Picnicking in Paris: A Piece of Cake
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As the spring season fast approaches, there seems to be unconscious agreement that dropping everything to bask in a tepid spot of sunshine is a completely self-justified and rational human response. Deadlines and other commitments pale when compared to the striking radiance of that soft patch of grass in the middle-distance. On such occasions, a lazy Parisian pique-nique stands as not only a means of further indulging this simple pleasure but the fullest exorcism of winter blues available.
There are, however, a few obstacles standing in the way of that baguette and you. The liberty of choosing where to sit in a public park, for example, is one not recognised by this revolutionary city. Much like a sign reading “please do not touch the ridiculously fluffy animals frolicking within arm’s reach” in a pet shop, the French will cultivate their grass until it is a pristine natural carpet of green, but will militantly prevent you from sitting on it. Likewise, the desired flutter of wings and seasoning of birdsong overhead are usually displaced by the arrival of obnoxious pigeons hunting for your brie. To avoid such troubles and have a private picnic, with enough space and calm to steal a cheeky siesta, consider the following ideal picnic spots.
Situated at the very heart of the city, on the western-most point of Ile de la Cité, the Square du Vert-Galant makes a wonderful location for an intimate picnic. With the river Seine sliding serenely by on both sides, this small green square seems to be removed from the rest of Paris. A beautiful kind of isolation is to be had if you walk to the tapering edge of the island: in a private and calm environment you can appreciate some of Paris’ best architectural wonders. This view is particularly intense under a ripe Parisian sunset, so why not extend your lazy afternoon into an unashamedly-idle evening? Likewise, if you venture to the eastern most point of the island, behind Notre Dame, you will find a similarly-evocative luncheon spot in Square Jean XXIII, which is relatively unbeknown to tourists.
Picnic enlightenment is surely to be found in the Bois de Vincennes, one of the ‘lungs’ of Paris. Covering 2,458 acres of land, you may even have trouble settling on one spot. The perfumed environment of Parc Floral is particularly alluring, and its array of European and Asian-inspired gardens and beautiful flower arrangements provide picturesque backdrops. However, this park deserves a full day trip. Housing a hippodrome, a velodrome and even a zoo, this site cannot fail to entertain. If you do get bored of petting horses and gazing at elephants, you can always take a boat out on one of its four lakes, visit the nearby Chateau de Vincennes, or even go for a hearty walk in the woods. With open-air concerts during the summer jazz festival, this might just be the most luxurious park you’ve never been to.
Another self-indulgent delight, the Buttes Charmont, often thought of as the ‘Parisians’ park’, provides shady respite from the urban labyrinth beyond its sleepy hills. Enclosed by a natural wall of greenery, the more undesirable architecture of northern Paris is immediately blocked out, and you are left to ramble across the contours of this quarry-turn-wonderland. With a grotto, waterfalls, a lake and styled gardens, this park is not short of interesting features. What’s more, if you cross the reassuringly-named “suicide bridge” you can access the central island of the lake whereon sits the belvedere of Sybil, a Corinthian-styled temple. All in all, this park promises a stimulating visit.
Another typically Parisian haunt, the Parc de Montsouris to the south of Paris offers the full picnic experience. Divided between luxurious open spaces, rolling hills, a mock ‘woodland’ passage, and a beautifully-landscaped lake, this inventively-sculpted park has a wealth of potential spots. Featured in the 2005 film Paris, Je t’aime, this park also warrants a firm place in romantic nostalgia for the city, even if it is generally overlooked in favour of more historical Parisian parks. A well-equipped children’s playground also marks this park as fun for all the family.
Although more touristic, the Jardins de Trocadero is an ideal destination if you intend to feast in a more central location. A slight sacrifice of privacy is rewarded by its magisterial setting, since this park affords an impressive view of the iconic Eiffel tower; one that is arguably more impressive than that of its left bank counterpart Les Champs du Mars. With a touch of woodland landscaping to the west of the park, the happy picnicker can enjoy a breath of tranquillity and calm, glimpsing from a distance the activity of this Parisian hub through a screen of leaves.
Aside from the obvious Jardins de Luxembourg, the aptly-named Jardin de Plantes is also an interesting choice when in full bloom, but beware of the grass rule in both of these parks. If you are looking for a more ‘urban’ picnic, try the cobbled banks of Ile Saint-Louis or Canal St. Martin, or perhaps take a shady stroll down converted viaduct garden Promenade Plantée. With such an abundance of green-relief areas in this thriving city the very practice of picnicking needs to be continued. So rally to the cause! Grab the hamper and choose your grassy seat. With such wealth of natural havens to indulge an afternoon, you can have your cake and eat it too…and perhaps go back for seconds.
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