Woody Allen has a knack for finding the perfect film set. Case in point: the enchanted garden oasis of Les Pavillons de Bercy, which morphed into a garden party scene circa 1920s in his blockbuster hit, Midnight in Paris. Not far from the Cour Saint-Émilion in the 12th arrondissement, the Pavillons de Bercy was built by an apprentice of Gustave Eiffel in the ancient Bercy wine warehouses. This was where the wine that was shipped by boat on the Seine was stored (outside of city limits and the customs house).
Today this verdant site is home to the Musée des Arts Forains- one of the most delightful little museums in Paris. Devoted to fairground arts, the museum is stocked with vintage merry-go-rounds, old games, wax figures, and more… The idea? To assemble an unrivaled collection that can bring the spark of magic to visitors’ lives. Indeed as you step through the gate into the cobblestoned courtyard, you’re immersed in a world of wit and whimsy where dreams seem to come to life.
Usually the Musée des Arts Forains is only accessible to the general public for two events during the year: the European Heritage Days (Journées du Patrimoine) and the Christmas season. Private tours can also be booked. But for the first time this summer, this privately owned museum is offering guided tours in English. From now through August 31, the Musée des Arts Forains is rolling out the red carpet for Anglophone visitors with twice-weekly English tours with hilarious, joke-cracking guides who make the past come to life.
What’s so wonderful about a visit to the museum is the interactive nature of it: you’ll find yourself riding the old carousels, gaping at a unicorn playing a piano, getting competitive with friends over fairground games, even trying your hand at a game that’s pinball’s ancestor (it involves spinning a top through lewd jesters’ legs).
Another highlight: the Salons Vénitiens, where stucco sculptures and gondolas conjure the watery world of an 18th century Venice Carnival.
Our favourite attraction? The “velocipede” merry-go-round which is entirely powered by cycling! As you pedal your bicycle—the manège is encircled with stationary vintage bikes—you can reach speeds of up to 60 km/hr spinning around and around. A truly collective team effort! Dating from 1897, this merry-go-round is still the star of the show in the 21st century.
A world away from the bustle of the city, you’d almost think you’d stepped into Gil Pender’s time-traveling adventures inside the Musée des Arts Forains.
Musée des Arts Forains, Pavillons de Bercy; 53 avenue des Terroirs de France, 75012 Paris. Metro: Cour Saint Emilion. Open year-round by reservation. Book a guide tour by phone: +33 (0)1-43-40-16-22; by email [email protected], or on the website: www.arts-forains.com. English tours take place at 11 am on Mondays and Thursdays until August 31st. Adults: 16 euros. Children (4-11 years): 8 euros. Free for under 4. Visit length is 1 hour and 30 minutes.