Don’t miss this month…

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Luca Montebugnoli, Coline Dutilleul, Nicolas Bouils at Château de Malmaison during Pentecost week end, c La Nouvelle Athènes

With the beautiful weather and nature finally waking up, here are a few ideas for you to wander outside of Paris. The usual beautiful spots like Parc de Bagatelle, in Bois de Boulogne and Giverny’s Monet gardens (where Hugues Gall has been reelected director), are of course a must if you have never been. But I discovered recently the Parc de Marly near Versailles, I plan to attend les Journées des Plantes in Chantilly from 12-14 May and there is a series of romantic concerts taking place at la Malmaison on Pentecost week end, from 24 to 29 May. Château de Fontainebleau is opening a contemporary art walk in its English garden and, a little further for a romantic week end, Lugano, Switzerland has a new art foundation sponsored by Bally. With 23 International artists who are linked for the show, under the name of “Un lac inconnu“, an unknown lake.

The Bally Foundation, Villa Heleneum, inaugurated on April 20 in Lugano © Andra Rossetti

Everyone associates the name of Bally founded in 1851, to a famous brand of shoes which was particularly popular in the 1960’s. Under the presidence of Nicolas Girotto, the company with 1400 collaborators and 300 shops in the world, has developed a new ambition in contemporary art and design for their shoes, handbags and fashion. The foundation set in villa Heleneum, on lake Lugano, is run by Vittoria Matarrese, an Italian who trained as an architect, curated shows at Palais de Tokyo, worked as artistic director at Villa Medicis and at the Mostra in Venice. The exhibition of contemporary art is on until September 24. “The Bally Artist Award” is given to young Swiss (or Swiss residents) artists, every year and the laureate’s work will be acquired by the MASILugano, Museo d’Arte della Svizzera Italiana. And using her experience at Villa Medicis in Rome, Vittoria Matarrese will take artists in residence at the Villa. Lugano is a superb city, a short train ride from Lake Como and a perfect week end destination.

Elise Peroi, “Lalage, Nageur, Ereme & Songes II”, 2022, in the exhibition “Un Lac Inconnu” Bally Foundation, Lugano, Switzerland, 2023 © Andrea Rossetti

It’s time to book tickets for the music festival at Château de la Malmaison, Joséphine de Beauharnais’ famous retreat in Rueil. It is featuring concerts organized by the association la Nouvelle Athènes on period instruments, including Joséphine’s harp and piano and Hortense’s piano forte. Started by Sylvie Brely and a group of passionate musicians, the association organizes concerts on 19 th century Erard pianos. It is also a rare occasion to visit the exhibition, “1769, Corsica at the birth of Napoléon” and to listen to the music which was played at the time in the mythical house.

Detail of Josephine ‘s harp at la Malmaison

The concerts of quartets and other musics played during Napoléon’s time, take place in l’Orangerie during four days.

Not far from there, Parc de Marly is a little known beautiful spot and a small exhibition takes place at the moment on “Seduction and power at the court” until August 27. The castle built by Mansart was destroyed in the Revolution but the plans of the gardens are superb and reminded me of Sceaux with its former cascade and clever water system.

The park of Marly and its water basins is spectacular.

I was surprised to get there from place de l’Etoile in thirty minutes and it’s really a beautiful escapade. The castle was fairly small in size, and built by Louis XIV in 1679-1686 on a swamp. The king declared “I made Versailles for the court and Marly for my friends”. The two castles are only separated by 8 kms and he used to go there to hunt in the forest of Saint Germain. Six water basins were lined in 90 000 multicolor faience tiles. Some samples are visible in the museum. Fountains and a  large cascade also flowed down in the basins decorated with topiaries.

Pierre Denis Martin, 1723, The Marly machine brought water to both Versailles and Marly

The park was designed by Jules-Hardouin Mansart while André Le Nôtre was away in Italy. And the water system was run by a machine conceived by two Belgians from Liège, Arnold de Ville and Rennequin Sualem, hired by minister Colbert. You can discover the whole hydraulic system in the museum. The perspective is downhill from the main gate and you can imagine easily the aesthetical shock of the little jewel of a castle at the bottom of the long alley lined with trees when the king’s carriages arrived.

Model of the gardens in Marly. Today you arrive from the top right and walk downhill to the (former) castle

At château de Fontainebleau, a new contemporary art walk is designed in the English garden with 18 artists selected by the director of Musée de la Chasse et de la Nature, Christine Germain-Donnat and Jean-Marc Dimanche. It opens on May 14 until September 27. François Xavier LalanneLaurent Le Deunff, Françoise Petrovitch, Philippe Ramette are among the artists. It’s a great occasion to visit the gardens.

The English garden at Château de Fontainebleau

And of course, do not miss the Journées des plantes in Chantilly which take place on Friday 12-Sunday 14 May. Every year, there are new discoveries to be made and even if you can’t plant your rhododendrons or roses immediately, you can keep the address of the greenhouse and order them for November.

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