reserved.

Châteaux by Invitation Only - Immerse yourself in the very private world of French aristocracy as the private guests of Comte and Comtesse de Vanssay, the 20th generation to have resided at Chateau de La Barre, surrounded by a 100-acre private park with fragrant gardens at the entrance to the famous Loire Valley.

This family château achieves a harmonious balance between refined, understated luxury, and modern comfort. In the reception rooms and bedrooms, precious XVIIIth century furnishings are brought to life by luscious designer fabrics reflecting the warm hospitality and joie de vivre prevalent throughout.

Guy and Marnie open up a way of life for virtuoso guests, with exclusive receptions at private châteaux and gardens of their region, where 600 years of the rich cultural history of a family and a country are entwined.

During your 5- to 6-night (6- to 7-day) stay, which depends upon options available and selected, you will be hosted by at least five of the owners themselves for exclusive receptions and their private châteaux, gardens and clubs.  These visits will include:

  • Lunch and visit of Vicomte & Vicomtesse Ogier d’Ivry’s XVIIth century Château Chêne de Coeur, not open to the public
  • Tea in the 'Most English Garden of France', Sasnières, followed by a visit conducted by the owner, Giscard d’Estaing’s sister-in-law, Rosamée Henrion
  • Cocktails and private visit of Valmer Château, Garden and Vouvray vineyards by Comte & Comtesse de Saint Venant
  • Tea at Château de Montmirail with owners Comte & Comtesse de Buffevent
  • Luncheon at Château de la Forge, home of Comte & Comtesse de La Tournelle with the Marquise de Brantes
  • Picnic chic at Château de Troussay with the owner Baron de Sainte Marie
  • Tea or lunch at Comte & Comtesse de Malherbe’s Chateau de Poncé
  • Champagne cocktails in the Garden of the Renaissance Château du Lude with owner Comtesse de Nikolai
  • Private Visit of famous Château de Cheverny with owner Marquis de Vibraye
  • Lunch at the exclusive Jockey Club in Paris
                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                        Chartres Cathedral

Pouring wine at Château Valmer. Photo property of Château Valmer.  All rights reserved.Tasting room at Château Valmer.  Photo property of Château Valmer.  All rights reserved.Grapes, wine and cheese at Château Valmer.   Photo property of Château Valmer.  All rights reserved.
A Magnificent Wine Tasting Experience at Château Valmer

There is so much more to each day's itinerary, we do not have space to cover it all here.  But, here is a detailed description of Day 1 of the Tour. . . the others are just as exciting:

Day 1: Chartres and arrival at Chateau de La Barre 

English-speaking chauffeur pick up at Paris Charles de Gaulle airport 

 Drive to Chateau de La Barre (a 2-hour drive), via Chartres cathedral.
Private guided tour by renowned scholar Malcolm Miller of this Gothic masterpiece
and see the fabulous stained glass windows. 

On to Château de Montmirail, XIIth-XVIIth century, former residence of Louis XIV's daughter. 
Tea with owners Comte & Comtesse de Buffevent

Welcome to Château de La Barre by Comte and Comtesse, Guy and Marnie de Vanssay. 
Cider from the property, served under the centennial elm trees on the terrace
overlooking the fragrant garden and valley beyond.

Tour of the Château with Guy de Vanssay.

Informal wine and cheese tasting supper served in the  pièce à feu by the monumental XIVth century fireplace.

Dinner at Château de la Barre
Grand Siècle Dinner at Château de la Barre on Day 4 of the Tour

Subsequent days of the Tour will include shopping at Poncé’s artisanal glassblower and ceramic artist, followed by lunch at Comte & Comtesse de Malherbe’s Chateau de Poncé; an English breakfast before departing on the path of the St Jacques of Compostella pilgrimage followed by a visit to the unique XIth century Romanesque Byzantine chapel, St. Gilles of Montoire; an evening at Château de La Barre including a Grand Siècle Dinner, beginning with Champagne cocktail in the ornate Grand Salon, decorated for the marriage of the Marquis de Vanssay in 1778, followed by a five-course dinner with two different wines, then coffee and brandy; one afternoon a visit to the old city of Le Mans and entering a time tunnel discovering this 'Plantagenet City', the birthplace of Henri II of England, with it’s Gallo-roman walls (the largest remaining in France), surrounding its myriad of medieval streets all beautifully restored; a departure from the terrace of Château de Valmer in a Montgolfière hot air balloon over the Loire; a shopping day in Paris and lunch at the exclusive Jockey Club, only accessible to life-standing members of the French aristocracy, followed by a chauffeured visit with your personal shopper for antiques and fashions and visits to museums.

As you can see, there many things included in each day that the average tourist would not have the opportunity to experience.  For complete details, schedules of upcoming tours, a daily itinerary and prices, please contact and put 'Invitation' in the subject line. 

 [Mouse over photos on this page for credits and further descriptions.]

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