Maison de la Du Barry, the Retz Desert … These places near Paris can only be visited once or twice a year

If you want to see them, now is the time to book! In Yvelines, these rare and intimate places are only open to visitors on sunny days.

Radiating a maximum of 7 km around Saint-Germain-en-Laye necessarily brings to mind the most famous of the city’s natives, Louis Dieudonné (1638), a child of miracles who became the incomparable Louis XIV. His imprint can be read in every cobblestone, every grove, every ancient stone. Formerly designed by André Le Nôtre with its 22 meter high water column, the castle’s Grand Bassin was also to be inaugurated at the end of September. If the Sun King visits these Yvelinois sites, there are also a few nuggets of gold that are discovered from time to time, rarely or very exceptionally. Follow us to discover these gems that are known only to a few insiders.

SEE THE FILE – Weekend around Paris: all our ideas for excursions

Madame du Barry’s castle

Countess of Barry’s “water pavilion”. The 10-hectare park can be visited, as well as three lounges on the ground floor. OTI SGBS / Photo Press

Painted by Sisley in 1873, the Route de la Machine has not changed. The trees adjacent to it are simply more bushy than in the painting. The facade of the castle is still white as always. Close your eyes and go back to 1793 to see the beautiful Madame du Barry appear, escorted by revolutionaries who will soon guillotine her. Named “Pavillon des eaux” this residence built in 1683 for the governor of La Machine de Marly, then housed the legitimate children of Montespan and Louis XIV before being offered by Louis XV as his favorite. Epicurean, the Countess created an orangery, a Doric temple, an ice house, an English garden with a small pond. Now private property, the park of almost 10 hectares can be visited as well as three ground floor rooms, decorated with woodwork by Honoré Guibert, cabinetmaker by Petit Trianon.

When does it open? On 16, 17 and 18 June, this private residence in Louveciennes will open its doors (by reservation) for guided tours organized by the Boucles de Seine Tourist Office.

Practice : 15 € / adult. Visit on June 18 at 2.30pm and 4.15pm. Groups on 16 and 17 June. Heels prohibited (parquet). Mandatory reservation.

Our bucolic advice: On the Route de la Machine you can (10 minutes on foot) see the remains of the Machine de Marly, a large network of pumps that made it possible to transport water from the Seine by gravity via the Louveciennes aqueduct to the fountains of Versailles.

The domain of Fort du Trou d’Enfer

The Fort du Trou d’enfer domain can be visited by a naturalist. OTI SGBS / Photo Press

On the 300 hectares of an area managed by the Office National des Forêts, a 1879 fort was intended to protect Paris from invaders. As far as the eye can see, organically cultivated fields, barley, wheat, corn … In the distance emitted a semaphor from which the Chappe telegraph, an optical means of communication, developed in 1794. by Charles X, where sparrows are merry. The Marly Forest, which rustles from the chirping of troglodytes and oak trees, also retains the traces of the wild boar and deer’s gait. Who imagines that Paris is only 20 km away? Loïc, the naturalist for ONF, discovers during 2.30 the plant and forest shipyard in this area where Louis XIV was hunting and where he had built a farm (still in activity) to supply the court. At the end of the route, visitors discover the astonishing beauty of Fort du Trou d’Enfer, its bread oven, its officers’ rooms and its dungeons.

When does it open? On June 5, the Trou d’Enfer Site Association organizes an excursion at. 15.00 (donation is appreciated at the end of the visit). Reservation via e-mail: Guided tours by ONF: Wednesday 6 July (domain apiary only), Wednesday 5 and 19 October (domain).

Our advice on prams: in Marly-le-Roi, take a look at the names of the cobbled streets that often refer to Louis XIV’s contemporaries (Charles Le Brun, Jules Hardouin-Mansart). Push the door of Saint-Vigor church up and admire its high altar, donated by the Sun King. Not far away is the surprising alley with the sphinxes of the Château du Verduron (private residence).

The desert of Retz

The most famous factory in the Retz desert in Chambourcy, France. Chambourcy Town Hall / Nicolas Vercellino

I XVIIIe century, a “desert” is a place away from the world that promotes dreams and imagination. In Chambourcy, this 38-hectare garden spread its 17 “factories”, constructions of ancient, Chinese and oriental inspiration. The impressive stone pyramid pops up between the trees. Pyramid? No, cooler, where ice blocks were once stored. The tartar tent in the middle of an island? It served as a weapons room. The temple of the god Pan? A temple of music. Imagined (1774-1789) by the aristocrat François de Montville, this unique place was conceived as an initial journey through the great civilizations.

When does it open? Saturday from 14.00 to 18.00, 10 €, 6 € (reduced price), free – 6 years. Guided tour (2 hours) after reservation (14.30). Free parking. Audio guide in the App Store.

Our cultural council: 2 km away, do not miss the André Derain house park, which is open free of charge every day until 14 October from 8.00 to 20.30 (closed at 18.00 from 15 October). Two-wheeled cars and dogs prohibited. Possible visit of the house on June 11 at. 14.30 (adults 10 €, 8-17 years: 5 €).

The pharmacist

This place is located on the first floor of the Saint-Germain-en-Laye tourist office. Martine Carret / Press photo

The first floor of the Saint-Germain-en-Laye tourist office houses an amazing collection. Scattered on shelves, reinforced by 17th-century woodworke century with polychrome decorations, 600 clay jars and glass jars take you back to a medical past where pharmacies made decoctions, ointments and medicines with unlikely elements, such as dog oil or woodlice wine. The reconstruction was performed on a description of XIXe century when the city’s two hospitals merged, General Hospital and Charité Hospital.

When does it open? Free visit when booking (01 30 87 20 63) on Saturdays at 15.00 and 15.30.

Our sweet tip: take 450 meters away to taste one (or more) Pavés d’Or from Pâtisserie Grandin (13, rue au Pain). The recipe for this gold-plated chocolate is the same as when it was created in 1822. When Louis XIV lived in Saint-Germain-en-Laye (before 1682), Marie-Thérèse, his Spanish wife, always followed with her cup of hot chocolate from a chocolate candy. Hence the idea of ​​Pavé d’Or. Also try Debussy (a local musician): hazelnut biscuits, praline mousse, rum raisins and chocolate icing.

Practical notebook


The website of the inter-municipal tourist office gathers all the information about the mentioned places and allows you to make reservations.

According to requests, the dates are evolving: do not hesitate to ask regularly.


Apart from these extraordinary visits, Pass Malin allows cultural excursions in Yvelines and Hauts-de-Seine at discounted rates.


Many restaurants in Marly on the Grande Rue and around the Château de Saint-Germain-en-Laye. For every taste and every wallet.

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