The first movie I vividly remember watching was Beauty and the Beast. Yes, my childhood was Disney through and through. And let’s just say there was a certain scene in Beauty and the Beast that imprinted itself hard on my young mind. That scene was the library scene, and ever since that moment, all I’ve ever wanted was to be surrounded by books. It’s why I currently have over a hundred books stacked next to my bed. It’s why bookstores are the only stores I enjoy going into. And it’s why I get a great big dopey grin on my face every time I enter a library. Case in point, my recent visit to Château de Malmaison.
Now, first and foremost, I should note that the Château de Malmaison is not the easiest château to get to. It is located in the town of Rueil-Malmaison, about 12km west of Paris, and to get there, I had to take a metro, an RER train, and a bus. But it was absolutely worth it. The town of Rueil-Malmaison is postcard worthy, with cobblestoned streets, an impressive City Hall, and beautiful public parks. But the reason most people visit this town is to see the château that was once the home of Josephine and Napoléon Bonaparte.
Home Sweet Home
Josephine Bonaparte bought Château de Malmaison in 1799 while her husband was away in Egypt. It wasn’t a particularly smart purchase, as she paid an exorbitant amount of money for an estate that needed extensive renovations. She then proceeded to spend a small fortune turning the estate into an oasis of luxury. The gardens in particular captured her imagination, and she began cultivating an extensive array of plants and animals. Kangaroos, zebras, and ostriches roamed the property, and a heated greenhouse was home to hundreds of species of plants. It is estimated that nearly 200 plants were grown in France for the first time in these gardens.
Josephine and Napoléon divorced in 1810, and Josephine remained the owner of Château de Malmaison. She lived there until her death in 1814, and in 1815, Napoléon lived there once more before his exile to Saint Helena. The estate was then ransacked and almost entirely destroyed, before being purchased by the Spanish royal family in 1842. They later sold it to Napoléon III in 1861, although that Emperor never lived there. The estate was fully restored in the early 20th century, and today, the Château de Malmaison is the main tourist attraction of Rueil-Malmaison. It is also considered to be an important national landmark.
A Book Lovers’ Dream
So why did my heart squeal with delight during my visit to Château de Malmaison? True, the gardens are beautiful, and yes, the building itself is gorgeous. The bedrooms of Josephine and Napoléon are beautifully restored, and the château is home to Napoléon Crossing the Alps, one of the most famous paintings of the former Emperor. But for me, my memory of my visit will always be the moment I stepped into the library.
I may have let out an audible gasp upon entering, but I couldn’t help it. I’ve always wanted a home with a library, and this one was darn near perfect. Shelves upon shelves of books. Tables and chairs for reading and discussions. A massive and not-at-all-compensating desk for writing and working. I was in heaven. I don’t need a garden or a sprawling three-story château. But one day I will have a library, and I hope it will be as beautiful as this one.
A Day Outside of Paris
The town of Rueil-Malmaison is a beautiful town that is perfect for a day trip from Paris. You’ll easily have time to visit both the château and other sights around town. Josephine is buried in the Saint-Pierre-Saint-Paul church, and many of the local shops bear her name. If you decide to visit the town first, be sure to walk through the picturesque Bois-Préau Park on your way to the château. It’s perfect for a picnic if the weather is nice. And when you finally do reach the château, get ready for a trip back in time to when Josephine and Napoléon were the most powerful and glamorous couple in Europe. Not a bad way to end your day if you ask me.
Laura Moore is a professional storyteller who loves history and the many stories that make Paris one of the most fascinating cities in the world. Join one of her signature tours to learn the story of a city.