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Bois de Boulogne
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Bois de Boulogne Lake : Click to enlarge picture
Lac de Boulogne
The Bois de Boulogne, running all the way down the west side of the 16e, was designed by Baron Haussmann and supposedly modelled on London's Hyde Park – though it's a very French interpretation. The "bois" of the name is somewhat deceptive, though the extensive parklands (just under 900 hectares) do contain some remnants of the once great Forêt de Rouvray. As its location would suggest, the Bois was once the playground of the wealthy, although it also established a reputation as the site of illicit sex romps; it was popularly said that "Les mariages du bois de Boulogne ne se font pas devant Monsieur le Curé"– "Unions cemented in the Bois de Boulogne do not take place in the presence of a priest." Today's unions are no less disreputable – the area is a favoured haunt for prostitutes and accompanying kerb-crawlers who, despite an obvious police presence and the night-time closure of certain roads, still do business along its periphery. Accompanying the sex trade is a certain amount of crime; the bois is a very unwise choice for a midnight promenade.

While entry to the overall park is free, there are several attractions within it that have entry fees or opening times: the Jardin d'Acclimatation, which is aimed at children; the excellent Musée National des Arts et Traditions Populaires; the beautiful floral displays of the Parc de Bagatelle; and the racecourses at Longchamp and Auteuil. You can also partake of a wealth of activities: there's a riding school, a bowling alley, bike rental (for which you'll need to leave your passport as security) at the entrance to the Jardin d'Acclimatation and 14km of cycling routes; and boating on the Lac Inférieur. The best, and wildest, part for walking is towards the southwest corner.

The fascinating Musée National des Arts et Traditions Populaires (daily except Tues 9.30am–5.15pm; €3.85; M° Les Sablons & M° Porte-Maillot) lies on the northern edge of the park, at 6 av du Mahatma Gandhi, beside one of the entrances to the Jardin d'Acclimatation and signposted from M° Les Sablons (from where it's about a fifteen-minute walk). It celebrates the highly specialized skills and techniques of the now-endangered crafts of, among others, boat-building, shepherding, weaving, pottery and stone-cutting as they existed before industrialization, standardization and mass production. Downstairs, there's a study section with casefuls of various implements, and cubicles where you can call up explanatory slide shows (explanations in French).

Leaving the museum and following avenue du Mahatma Gandhi to allée de la Reine Marguerite will take you to the Parc de Bagatelle (daily 9am–7pm; €0.75; M° Porte-Maillot, then bus #244), spread out to the south and west. Comprising a range of garden styles from French and English to Japanese, its most famous feature is the stunning rose garden of the charming Château de Bagatelle. The Château was designed and built in just over sixty days in 1775 as a wager between Comte d'Artois, the owner, and his sister-in-law Marie Antoinette, who said it could not be achieved in less than three months. The best time for the roses is June, while in other parts of the garden there are beautiful displays of tulips, hyacinths and daffodils in early April, irises in May, and waterlilies in early August.

Bang in the middle of the Bois de Boulogne, the Pré Catalan park is famous for its huge beech tree and, outside an open-air theatre, its Jardin Shakespeare, where you can study the herbs, trees and flowers referred to in the bard's plays.

Exiting the park at Porte Dauphine, Avenue Foch runs northeast from the Bois de Boulogne to Étoile through the 16e. Two blocks east of here is the beginning of rue de la Faisanderie, where at no.16 you'll find one of Paris's oddest museums, the Musée de la Contrefaçon (Tues–Sun 2–5.30pm; €2.30; M° Porte-Dauphin), set up to deliver an anti-counterfeiting message. Examples of imitation products, labels and brand marks trying to pass themselves off as the genuine article are all on display, in most cases alongside the real thing.


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