Even when you’ve gone to soak up the sights, smells and sounds of a city, you sometimes still need to stop and get away from it all. If you’re in Paris and have done all the central sites, a short metro ride out to Boulogne-Billancourt will transport you to another world. Out here, on the edge of the city, lies the Musée Albert-Kahn and its gorgeous gardens.
Though it should be a compulsory stop for all travellers, I’ve not met many people, even hardcore Francophiles familiar with Paris, who’ve heard of this little oasis, let alone been there. I only went on the off chance, having caught a few minutes of a BBC documentary on Kahn, an early twentieth century banker and philanthropist who sent an intrepid team around the globe to create an “Archive of the Planet”, just as the world was going through some big changes.
The result of this work was a collection of thousands of autochrome colour pictures, many of them the first to be taken in countries all across Europe, Africa, Asia and the Americas. Being used to strictly monochrome images of this era – as a child I was sure that people in “the olden days” lived in black and white – these marvellous pics are truly fascinating.
Arguably best of all though are the gardens. One of Kahn’s own trips in 1909 took him to Japan, where he evidently picked up some green-fingered tips and brought them home to his own estate where the site stands. Coy-filled streams, bamboo, red wooden bridges and plenty of semi-hidden nooks and crannies to explore, it’s a magical, calming spot. And with relatively few visitors you can often feel, like Kahn must have done, as if you have the place to yourself. It’s definitely a welcome contrast to the crowds and chaos of the Louvre.
As for the inside, the archive is far too huge for everything to be on display all at once so it is pretty much potluck what will be exhibited when you go. Last year’s big showcase was the amazingly vibrant Infinite Indias, while the current display (early 2010) focuses closer to home on Brittany.
Whatever’s on though, the paltry â‚¬1.50 entrance fee certainly shouldn’t be sniffed at. Go on, give yourself a real break next time you’re in Paris.
The museum’s official site (French only) is here Header photo of Albert Kahn Gardens by luigi morante on Flickr Have you been to Paris lately? Got any tips for places to visit that are not yet surrounded by the mass hordes? Share your tips and suggestions in the comments below.