A few weeks ago I had access to a car, a rare moment for me in Paris. Reveling in the glorious summer weather, I was ready for adventure so I called my friend Mary Kay from Out and About in Paris and suggested we visit Le Potager du Roi at Versailles. Being and Out and About kind of gal, she was game and we were off… After a brief detour getting lost through Issy les Moulineaux, Vroooommmmm, we cruised through the Ile de France countryside, arriving at the royal city at a record slow pace.
I love Versailles. There is history, with a rich blend of beauty and nature. Paris in slow motion. “Why do you want to go to the Potager?” Mary Kay asked. “I don’t know,” I shrugged, “I’ve wanted to visit for years, but have never found the time.”
A potage is a soup, a potager is a kitchen garden. Built on a parcel of land known as The Stinky Pond at the request of Louis XIV in the 17th century, the kitchen garden is now the National School of Landscape Architecture and has been open to the public since 1991. The garden hasn’t changed much over the last 300 years. There is an inspirational collection of heirloom pear trees, splayed like Malibu sunbathers in espallier.
Parts of the gardens are an odd disappointment, like the melon gardens that are now covered by green houses and the fig gardens that are now administrative offices for the school. Others are pure magic; the secret garden we wandered into with a dwarf’s cabin, picnic table and noose hanging from a tree. The most opulent detail must be the King’s gate, which was used by Louis himself and is one of the few original gates on the entire estate. Bleeding heart Californians like moi will be thrilled to see that there is a compost site, a bee hive and an emphasis on seducing beneficial bugs. Mary Kay asked me again (and maybe even a third time) “Why did you want to come here?” I think that all my talk of YSL jackets and art exhibits must give folks the wrong idea. While I am undeniably a city gal, I’ve got the heart of a country girl and I love a good kitchen garden.
The boutique is great, too. Fresh fruits and vegetables directly from the garden are put out every Tuesday, Thursday and Saturday. There are packets of dried herbs, rhubarb nectar and Marie’s favorite tea. Everything homegrown and healthy to enjoy!
After our adventurous morning, Mary Kay and I had developed something of an appetite. we asked the cashier at the boutique for a recommendation and he sent us to the Monument Café across the street. The café hich features produce from the gardens, presenting everything in a appetizingly displayed all you can eat buffet. This is as rare as the sun in France, so we made a feast of it, savouring all their specialties, which included confit de canard, gaspacho and an exotic fruit panna cotta. If the great food is not enough, tourists can organize private tours of the neighborhood, running tours and even purchase advance tickets for Chateau tours through the café. We left quoting Arnold, “We’ll be back…”