Rueil-Malmaison is famous for its Château de Malmaison, home of Napoleon’s first wife Josephine de Beauharnais. However, there is much more than a chateau to be seen in this delightful commune located on the western outskirts of Paris.
Apart from its rich history of the Napoleonic era, Rueil-Malmaison’s main attraction for tourists is that there are none, tourists that is; well perhaps a few. Unless you are a Napoleon history buff, you may be too preoccupied with the Louvre and Eiffel Tower to include the short train ride to Rueil-Malmaison.
To cultivate its imperial identity, the municipality of Rueil-Malmaison has established the Chemin Josephine et Napoleon Bonaparte (Josephine and Napoleon Bonaparte path) highlighting ten sites associated with Napoleon and Josephine.
This 10 stage heritage trail is identified by special street furniture composed of information points and marked out with pavement studs decorated with the imperial bee.
We have highlighted below our top spots along the path plus added a few others nearby. For an understanding of the complete path read the Josephine and Napoleon Path brochure.
Where you join the path is up to you. Be aware that points along the path vary in their hours of operation. Some are even privately owned and require permission to visit.
Walking the path is encouraged, but a car makes it possible to get around more sites as Versailles is only 14km away and Saint-Cloud is 6km away.
Office de Tourisme de Rueil-Malmaison
118 Avenue Paul Doumer, 92563 Rueil-Malmaison
+33 1 47 32 35 75
Mon to Tue: 10am to 12.30pm and 1.30pm to 6pm
Wed to Fri: 10am to 12pm and 1.30pm to 5pm
From Paris: RER A to Gare Rueil-Malmaison and the either walk or take bus 144 to the centre of Rueil-Malmaison.
Musée Histoire Rueil-Malmaison
The former town hall of Rueil-Malmaison, built in 1868 as an imitation of that in Fontainebleau, is now a museum dedicated entirely to the history of the town.
Exhibits depict the arrival of the Bonaparte couple at Malmaison under the Consulate; the improvements and changes made to the property during the Empire; Josephine’s return after her divorce; her death and burial; the fate of the Malmaison Estate after her death; and the actions of Napoleon III in favour of the city.
6 Rue Paul Vaillant Couturier, 92500 Rueil-Malmaison
+33 1 47 32 60 50
Open every day except Sunday from 2.30pm to 6pm. Closed in August. Free admission
From Paris: RER A to Gare Rueil-Malmaison then either walk or take bus 144 to stop ‘Mairie de Rueil’.
Eglise Saint-Pierre Saint-Paul
Eglise Saint-Pierre Saint-Paul, the ninth-century parish church of Rueil-Malmaison, is the final resting place of the Empress Josephine and her daughter, Queen Hortense.
The main altar is decorated with a bas-relief and was originally bought by Napoleon I for the chapel in the Malmaison chateau. Also of note is the magnificent organ case donated by Napoleon III in 1868.
Place de l’Eglise 92500 Rueil-Malmaison
From Paris: RER A to Gare Rueil-Malmaison then bus 144 to stop at ‘Place de l’Eglise’.
Bois-Préau Musée National
Château Bois-Préau was acquired by Josephine in 1810 and served as an annexe to Malmaison for her doctor and other members of her entourage. Today, the 18-hectare property houses a museum dedicated to Bonaparte’s exile on Saint Helena.
1 avenue de l’Impératrice 92500 Rueil-Malmaison
+33 1 41 29 05 55
Open every day except Tuesday: 9.30am to 6pm (longer hours in Summer). Free admission
From Paris: RER A to Gare de la Défense then bus 258 to stop Bois-Préau.
Château de Malmaison
The château de Malmaison, purchased by Josephine in 1799 was the French government’s headquarters from 1800 to 1802. When Napoleon moved to Saint-Cloud, Josephine stayed in Malmaison and commissioned a wide range of improvements to the house. She settled in permanently after her divorce in 1809 and died there on May 29, 1814.
Here, more than anywhere else on the path, the presence of Bonaparte and Josephine is still perceptible. Visitors enter the chateau through a porch in the form of a military tent which opens into the main hall.
The ground floor apartments have retained their authentic character thanks to the restored decoration and furnishings.
The vestibule, billiard room, sitting room, music room and dining room invite the visitor to relive the atmosphere of Malmaison.
The council chamber is made to look like a military tent, and the library contains furniture that was mainly brought from the Tuileries.
Napoleon’s rooms are furnished with items from several imperial residences such as David’s dramatic painting of Napoleon Crossing the Alps, the First Consul’s ceremonial sword and the table-top from Austerlitz, on which the Emperor and his marshals are represented.
Amongst the Empress’s rooms, there is her red and gilt room in the shape of a tent with the bed in which she died. The visit ends on the second floor with the room devoted to the Josephine’s wardrobe.
Avenue du Château de Malmaison, 92500 Rueil-Malmaison
+33 1 41 29 05 55
Open every day except Tuesday: 9am to 12.30pm and 1.30pm to 5.15pm (longer hours weekends and summer)
From Paris: RER A to Gare de la Défense then bus 258 to stop Le Château.
Château de la Petite Malmaison
The Château de la Petite Malmaison is a listed historical monument, commissioned in 1803 by the Empress Josephine, who wanted to have a space on the Malmaison estate reserved for her passion, botany.
Finished in 1805, the building comprised two sections: a large greenhouse, and a reception building from which to view the greenhouse. The greenhouse disappeared on the death of Eugène, the Empress’s son.
The aim of the Czarnecki family, the present owner of the remaining reception building, is to use it for a range of cultural event such as concerts, auctions and exhibitions.
If you have made an arrangement beforehand with the owner, it is possible to visit this beautiful site. If not, you will have to be satisfied with looking through the gates and the thick foliage that borders the property.
229 Avenue Napoléon Bonaparte 92500 Rueil-Malmaison France
+33 1 47 32 02 02
Etang de Saint-Cucufa
Etang de Saint-Cucufa is a beautiful lake in the Malmaison Estate forest, once a popular excursion for the Imperial entourage.
To reach the lake on foot from Chateau de la Petite Maison, go back up the Av. Delille, take the Av. Ducis and then the Rue de la Bergerie which leads directly to the Saint-Cucufa lake. However, it is a steep climb of 2.5km!
By car, return to the Malmaison Castle, take the Av. Tuck Stell then turn right onto Av. de Versailles. To get directions, either walking or by car, enlarge the map above.
When the Empress had guests, they were treated with carriage rides to the Malmaison forest and with boat rides on the lake.
The last guest was Tsar Alexander of Russia in May, 1814. The Empress Josephine died a few days after his visit.
Forêt Domaniale de la Malmaison 92500 Rueil-Malmaison
Parc de Saint-Cloud
Although not part of the Rueil-Malmaison commune, Saint-Cloud is very much a part of the Napoleonic era.
The park used to be the location of a significant royal chateau, which was the preferred residence of Napoleon Bonaparte. The chateau was destroyed during the French/Prussian war in 1871.
The chateau was given as a gift to Marie Antoinette by her husband, and she had a significant impact on the design of the building.
The position of the original chateau is outlined in the park with trees and a concrete foundation. There is also a small museum in the park dedicated to the former chateau.
The garden was designed by Andre le Notre, the designer of the Versailles gardens, and it is easy to spend two hours or more here. An English garden and a rose garden complement the formal design of le Notre.
From Paris: Metro 10 to Boulogne – Pont de Saint-Cloud or Metro 9 to Pont de Sèvres. 6km from Rueil-Malmaison via D180. Admission:Free