Photo Erica Berman
Text Jen Holup
Open the infamous little red “Plan de Paris” to a map of any arrondissement, and you will be presented with pleasant green shapes on every page. Full of green spaces to discover, Paris is a veritable urban jungle.
Many of Paris’ parks are well-tred territory, beloved by both locals and tourists alike. Luxembourg Gardens is a welcome rest-stop on a journey through the bustling Latin Quarter to Montparnasse. the Champs de Mars and Jardin des Tuileries offer grandiose promenades among the city’s most impressive monuments. Yet, more than once, after packing a picnic and a book for an afternoon in the park, I have found one of the endearing “pelouse au repos” signs gracing the lawn, informing me (albeit in the charming French way) that the grass was “resting,” and thus unfit for human contact. So, where does one retreat for a picnic in the City of Lights while our flora friends recuperate?
Bois de Vincennes: Since Louis XV, these 995 acres have been open to public enjoyment. The lovely thing about parks in Paris is that they are so much more than a series of well-landscaped paths for an afternoon stroll. Bois de Vincennes offers distractions for all interests. This forest on the eastern edge of the city has so much to offer, I wouldn’t hesitate to recommend it even for a rainy day. Enter the forest from Porte Dorée (Metro Ligne 8), where you will be greeted by Paris’ only Aquarium. A short walk away is the Zoo (closed for renovations until 2012), the Cité de l’Histoire de l’Immigration, and a bonafide Buddhist monastery offering courses in meditation, yoga, and Eastern practices several days a week.
During the summer, the Pelouse de Reuilly comes alive with carnival activity. To truly escape the city for a spell, Vincennes offers two pleasant lakes: Lac Daumesnil and Lac des Minimes. Bird-watchers will delight in the informative placards identifying (in French) the lakes’ waterfowl. A trip to the Ferme Georges Villa, a small-scale farm, and a hippodrome.
Parc des Buttes-Chaumont: Truly, the only setback of this unique park is its unfortunate location on the feeble Metro Ligne 7-bis—a 7-stop affair that will likely require at least two transfers from any major hub. Take a taxi, if you must, but don’t miss this peaceful oasis in the 19th, offering spectacular views of Paris. Ideal for lounging on a spring or summer day.
Bois de Boulogne: Alighting at the art-deco Metropolitain at Porte Dauphine evokes the early twentieth century Paris of Proust, where gentleman courted ladies along the wooded avenues to Longchamp races or the ritzy suburbs of Neuilly and Boulogne.
(Perfectly safe during daylight hours, but do exercise caution in any public park at night: the area becomes an infamous red-light district after dark).