Emmanuel Macron is the newly elected French president and I wanted to give you another peek of the beautiful gardens of the French president’s home from a previous post.
I am off to the healing Mediterranean sun and sea of Sicily, much needed for my grief wrecked body.
No, I wasn’t invited to a garden party-soiree to see these two very historical and unique gardens, but they were open for one of the garden festivals Paris has each year. The Hôtel Matignon is rarely open to the pubic, but the Élysée Palace is open now on the first sunday of the month.
Both are beautifully landscaped, as you would expect for any official residence of the state, but one felt much more inviting and peaceful than the other. As I have often said before, houses retain the energies of its occupants for those sensitive to feeling what these old stones have lived through.
The Élysée Palace is located appropriately enough just off the Champs Élysée, between the Arc de Triomphe and Place Concorde. If walking on the right side of the avenue towards the Arc, then it is behind the exquisite Lenôtre cooking school.
Luckily I chose to come around noon, knowing the line would be less, since the French like to eat long Sunday lunches. After being duly examined and patted down, we stood in line again for further scrutiny before being able to enter.
The whole mansion is hidden from view by the thick vegetation behind a tall blue and gold trimmed fence adorned with the proud and glorious French symbol; a golden rooster. When opened, it provides a lovely view of the only fountain and the mansion in the background.
The mansion was built in 1720 for the Count of Evreux, who financed the majority of the construction from the dowry he received for marrying a young woman of only 12 years old. A few months later he sent her away, but refused to return all of the dowry to her father.
Louis XV acquired the mansion and gave it to his favorite mistress, the Marquise de Pompadour, who was often publicly taunted with cruel words by Parisians.
First they were angry that she turned part of the grounds into a vegetable garden that jutted into what is now the Champs Élysees. Second she allowed sheep to graze there in an effort to create a more countrified scene.
She is credited with enlarging and embellishing the gardens to be a playful retreat for her young daughter, who tragically died soon afterwards.
The mansion went on to eventually house Napoleon I and Napoleon III, and since 1874 the Élysée Palace has been the official residence of the presidents of France. Not all French presidents have appreciated, nor wanted to reside there, the latest being Nicolas Sarkozy.
Why? Perhaps it was the same unease and sense of apprehension I felt about being there, despite the lovely flowered park and the mansion’s ornate interiors.
It was only in researching its history for this article, that I was able to understand my feelings regarding the energy of the place.
Some say there is a curse to this dwelling, which is worthy of another post. First of all, it was built with deception, lies and betrayal tied to the greed of the Count of Evreux.
Louis XV bought the palace from him for his favorite mistress, Madame Pompadour. She did not gain the favour of Parisians who often wrote insulting remarks on her fence labeling her as the king’s “whore”.
Madame Pompadour’s daughter dying was the first of several deaths, assassinations and illnesses that have plagued several presidents who lived there.
In 1820, the Duc du Barry was killed in a stabbing and in 1894, French president, Sadi Carnot was assassinated too.
President Félix Faure died suddenly in 1899 at the age of 58 during a clandestine tryst with his mistress there, adding to the speculation of it being cursed.
In 1931, President Paul Doumer was also assassinated. Just after President Francois Mitterrand was elected in 1981 and settled in the palace, he learned he had cancer.
After a close friend of his committed suicide within the walls of the palace in 1994, Mitterrand later succumbed to his illness two years later in 1996.
General De Gaulle is said to have never liked the place and neither did president Nicolas Sarkosy’s wife, Cecilia, who eventually divorced him.
Even if the president’s dwelling may be cursed, the garden at first glance is pretty, if not overwhelmingly magnificent, such as Versailles.
I did like the beautiful perfumed roses, amongst vast patches of lavender and sage that bordered the terrace. The huge trees planted during the reign of Louis XV were likewise impressive.
Some of the statuary I found strange, such as that of a sheep, but perhaps there is some significance that I am not aware. Though free flowing champagne is certainly offered for state affairs, at least ordinary visitors had cold water access throughout the gardens, which I thought was a nice gesture.
President Francois Hollande was not there, as he was off in Normandy having lunch with D Day veterans. Ironically, his rather convoluted love life has been just another page in its history, but so far he has survived, though remains very unpopular.
The Hôtel Matignon, (hotel means a distinguished house in French), is the private resident of the Prime Minister, currently Manual Valls. You could easily pass the garden’s entrance on Rue de Babylon in the 7 th arrondissement if, not for the French flag and ever-present gendarmes.
lt was constructed in 1724, by the Luxembourg Prince of Tingry who wanted to surround himself in a country park. When the Prince over extended himself financially, it was sold to Count de Matignon, who bought the mansion as a gift for his son.
From then, this lovely mansion has had many proprietors, mostly aristocratic. One of the owners was a Prince of Monaco, and even to this day, amongst his many titles Albert II is called sire of Matignon.
The most illustrious and intriguing owner was a professional dancer named Anne Franchi, who became the mistress of Emperor Joseph II of Austria. Expelled from Austria, by the emperor’s wife, she returned to Matignon, which became a popular social venue, having befriended the first wife of Napoleon I.
In general I liked this garden more, finding it more romantic and intriguing. The resonating energy is peaceful and serene, and I wished I could have stayed longer.
There is a very beautiful double alley of 106 linden trees lining each side of the center of the garden. They offer a completely covered thick green canopy of intertwined branches , providing a very shaded and refreshing walk even on the hottest days.
The original glacier or ice cave is still intact and was interesting to see at least the entrance. All châteaux had these ingenious caves, where huge blocks of ice carved out during the winter were hauled off and buried in coverings and straw a few meters down, as seen in the photo. They provided cold storage for foods and ice for preparation of ice reams and desserts.
Two times a year, the gardeners choose a theme that they play out with flowers. They also adhere to organic methods of cultivation, and all weeding is done by hand.
They have installed multiples bird houses for over 25 species of birds, who now call this luxurious setting their home. Of interest was a recording recreating all the chirps and sounds of each species who have nested here, so you could identify them.
It has been a custom for each of the Prime Ministers to plant a tree. Therefore you will find 12 trees each bearing their name, often of exotic or rare species.
To me, the gardens of Matignon have resoundingly retained the original design of it being a “country estate”, complete with bee hives, which have also been added. The presiding beekeeper, proudly displayed some of his bees swarming around one of the combs and the honey produced, saying half went to the Prime Minister and the rest to the gardeners and him.
He explained to me that city bees are more productive that their country cousins, because there is less pesticides used within the city. They are known to fly within a radius of 3 kilometers to gather pollen.
Given that new information, perhaps some of those beloved and busy bees who are always frequenting my own little garden live at such a sumptuous place. Minuscule in comparison and certainly much more modest, in addition to being suspended 8 floors up, my balcony garden is nevertheless tended to with much love!