colorful side of Parisian life
travel article by Pierre Mainguené, Circa Tours
exquisite silhouette of Notre Dame is and will forever be an amazing sight. Parisians
at outside cafés in St. Germain des Prés, a walk through Montmartre
and many other famous places in the City of Light are always a lot of fun. But
for a slower pace and a more peaceful atmosphere, the parks and gardens of Paris
are a wonderful way to discover a lesser-known side of this great city. There,
you get to experience nature ("la campagne" - the country, almost) and
catch a glimpse of the locals in their most intimate rituals of relaxation.
is what I did in early spring, not long ago. It was the absolute right time of
year. The new season's weather was softly warm, flowers were everywhere and people
were surfacing with a renewed taste for life. Making a selection was difficult
- Paris has so much to offer. But I finally settled on seven parks, all within
Paris and all accessible by public transportation.
Kahn Gardens. These French-, English- and Japanese-style gardens located
next to an orchard, a swamp and a wooded area are compact and meticulously laid
out. The Japanese garden was re-built in a "modern" style in 1990. The
close juxtaposition of the different styles and settings in such a small area
(10 acres) makes it that much more interesting. These gardens are small and intimate,
an "easy" visit with interesting landscape and comparatively short distances
to walk. Albert Kahn (1860 - 1940) was a wealthy banker, philanthropist, adventurer
and photographer. Part of the visit includes a museum displaying some of the photographs
he took or commissioned in the early 1900s. [photos]
Citroen. This park occupies the site of a former Citroen car factory,
which was torn down years ago. It is fairly large (60 acres) and displays a late-20th
century, almost futuristic, landscape design style. A White Garden and a Black
Garden lead to the park's central feature - a vast rectangular lawn. Two glass
pavilions stand at the end of the lawn. One side of the lawn is bounded by a monumental
canal and the other by two sets of small gardens: the six Serial Gardens alive
with golds, reds and coppers, and a wild Garden in Movement. For an aerial view
of the surrounding neighborhoods, your hot-air balloon is awaiting at one end
of the lawn. Parts of this park are warm and cozy while others are wide and expansive.
If I were a Parisian, I would go there regularly, to unwind or play Frisbee with
my dog. [photos]
Monceau. This public park dates back to 20 years before the French
Revolution of 1789. Although not very large by Paris standards, it is one of the
most charming parks in the city. In contrast to other more formal gardens, there
is no apparent order in Parc Monceau. Trees seem to be growing naturally and alleys
curve around in somewhat loose patterns. But this deliberate "naturalness"
is the result of careful design and in the very best of taste. A variety of themes
are displayed around the park. One of the most notable is the "Naumachie,"
a pond surrounded by a half circle of Corinthian columns in various stages of
degradation and overgrown with vegetation made to look like an authentic Roman
ruin. It almost fooled me - it really did! Famous poets and composers are also
represented - Alfred de Musset and Charles Gounod among others. There is ample
room for a leisurely stroll or simple daydreaming while sitting on a bench in
this park... a breath of fresh air in the middle of Paris. [photos]
des Plantes. A totally different experience. This is a botanical garden
"par excellence" operated by the Musée National d'Histoire Naturelle.
Created in 1635, it covers about 60 acres, starting with a Versailles-like perspective
of French gardens leading to the Grande Galerie de l'Evolution. This grandiose
building is flanked by two spectacular art-deco glass houses, followed by a fabulous
rose garden, an animal park, an Alpine garden and very impressive botanical gardens:
over 4,500 varieties of shrubs and plants from all over Europe. One comes to the
Jardin des Plantes to relax, to jog or maybe to meditate. But many people visit
this place to learn about plants. It's a shrine of the botanical world. [photos]
du Luxembourg. I went there on May 1st (the day of the "Fête
du Travail" in France). Well, let me tell you, there was no "travail"
(work) going on in the park that day... quite the opposite. Instead, I found an
ocean of humanity, doing absolutely nothing except blackening the entire area
with its sheer numbers. Some people were sitting on benches, steps or on the grass;
others were lying on benches, parapets or on the grass. They were absolutely covering
every inch of available ground. I have to say... the sight of so many Parisians,
soaking up the rays was actually relaxing in and of itself. But just in case you
don't make it there on May 1st, here's what to expect in this impressive park.
First, the location on the Left Bank is ideal. The Quartier Latin and St. Germain
des Prés are a stone's throw away. It is one of the largest parks in the
city, a French-style garden influenced by Italian Baroque with a palace now used
by the French Senate. It was designed for Marie de Medici, Queen of France. Local
Parisians love it for its open spaces and peacefulness, right in the heart of
the city. This is a park designed for getting out of the house/apartment and away
from the rough and tumble Parisian grind. [photos]
Bagatelle. This is my favorite. The Metro plus a short bus ride takes
you there in no time at all. Because of its large English-style wooded park (60
acres), it feels like you are out in the country. Bagatelle also has one of the
most important and oldest rose gardens in France with about 9,500 rose bushes
representing some 1,100 varieties. The iris garden was just starting to bloom
that day, so I could easily imagine how it was going to be a week later. The wisteria
garden was in full force. The sight of those cascading flowers in such opulent
abundance was simply amazing. But I also noticed a few unusual things about the
place: a pretty pagoda tucked away in a corner gave it a Chinese feel. And I could
hear familiar trumpeting sounds coming from the back of the park. Those were calls
coming from a muster of peacocks (five or six of them, maybe). I met the birds
a little bit later. They seemed quite at ease with the goings on around them,
except for one lonely, cantankerous old bird. He didn't like my being there, trespassing
on his grounds. So, he showed me his disapproval by turning around and displaying
the back, grey side of his otherwise colorful tail (not a pretty sight!). I got
mooned by a peacock! And I have bragging rights: I took a picture of the scene.
Well, all is forgiven now. I do like peacocks. They are colorful and musical.
They make a park feel like a park should be: plants and birds fluttering all around
you. Nothing fancy or formal about Bagatelle, just a pleasant place to spend the
Rodin. Although technically not a park
or a garden, I highly recommend visiting this museum. Why? You guessed it... the
Rodin statuary in and around the 18th-century mansion is without equal (literally).
A total of 25 pieces by the great sculptor are displayed around the grounds: Honore
de Balzac in one corner, the Burghers of Calais and The Gates of Hell in another,
the spirit of Eternal Rest in the center of a circular pool and some 20 more artfully
displayed pieces around the formal French garden. And, of course, you will not
miss The Thinker, all by himself (how else!), in the middle of a rose garden,
with the top of the Eiffel Tower peeking above the shrubbery. Just wonderful!
to say, there are many more beautiful parks and gardens around Paris: Jardin Atlantique,
Place des Vosges, Parc des Buttes de Chaumont, to say nothing of the dozens of
leafy neighborhood plazas, with or without fountains, strewn all around the city.
This is what makes Paris so unique and so appealing. Don't wait! Go, explore and
savor the atmosphere!
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