Affluent, green and residential, Saint-Cloud is a western suburb of Paris but isn’t very city-like at all.
There’s boundless parkland and golf courses, and the centre of Saint-Cloud is so unhurried it’s been nicknamed “Le Village”. Go exploring and take a peek at the mansions behind gates on leafy, hilly streets, and amble up to the lookouts over the Seine.
Go a bit further and the centre of Paris and Versailles promise more culture and sights than you could ever hope to conquer.
You also couldn’t pick a better location for spectator sports, as PSG play their home games just across the river and the incomparable Roland-Garros serves up two weeks of the best clay court tennis every year.
Lets explore the best things to do in Saint-Cloud:
1. Parc de Saint-Cloud
The Château de Saint-Cloud was a royal and imperial palace, occupied by Marie Antoinette and Napoleon, but was levelled during the Franco-Prussian War.
Its gardens are glorious and have the “jardin remarquable” label awarded by the Ministry of Culture.
Lines of cone-shaped yews amid the balustrades show where the palace used to be, while the gardens are still landscaped the way André Le Nôtre of Versailles fame and Marie Antoinette intended.
Her rose garden is unmissable, as is La Lanterne an elevated viewpoint where you can look east, across the Seine and pick out landmarks on the skyline like the Eiffel Tower and Tour Montparnasse.
Get on the suburban Transilien trains, the Metro Line 10 or the T2 Tramway and you’ll be in this wonderland of world-beating museums, illustrious landmarks, shopping and fine dining before you know it.
The tough bit will be deciding what to do.
On this western side of city it won’t take long to get to the Eiffel Tower or the Arc de Triomphe, which connects with the Bois de Boulogne via Avenue Foch.
Even closer is the striking modern architecture of La Défense, the futuristic business district developed in the 80s and 90s and known by the monumental Grande Arche.
From Saint-Cloud you can be in this fabled royal city in under 15 minutes.
In the spirit of the Kings who left their marks, the Palace of Versailles is not a place for half measures.
If you plan to see it all a single day is not enough.
Even a whirlwind will take several hours, simply by virtue of the almost absurd dimensions of the palace, its grounds and the smaller but no less breathtaking resdiences like Louis XIV’s Grand Trianon and Marie Antoinette’s bucolic Hamlet.
The city that coalesced around the palace for members of the government and court is all splendid boulevards and mansions, and has the Notre-Dame Church where the royal births and marriages were registered.
4. Musée National de la Céramique
On the other side of the Parc de Saint-Cloud is the commune of Sèvres, which is almost a byword for fine porcelain.
The “manufacture” has been crafting ceramics by royal, imperial and national appointment since the reign of Louis XV in 1756. If you have an eye for decorative arts you’ll be treated to 10,000 pieces in 18 different rooms and can get to know the evolution of Sèvres’ signature hard-paste porcelain.
You can fawn over the best of the Sèvres manufacture, but also pieces from a eras and places around the world, from Germany to China.
5. Bois de Boulogne
At 850 hectares the Bois de Boulogne is the second largest green space in Paris and for much of its past was a royal hunting ground.
In the middle of the 19th century the park was landscaped with avenues and grand works like the Grand Cascade, a picturesque waterfall and the Ruisseau de Longchamp, a man-made stream.
And in the decades that followed, Degas, Renoir and van Gogh all painted scenes in the park.
The Bois de Boulogne comes into its own in summertime when you can hire a rowboat on the Lac Inférieur, go for bike rides on 15 kilometres of trails or try horseback riding for the first time.
The Jardin des Serres d’Auteuil in the south is a working garden cultivating plants for the city’s municipal buildings.
6. Musée Albert-Kahn
In the 1910s the banker and philanthropist Albert Kahn embarked on an ambitious project to create an archive of the world with tens of thousands of colour photographs and 183,000 metres of footage.
This extent of this extraordinary undertaking is revealed in the museum’s galleries, while the museum’s grounds are also a big story.
From 1895 Kahn had devised a mosaic of masterful gardens in different styles: French parterre, English country garden, Vosges forest, a “Blue Forest” with Atlas cedars and spruces, a tall grass meadow, Japanese village and modern Japanese garden.
These were landscaped by some of the leading gardeners of the time.
7. Musée Marmottan Monet
Monet devotees need to get down to this museum on the cusp of the Bois de Boulogne.
In a dignified former hunting lodge you can see more than 300 of his works.
It’s the largest single collection of his painting anywhere.
Among them is the seminal Impression, Soleil Levant, which defined the Impressionist movement.
