Most Paris clichés and stereotypes really bug me. Those French perfume commercials starring Hollywood actresses on Parisian balconies with perfect Eiffel Tower views? Eyes roll. But this place? Well this place brings me back to childhood, behind the scenes of an animated wonderland set in Belle Epoque Paris…
We’re at the Musée des Automates in La Rochelle, on the west coast of France, where they’ve reconstructed the Parisian quartier of Montmartre in a three-dimensional whimsical time warp. And I’m pretty smitten with it.
I can’t decide whether we’re on the set for Gene Kelly’s An American in Paris or inside Martin Scorcese’s animated Paris film, Hugo. It’s a hand-painted sign paradise, filled with nostalgic references, if not a few Parisian clichés in the best possible way.
The Musée des Automates is dedicated to the very niche history of automaton dolls. Non-electronic moving machines made to resemble human or animal actions date as far back as ancient Greece, but “The Golden Age of Automata” was during the Belle Epoque, when many small family based companies of Automata makers thrived in Paris. From their Parisian ateliers, they exported thousands of clockwork automata and mechanical singing birds around the world. French automata today attracts collectors worldwide and can be quite rare and expensive.
The museum includes antique automata (pre-1900s), automata used for publicity and commercial purposes– in the window displays of the Grands Magasins departments stores of Paris between the 1920s and 1950s, as well as reconstruction of automats of ancient Egypt and Medieval times. Next door, you have the added bonus museum of miniature models, including elaborate model trains, ships and automobiles.
So if you ever find yourself hanging out on the French Atlantic coast– make a detour to Le Musée des Automates in La Rochelle. You won’t regret it. If you can’t make it, you can continue exploring this wonderland Montartre here.
PS. Did you know? Messy Nessy’s Parisian finds and treasures are now officially all in one place and in print! Pre-Order your signed copy of “Don’t Be a Tourist in Paris” now!