Compared with the royal extravagances of the Louvre and Versailles, the garden of the Palais Royal is relatively homely. This is grand formality on a human scale, enlivened by richly detailed planting which balances formal design with informal style. This pink flowered magnolia (Magnolia liliflora) is one of sixteen – four at each corner of the garden – just coming into flower among drifts of narcissus and tulips.
The Palais Royal is just opposite the Louvre but few of the tourists thronging the Rue de Rivoli find their way through into the secluded garden. The main building is now occupied by government offices and is not open to the public, though the arcades either side house cafés and antique shops. The first courtyard glimpsed through the arcades is fully paved (with an interesting grid of low, sculptural columns) and the garden beyond appears to be railed off. In fact it is freely open to the public, up to eleven at night in summer; you just have to find a gate.
Built in the 1630s for Cardinal Richelieu, chief minister of Louis XIII, the Palais Cardinal passed to the king on Richelieu’s death in 1642 and gained its royal title. When the king died the following year his heir, Louis XIV, was only five years old. The Palais Royal became the home of the queen mother, Anne of Austria, who ruled as regent on the young king’s behalf. From 1649 the palace also sheltered Henrietta Maria and Henrietta Ann Stuart, the widow and daughter of Charles I of England. When, in 1661, Henrietta Ann married Philippe Duke of Orleans, the king’s younger brother, the palace became the seat of the House of Orleans. The new duchess set about planning and overseeing the development of the palace gardens, soon to be described as the most beautiful in Paris,