There is nothing more Parisian than sitting outdoors with a café au lait, delicious patisseries and a good book. It was my daily ritual for the two months that I spent in Paris.
Everyone is familiar with the iconic Parisian café with its wicker chairs crowded around small circular tables huddled under a brightly coloured awning, sprawled on the sidewalk. The image has been replicated around the world. But while sitting outside one of these cafes on the Île Saint-Louis staring up at Notre Dame might be a tourist prerequisite, I preferred the peace and beauty of Paris’s gardens.
The French do things elegantly and orderly or they do not do them at all. The perfect combination of natural beauty and Parisian taste, these three carefully landscaped gardens were some of my favourite spots in Paris.
Jardin des Plantes
If like me you found the trimmed hedges of the Tuileries a little lacking in colour, the Jardin des Plantes is the garden for you. Walking amidst the vibrant flowerbeds, it is difficult to believe that the Jardin des Plantes was originally a medicinal herb garden. The seventeenth century garden was created at the behest of Louis XIII, so obviously it was never going to be small or simple. Eclectic is a much ampler description.
Over time, the gardens became a centre for scientific study. Different plants were brought from all corners of the world and today the garden contains over 23,000 different pant species. These fill the flowerbeds and the greenhouses while animals from around the world fill the small zoo. The zoo was first added after the French Revolution left many of the animals collected by French royalty at Versailles homeless. The surrounding galleries are each dedicated to various natural processes including evolution, geology and palaeontology as well as botany.
There are few gardens that rival the riot of colour and scents that greet you as you make your way down through the central flowerbeds towards the Grande Galerie de l’Evolution. The gardens are generally peaceful with nothing more than the sound of bees flying haphazardly from flower to flower unable to settle on just one when surrounded by so many options.
Covering 24 hectares, there are plenty of secluded spots to explore and benches to curl up on. The garden’s labyrinth might be disappointing but wandering through the flowerbeds is certainly not, regardless of whether you’re a botany enthusiast.
Jardin du Palais-Royal
Despite being steps away from the Avenue de l’Opéra, this small garden surrounded by the Palais-Royal often goes unnoticed amongst tourists. It was probably one of the few places in Paris where I could be mistaken for a Parisian, that is, until I whipped out my camera to take advantage of particularly good lighting.
Surrounded on all sides by column-lined galleries, sitting in the garden feels like you have stumbled upon an ill kept secret in the very heart of Paris. Outside might be the bustle of tour buses and throngs of people pouring in and out of the Louvre, but inside is a quiet sanctuary, or rather as peaceful a spot as can be found in the middle of one of Europe’s busiest cities. But I never believed that silence was truly golden anyway.
The galleries are dotted with cafes and little shops. Typically, you’d find me at Café Kitsuné. Not only is their coffee excellent (and thankfully not the size of a thimble) but they have also branched out from traditional coffee shops to include things like matcha lattes on their menu.
The gardens might take only about five minutes to walk from one side to the other, but I could easily spend hours window-shopping and reading in a sunny spot. Paris has signature green chairs that can be found in gardens all over the city though at lunchtime you might have trouble grabbing one. They are surprisingly comfortable, especially if you are lucky enough to snag a reclining chair. (I may or may not have fallen asleep in one on a particularly warm afternoon). On the best days, I also stumbled on street musicians performing in the galleries.
Jardin du Luxembourg
Connected to what was originally a royal palace, it is no surprise that these are some of the most opulent gardens in Paris. And more importantly, they are my personal favourite.
The Palais du Luxembourg might belong to the French Senate, but the gardens are open to the public. At the heart of the gardens and in front of the palace’s south façade is a large basin. This is just about as picturesque as Paris gets. Often there are children playing with model sailboats in the basin. It’s a tradition dating back almost a century.
The gardens have everything a royal garden might require including an orangery, tennis courts, an orchard and over a hundred statues. Marie de Medici, after who the garden’s Medici fountain was named, certainly left her mark on the city when she constructed the gardens in the seventeenth century. As it should be, they are symmetrical and immaculate. After all, the Parisians have had over four hundred years to perfect them.
The gardens are perhaps most beautiful at sunset when the palace and the basin catch the vivid orange light. Try catching one of the evening outdoor concerts or just enjoy a picnic dinner. Of course, don’t forget to bring a bottle of wine!
Photography by Savannah Hayes
Top: Luxembourg Palace and Gardens
Middle: Jardin des Plantes; Jardin du Palais-Royal
Bottom: Luxembourg Palace