One of the reasons why I am still so attached to our dear capital, like a limpet to its rock, is the abundance of gardens. Simply climbing up a little is enough to see that Paris is a green and leafy city. These green areas are places to rest, to wander and also to recharge one’s batteries within the hustle and bustle of city life. Instead of the traditional « Jardin des Tuileries » or « Jardin du Luxembourg », here are five gardens barely less famous but truly worth seeing you should check out during your next stay in Paris
Located in the 1st arrondissement, the Jardin du Palais Royal has little direct competitors (given les Halles will be undergoing work for a while). It also, quite surprisingly, has few visitors. And yet, the moment you pass through the magnificent archways, built under Richelieu, you feel as if you have escaped the city. Calm pervades and smells of leather and zinc permeate from within the few cafés present. A true stepping back in time: passers-by slow their pace and tourists stop and stare in awe. . If you take the time to stop by, you will discover jewelers, watchmakers and a plethora of boutiques you would never have imagined existing.
I strongly recommend you to sit down there for a few moments provided that the sun is out, and to take advantage of a moment of peace in this setting. You will then set off light-heartedly for the Comédie Française, the Louvre and lastly the River Seine. Then you are free to continue on towards the Left Bank!
Spread over 25 hectares, Buttes-Chaumont is one of Paris’ major parks and gardens. It is a magnificent place, quite away from the tourist trail, set on undulating land, with a lake, an island, little streams, cliffs, a belvedere and perfectly mown lawns, offering one of the finest views of Paris. So if you have the chance, do go and visit it. In addition, you can enjoy a real breath of fresh air here. This was, for that matter, Napoleon III’s belief for he created it to “offer the working classes some green lungs”. It took colossal works to transform this hill, which was originally used for hanging miscreants and as a cemetery for horses, into a superb location for a break.
You can find gudgeon, roach, trench and pike gliding in the lakes as far as the eye can see. Bucolic, you might say. Perhaps, but no-one can deny that this slice of nature, set against the city’s Brownian motion, offers a relaxing and intriguing interlude!
The regulars are certainly not mistaken, particularly the joggers. Generally-speaking they run all the way around, anti-clockwise, which is less of a challenge as this park, built on former quarries, is nonetheless steep. Right in the middle of this haven of green tranquility, there is a “bar guinguette” (for eating, drinking and dancing). It offers a warm welcome, a good range of music and food is served for reasonable prices.
Charles Trenet, a famous French singer, said that the “Jardin des Plantes” inspired his lyric about “a little bird and a little fish who loved each other tenderly”. Indeed legend has it that it was in this Parisian botanical garden, around 1930, that a blue tit was seen feeding the goldfish in the lily pad pond. This remarkable behavior was explained as being a transfer of the blue tit’s feeding instinct due to the similarity between the mouths of the fish and the beaks of the baby blue tits in the nest.
This story is one of the numerous reason I have a real soft spot for the botanical garden in the 5th arrondissement which I urge you to (re)discover. From the lamas napping on the banks of the Seine, to the frenzied buzz of insects in the flowerbeds, this place is a paradise in the heart of Paris. It opens and closes, each day, according to the time that the sun rises and sets.
Created by Louis XIII in 1635, the “Jardin” consists of eleven gardens featuring more than 4500 types of plant. For example, the garden of irises and perennials counts hundreds of decorative and climbing varieties. The Alpine garden counts 2000 mountain and rock bed plants from all over the world. There are also three huge hothouses to discover and the rose garden counts 170 varieties retracing the history of the rose. Finally, the Labyrinth offers its maze of hidden routes and varied fragrances. But, there are not only plants in the Jardin des Plantes! In fact, the site also includes the Mineralogy and Geology Museum, the Natural History Museum, a Zoo and a Paleontology and Comparative Anatomy Museum or the prestigious ‘Grande Galerie de l’Evolution’.
If it were not for the business tycoon Marcel Boussac, this garden would have disappeared long ago. Having heard rumors of property dealings and horrified by the idea of new buildings being built opposite to his house, he bought the concession of the Jardin d’Acclimatation from the City of Paris. So it was that, in everyone’s eyes and under their very noses, this lovely area of 19 hectares situated in the heart of Paris was managed… by a private textile company! And this is still true today since the company placed in charge of the Jardin d’acclimatation by the City of Paris belongs to the LVMH Group which bought out the Boussac Group in 1985. Moreover the Jardin d’acclimatation is to present Bernard Arnault’s collection of modern and contemporary 14 days from today
There is another fact that it is not necessary to tell children about, this one being frankly disgraceful. Until 1930, the Jardin d’acclimatation exhibited generations of human beings ‘imported’ from France’s overseas colonies. The spectators threw coins into the pond to see them dive in after them. And this was not the first time that the garden was used for such a shameful purpose since, under an ethnological pretext and until the end of the 19th century, entire families of American Indians and Laplanders were exhibited here under the gaze of visitors.
Yet every children consider this place as their kingdom with its attractions for all tastes: a little train, an enchanted river, a dragon, little horses, a village of rides, a car circuit, boats, playgrounds, a puppet theatre, a mini golf, an enchanted house, an area dedicated to road accident prevention, funhouse mirrors, pony rides, trampolines, fun and instructive workshops, etc…
This park is one of the finest achievements of the last 20 years, particularly in an area that lacked green spaces. It was inaugurated in 1988. The architect François Debulois and the landscape designer Paul Brichets are its creators. Located on the Belleville hill, this place has a long history behind.
In the Middle Ages, several religious communities made the acquisition of areas on the hill. They cleared, planted vines and exploited sources (an unusual luxury for Paris). Bars and taverns flourished between the 14th and the 18th century. In the 19th century, most houses on the hill were owned by Julien Lacroix. The whole place looked like Montmartre. It did not change that much during this period.
Today you need to climb up to the terrace, about 30 feet high, to admire the panoramic view of Paris. The sigh on the capital is amazing and in my opinion even more spectacular than the one from “la butte Montmartre”. You can peacefully walk among more than 1200 trees and shrubs such as Sophora, linden, catalpa without mentioning the numerous flower massifs annual or perennials. The gardeners prepare most of the massifs two years in advance, in close collaboration with the Horticultural Centre of Rungis. Their compositions were by the way awarded many times for the Parisian summer floral decorations contest, held every year in September.
Eventually during the summer’s days you can cool off with one of the largest fountains cascading Paris, more than 100 meters long, flowing down the side of the hill, or sunbathed on the 1000m lawn opened to the public.
Didier Moinel Delalande is a Director at Hotel Mathurin.