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Forget Versailles – see the fountains at Saint-Cloud

Versailles Schmersailles. Who needs all the tourists and tacky souvenirs? If you’re looking for a beautiful park and incredible fountains, make a more original choice and head for the beautiful Parc de Saint-Cloud…
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photo (c) mfshadow, used under CC licence

Versailles is more than just a tourist trap, it’s something you have to see once in your life, but even if the hall of mirrors is mind-boggling, the expansive gardens are – dare we say it – a little boring, and I’ve been told that their evening son-et-lumière show including the fountains is just a rip off. For greenery and spectacle we think you’d be much better off going to the Parc de Saint-Cloud.

To give you an idea of the size of it, the park is nearly 40% bigger than New York’s Central Park, and was initially created in 1577. Although the chateau that was once there burnt down in 1870, there is still plenty to see.

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Firstly, there’s a magnificent view of Paris to be had. Saint-Cloud is on a hill on the western edge of Paris, just outside the city limits (but the métro takes you directly there). On a clear day you can see Dover (OK, I made that bit up).

Secondly, there’s plenty of space for everyone. With its rose garden, woods and expanses of grass the Parc de Saint-Cloud is generally considered as one of Europe’s most beautiful gardens – although it would seem that not everyone knows it…

Thirdly, you mustn’t miss the fantastic, epic fountains. These have existed since the time of Louis XIV and use a complex and clever system of hydraulics to work. All the water comes from natural sources and arrives via the force of gravity. There’s:

– the Grande Cascade, a giant two-part waterfall with numerous ornate statues
– the Grand Jet, an impressive single jet of water spurting tens of metres into the air
– the Bassin des Chiens, with dog statues channelling the water
– the Grande Gerbe, a collection of twenty-four jets in a circular and crescent moon formation
– a carp pool
– the Gros Bouillon fontaine
– the Allée d’eau des Goulottes, a suite of bubbling mini fountains arranged between lines of shady trees…

… and also the Jardin du Trocadéro (an English-style jardin), the statue alley, the orange-tree terrace… Plenty to enjoy if you love your nature.
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However, the fountains are not permanently turned on because of the immense amount of water needed to make them work. Usually, the big fountains are only switched on for Sundays in June, but this year the season has been extended a little. You can see the fountains in their magnificent splendour on Sunday 18th & 25th May 2008, and also on Sunday 1st, 8th, 15th, 22nd & 29th June 2008 at 3pm, 4pm and 5pm. They stay switched on for approximately 25 minutes, which leaves you enough time to continue to another part of the park and watch a different fountain later. There’s also a free evening film festival at the end of June called Films sous les Etoiles (26th – 28th June) whose theme this year is the car. You’ll be able to see (free!) Thelma & Louise, Duel, Taxi Driver, Christine, Goldfinger and more! So ditch Versailles and head for Saint-Cloud; this extraordinary park is not to be missed!

Here’s a little film that will give you an idea of the splendour of the waterfalls…

Here’s all the essential information for spending a great afternoon in the Parc de Saint-Cloud

Park opening hours: January/February – 7.30am – 8pm, March/April – 7.30am – 9pm, May/June/July/August – 7.30am – 10pm, September/October – 7.30am – 9pm, November/December – 7.30am – 8pm
How to get there: Métro Boulogne Pont de Saint-Cloud (line 10) or Pont de Sèvres (line 9). Bus n°s 52, 72, 160, 169, 179, 171 & 175. Tram line T2, “Parc de Saint-Cloud” stop
Waterfall extravaganza: 18th May, 25th May, 1st June, 8th June, 15th June, 22nd June, 29th June 2008 at 3pm, 4pm & 5pm
Admission: it’s free if you’re on foot or pushbike, but note that cars, motorbikes and coaches have to pay (4, 3 & 34 euros respectively)
More info (in French): here

Bigger map here