Napoléon in Bordeaux: adopting a detour state of mind #1 - Napoléon in Bordeaux: adopting a detour state of mind

On either side, the water glistens or glares, depending on the season and the time of day. Ducks and swans of pure white down swim their graceful dance. The forest, close by, sits quietly, the jagged leaves and acorns of the oak trees are brand new in the spring and ripen as the winter approaches.

It was there I stopped, one warm summer’s day, on my way to somewhere else.

I was not in a hurry, my errand could wait, and the forest beckoned.

It was an easy trail on the dusty forest floor; it had been a dry summer.

A carrefour appeared, with the age-old dilemma—which way, left or right?

I turned to the right along the ancient bridge… only to find Emperor Napoléon waiting for me.  

Detours: the wonder of looking at both time and travel differently

It makes me wonder, what else might I have missed on my travels through France?

It’s not easy to take the time to explore every twelfth-century church, read all the monuments to the dead, visit the tiny museums, to search for what is hidden.

  • As you accelerate along the A10 to Bordeaux, what of the medieval castle you spy beyond the green fields, the one definitely not in the guidebook?
  • When you wait impatiently in the traffic jam leaving Paris for Brittany on the Friday night of a long weekend… maybe close by there’s a Neolithic menhir, placed there by the mischievous fairies frolicking in the magical forest of King Arthur. Because, as we know, every French village has its secrets, every forest murmurs with the footsteps of generations past.

I came across Napoléon in his hunting lodge.

The Pavillon de l’Empereur, in the small, otherwise nondescript town of Le-Perray-en-Yvelines, is mostly in ruins. Only the centre of this neo-Grecian structure remains; the two modest wings are lost to history. - Napoléon in Bordeaux: adopting a detour state of mind.

Napoléon himself was a keen hunter and a frequent visitor to his pavillon de chasse deep in the forest; in the winter of 1806, he shot and killed five marauding wolves. The wolves are long gone from the area, as is the Emperor. His hunting lodge was used by the kings who followed, in the complicated history which is 19th century France, but by 1840 it lay abandoned.

The encroaching forest then claimed the building for itself.  

Napoléon in Bordeaux — are the richest experiences always in Paris?

  • Napoléon’s footprint is everywhere in France.
  • His military might is on display at the Arc de Triomphe in Paris, or you can pay your respects at his tomb under the golden dome of the Hôtel des Invalides.
  • Spend a fragrant afternoon in the rose garden at Malmaison, the grand house he gave to his greatest love, Josephine.

These places and the big tourist attractions such as the Louvre or Versailles are important. In fact, you can’t appreciate the depth of French history or culture without them.  

But sometimes, when you take a detour, you find the unexpected. I didn’t need to travel all the way to Paris to find Napoléon. He was waiting, practically in my backyard, and this chance encounter with history was just as emotional as seeing the Eiffel Tower for the first time. So, pull off the road, take a walk into the unknown, and then turn to the right. 

Do you take detours when travelling? Is that your natural approach? Do tell us about your detour experiences and if you’ve ever come across Napoléon’s pavillon de chasse in the comments below.


Itinerary and local map/plan:
Image credits :
All images copyright Melissa Barndon

Adopting a detour state of mind is a 3-Part mini-series
Here you can read the other articles
#1—Napoleon in Bordeaux
#2—Behind the blue door
#3—13th Century church

About the Contributor

Melissa Barndon

I've lived in some interesting places in my life, but I've made my home in France. The sense of history here is tangible, it's in my 250-year-old stone house with its old bread oven, it's in the hidden paths you find in ancient forests, it's in the armoires in the house of my husband's family. I write about French history and my travels in France here on my blog.

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