Last weekend I ended up in Milly-La-Foret, less than an hour's drive to the south-east of Paris, just on the edge of the Fontainebleau forest. I was told that Jean Cocteau had lived there and that you could visit his house. I had no idea previously where his house was, so, as is often the best way, had no preconceived ideas of what it might be like and no time to obsessively Google it. Once we were there I realised I'd seen pictures of the three rooms which have been recreated as they were, on Instagram or Pinterest, especially of his desk.
The house was interesting, but when we stepped outside into the garden I was really amazed. No mention had been made of it - I wouldn't even have known there was a garden. Maybe it's because I started planting my own garden last year and it's become such an enthusiastic passion, or maybe it was because it was so unexpected and everything shimmered on a beautiful spring day.
The house is on the estate of an old chateau, which is now half-ruined and uninhabited and is just on the other side of... the moat! The whole of Jean Cocteau's garden is surrounded by a fairly substantial moat, which makes perfect sense as he bought it as a refuge from his flat at 36 rue Montpensier (next to the Jardin du Palais Royal) in Paris, which was constantly besieged by fans, with people trying to look into his windows or ringing his doorbell. At Milly-Le-Foret he could remain in total privacy and tranquillity.
There's nothing showy or over-manicured about the garden, which is exactly why I love it and might be why they don't particularly advertise it. First there are a couple of lawns and flower beds, then across the first bridge of the moat is a large orchard of espaliered apple trees - each a different variety and in blossom when we visited. Across another bridge there are beehives (yes, you can buy a jar of Jean Cocteau's honey, or honey from his land anyway) and a wide circular mown path around an area of trees and brambles left more or less wild, with the moat all the way around, which makes for a lovely stroll. To the right I think must be the land of the abandoned castle, and to the left as you walk around you can see that some modern houses have now been built, which wouldn't have been there when Jean Cocteau was alive.
It was such a beautiful and unexpectedly charming place. From Paris by car it's really not far at all, but I don't think it's something you could do by public transport. I'll definitely be back to see the garden and the chapel, which we missed, not knowing why we should make the 20 minute walk there from the house or how amazing it is - thanks to post-visit obsessive Googling I now do.
Below are some pictures I took on my walk around Jean Cocteau's garden.