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There will be cafes at France's sculpture parks

... as well as culture, laughter and good times in a single package, writes Samantha David

Sculpture Parks offer culture, amusement, space for children to run around and very often a café to boot, making them ideal for families.

Visiting out of season is a treat because without the crowds you can really see the artworks in context with their setting. Umbrellas and Wellingtons do not detract from the fun – in fact, they almost add to the atmosphere!

In Brittany, Rochefort-en-Terre is an ideal December destination. The village is famous for its Christmas market and festive illuminations.

In the centre of the village is the Naïa museum exhibiting fabulous steampunk-style art; a blend of science fiction and creativity which spellbinds adults and children alike.

The museum in the outbuildings of the chateau is full of surprises, in the garden and in a dungeon carved out of the ramparts. Head into the underground exhibition after dark, and enjoy the ghostly vibes.

The museum was founded six years ago by two artists, Emmanuelle and Patrice Hubert. “We are not curators or collectors, but the mairie asked if we wanted to use the space so we set up the museum,” said Emmanuelle.

“We are a gallery too, so some works are for sale. We particularly work with artists that the public don’t see very often. The digital prints in the garden work very well. As they are prints the detail is amazing and it doesn’t matter if they become weather damaged as we can replace them.” The pair continue to work as artists, both pursuing their own personal projects.

In Paris, the Stravinsky Fountain opposite the Centre Pompidou is a huge shallow pool filled with brightly coloured kinetic art which thrills children by spurting water, or turning wheels through it according to the wind and where you stand.

The Parc de la Villette, near Paris, is a vast urban project which includes a giant sculpture of a bicycle buried in the ground. It was inspired by one of Samuel Beckett’s characters, Molloy, who having fallen off a bicycle, couldn’t remember what it was called. 

The Bicyclette Ensevelie by Claes Oldenburg and Coosje Van Bruggen also references the importance of cycling in France, but the children who enjoy sliding down the section of the front wheel which emerges from the ground and climbing over the half-saddle are mostly oblivious, which is also the intention.

The Château de Montcel, near Versailles, is not really a sculpture park as it mainly consists of parkland, lakes and a vegetable garden. It features a 20m tall sculpture made from 60 real cars stacked and embedded into a tall, square, concrete tower.

Installed in 1982 by French/American artist Arman, it is called ‘Long Term Parking’ and symbolises the waste generated by mass production. Worth seeing if you are in the area, and entrance to the park is free.

In Lyon, the extensive Tête d’Or park includes a variety of sculptures and works of land art. The sculpture of a group of people turning the world around is a particular favourite.

The Fondation Maeght in St-Paul-de-Vence (Alpes-Maritimes) showcases all kinds of modern art, while the grounds feature 250 ceramics, and bronze and marble sculptures which are all part of a work called ‘Labyrinth’ by Joan Miró; plus Takis’ wind turbines and a stunning stainless steel fountain by Belgian artist Pol Bury (although children will probably be more amused by the green lips of the Miró fountain). The views from the garden are as stunning as the art, and the café sells glasses of cold rosé.

Les Lapidiales in Port d’Envaux (Charente-Maritime) is an amazing place, and not just because entrance is free. The walls of this quarry are covered in sculptures of all kinds. Some are beautiful, others cute, some slightly disturbing. Walking around in summer it is cool, while off season there are often sculptors working on new pieces – the garden is continuously evolving.

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