The word banlieue, or suburb, for many Parisians often has a dichotomy of connotations. On the one hand places like Neuilly, Le Vésinet or Saint-Germain-en-Laye house politicians, private schools and some of France’s wealthiest residents. Whereas Clichy-sous-bois and Seine-Saint-Denis are known for housing projects (HLM), poverty and the 2005 French Riots. 80% of Parisians actually live outside of the City proper, so in order to gain an insight into Parisian life you may have to hop onto the RER, France’s overground railway system that connects Paris with its diverse outskirts.
Visiting one of Paris’ banlieues aisées (well-off suburbs) is the perfect respite to busy city life due to their small-town vibe. I decided to venture west of Paris, which is so easy to do thanks to the amazing public transport that Paris offers. There really is no excuse to limit yourself to the Eiffel tower and Arc de Triomphe.
Rueil-Malmaison’s most famous residents are without a doubt Napoleon Bonaparte and his first wife Joséphine. The commune’s imperial heritage can be explored by following the Joséphine & Napoleon Bonaparte Trail- indicated by small pavement studs, which are gold in colour and sport the imperial bee. The trail will lead you to many places of historic significance, including the Chateau de Malmaison.
The chateau is an absolute must-see whether you are a history buff or not. The grounds and chateau are beautiful, especially during the summer, and you are unlikely to bump into many tourists. You can see inside Josephine’s opulent wardrobe, with her many empire-line dresses (that’s where the name for the cut came from!) You can also see Napoleon’s bedroom, his library and important artwork, often used as propaganda during his reign as Emperor.
For more 19th Century history head over to the Parc de Bois-Préau, which was bought by the Empress Joséphine for 200,000 francs. The park is 17 hectares of English-Style gardens and houses a museum dedicated to Napoleon’s time at Saint-Helena. It’s perfect for a picnic outside of Paris.
The cobbled streets of Rueil-Malmaison add to the commune’s charm. The centre-ville (town centre) displays the church in the centre, enveloped by bakeries, patisseries and little cafés which welcome you to sit outside and soak-up suburban life. Rueil-Malmaison is by no means small, with around 80,000 residents you can also find cinemas, shops (both chains and boutiques) and a plethora of restaurants to satisfy your stomach.
My boyfriend grew up in Rueil-Malmaison which is why I have visited so many times. It’s only 8 miles from the centre of Paris, but feels a lot further due to the quieter, suburban lifestyle it offers. It is really easy to get to being well-connected to Paris by train and bus. Just get onto the RER A (the red line) and get off at the stop “Rueil-Malmaison”. Make a day of visiting Parisian suburbs by stopping off at Le Vésinet (Paris’ richest suburb) and Saint-Germain-en-Laye (birthplace of Louis XIV and the football team Paris Saint Germain), which are both a few stops from of Rueil-Malmaison.