Christel Pigeon, unearth of treasures

Hello Christel, can you tell us who you are, in a few words?

I am a journalist-author-photographer, specializing in the cultural field. I have been writing for art magazines for almost 20 years. I worked for 12 years at the Museum of Letters and Manuscripts in Paris, I was editor-in-chief of the museum’s magazine. And I started to write books on the manuscripts published by Gallimard. I like finding information, unusual if possible, and telling stories… so when I was asked to write a book about unusual places in the Yvelines, I said yes! I’m a big traveler too, I like to discover places off the beaten track, I often share my tips. So discovering secret places in Yvelines was obvious to me.

What is your secret place, the one you particularly like, a place that speaks to you more than others?

I like being surprised by the Désert de Retz, in Chambourcy, a timeless place. In this Anglo-Chinese garden of the 18th century, the Baron de Monville had 17 factories built spread over the 38 hectares of the estate located on the edge of the national forest of Marly-le-Roy. During the guided tour (only on Saturdays by reservation) which lasts nearly 2 hours, you can admire the temple to the god Pan, whose architecture evokes Greece and which was used as a music room. Then we enter the most famous factory or folly: the destroyed column which was the main residence of Monsieur de Monville. On the route, we also come across a pyramid which served as an icehouse to store food, a Tartar tent used as an armory and some remains of a theater and a Gothic church. A place still a little secret to discover.

When you go on a crusade with your tribe, what activity would you recommend?

Discover the Château de Monte-Cristo, an estate located on the heights of Port-Marly, built by the writer Alexandre Dumas. This Renaissance castle with two turrets is located in a very pretty landscaped park with caves, ponds, rockeries… There is even another castle, more Gothic, which was the study of the author of The Three Musketeers. The Moorish drawing room on the first floor is stunning. There are a lot of activities planned such as treasure hunts, investigations, theatrical and musical visits…

When the weather is nice, it’s also nice to take one of the 4 impressionist circuits to walk in the footsteps of Monet, Pissarro, Renoir or Sisley. In the 19th century, they planted their easels everywhere to paint on the spot and left nearly 200 canvases scattered in private and public collections around the world. Of these masterpieces, more than thirty have been reproduced in the street, in real size on enamel plates, in the very place where the artists put their brushes. We can therefore admire an impressionist painting from the 19th century while looking at the current landscape… and thus compare! Sometimes nothing has changed and sometimes urbanization has taken precedence over the rural landscape.

A secret about your favorite addresses? Where to have lunch, where to sit with a good book

Visit La Hublotière, Guimard’s first Art Nouveau villa, in Le Vésinet. Aware of the historical importance of their heritage, the current owners of La Hublotière and Villa Berthe open the gates of their gardens to visitors free of charge, every summer. Built in 1896 by the French architect Hector Guimard, this house is classic in style but with a few fantasies such as an unusual entrance door on the side, a roof surmounted by a terrace delimited by wrought iron balustrades like a crown on the head of a king, a staircase visible on the rear façade integrated into a turret for a medieval wink, a gate to embellish the street… and then settle down in the ibis park with a good book, do the tour of the lake and eat an ice cream on the island. You can also end the day by having a tea at the Dinette Café in the center of Le Vésinet.