Others that you’ll know straight away are his studies of Rouen Cathedral and the Houses of Parliament.
Monet is joined by a who’s who of Impressionism and Post-Impressionism, including Degas, Sisley, Renoir, Pissarro, Boudin, Signac, Gaguin, the list goes on.
8. Fondation Louis Vuitton
With 12 glass canopies that resemble futuristic armour, Frank Gehry’s building for this modern art museum looks like a spaceship has just landed in the Bois de Boulogne near the Jardin d’Acclimatation.
The museum opened in 2014 and is dedicated to temporary exhibition for contemporary art, design and architecture, with shows for Daniel Buren and Olafur Eliasson so far.
There’s also a permanent exhibition exploring Gehry’s design of this new Parisian landmark, and has early sketches and a large scale model that you can walk around, as well as HD videos shot using drones.
9. Jardin d’Acclimatation
The smallest members of the family will go nuts for this historic amusement park in the Bois de Boulogne.
The Jardin d’Acclimatation was opened together by Napoleon III and Empress Eugénie in 1860 and started out as a zoo.
Now there’s enough going on to keep the youngest family members happy for a whole day.
There are still animal enclosures, with alpacas and goats, and kids can also go on donkey rides.
On top of that are fairground attractions like carousels, small rollercoasters and old-fashioned carnival games.
There’s a mini train, fountains that children can paddle in and puppet shows, while adults will be charmed by all the turn-of-the-century architecture.
10. Château de Malmaison
The home of Empress Joséphine from 1799 to her death in 1814, this château offers an intimate glance at her and Napoleon’s life.
Joséphine and Napoleon’s opulent belongings still furnish the interiors and include fine Sèvres porcelain dinnerware, an outsized billiard table, the Emperor’s sabres and room after room of mahogany furniture.
In 2017 there’s also an exhibition of Joséphine’s clothing, from dazzling gala gowns to her underwear! After Joséphine died Napoleon moved back in during the hundred days, so this was his final residence on French soil.
11. Bois Préau
A statue of Empress Joséphine greets you as you enter this 17-hectare English park close to the Château de Malmaison.
She bought Bois Préau and added it to her own massive grounds in 1809, and a few things hark back to her time here more than 200 years ago.
Joséphine was an avid botanist would have been thrilled with the sequoia , Turkish hazel and Corsican pines that are just are some of the many mature trees in the park.
The Château de Bois-Préau was built later, in the 1850s and has an exhibition that recount Napoleon’s exile at St Helena and the return of his ashes to Paris.
12. Hippodrome de Saint-Cloud
It’s only right that a posh district like Saint-Cloud should have a racetrack.
This course is a French “monument historique” that opened in 1901 for events on the flat running from spring to autumn.
The two marquee events are the Grand Prix de Saint-Cloud in June and the Critérium de Saint-Cloud at the end of October or start of November, both of which are big news as Group 1 races.
If you’re around on those dates you could add a splash of old-world entertainment to your stay in this plush neighbourhood.
Just up the road is 162-metre hill looking down on the Seine and the Bois de Boulogne.
At the summit is a fortress erected in 1841 to bolster Paris’ defensive ring, and the stronghold saw action in the Prussian Siege of Paris in 1870-71. It was only when the Fort Mont-Valérien surrendered that France decided to sign the armistice.
In the Second World War more than 1,000 Resistance fighters were executed by firing squad at the fort, and so from 1945 it has become France’s largest memorial to the French Resistance.
You can contact the memorial’s visitor centre to arrange a free guided tour of the site.
For two weeks in late-May and early-June the French Open comes to the Tennis Club de Paris in Auteil.
If you’re a tennis fan and fond of clay events an afternoon of matches at Roland-Garros might be a life’s ambition.
You’ll see the top male and female players in the world, even more so if you come for the second week.
But at the start of the tournament it’s terrific to watch matches on the smaller outer courts where you and a small crowd are a few metres from the players.
You can really make a day of it by booking “Prime” tickets that throws in lunch at one of the snazzy restaurants at the club.
15. Paris Saint-Germain F.C.
The high-quality sport keeps coming, and from August to May you’re a quick jaunt from the home ground of one of the best teams in Europe.
Since they were founded in the 70s and worked their way up the divisions, PSG has long been a household name for football supporters.
But they reached a new standard with huge Qatari investment in 2011 and it’s no exaggeration to say that you’ll be watching some of the world’s best players at the Parc des Princes.
Just next-door to this stadium is the Stade Jean-Bouin, home ground for the rugby side Stade Français, one of the best outfits in the Top 14.