Friday, March 20, 2009

A neighbor asked me if I could make recommendations for a friend who is visiting Paris for the first time. The friend takes an "experiential" approach to travel. This idea intrigued me and got me thinking about how to formulate a response away from the usual guided tours that are genuinely helpful and interesting for first timers--but not experiential in the way this friend is seeking.

I put together what turned out to be a three-page email of suggestions, and because it was received with such enthusiasm, I decided to share the information in a series of posts I'm calling "Experiential Paris." This first post will focus on gardens, parks, and walkways in Paris. Enjoy, and feel free to share with your traveling friends.
(Photo credit above: flower market at the Madeleine by ddip)


Paris is a horticulturalist's dream. Visiting one of the city's gardens, parks, or walkways for an afternoon is one of the best ways I can think of to experience Paris as Parisians do, with an appreciation for slowing down and taking in the aesthetics of place.

Any print or online guide to the city will offer good information on where to start. And take a peak at Elaine Sciolino's piece for the New York Times in June 2008. It focuses on lesser known gardens in the city and has a companion slide show for visuals.

Below are three of my favorites in the city.

(Photo credit: the Luxembourg ruche, or apiary, by ddip)

The Luxembourg Gardens
The centrally located Luxembourg Gardens off the Boulevard St. Michel are not to be missed. Everyone goes there, and you'll find amazing things tucked in various corners—an apiary (above), a fruit orchard, a fish pond, pony rides and miniature sailboats for kids, boules (a ball game using small steel balls on a flat gravel surface) for the adults, ice cream, and everything in between.

(Photo credit: Eugene Atget, Luxembourg Gardens,

The plantings change regularly, and when we were there last month, tulips and daffodils were already pushing through the ground with their bud sacks ready to burst. Stroll through the park leisurely or choose a chair to sit in the sun and read for a while. It's what any self-respecting Parisian would do.

Afterward, go to the Dalloyau patisserie for coffee and pastries. It’s on the Boulevard St. Michel side of the park and has a lovely little tea room on the second floor. Parisians sit there for hours reading, writing, talking. And on your way to Dalloyau, don’t miss the free photography exhibit that usually lines the fence of the park on that same side.

(Photo credit: Allee des Cygnes, by Alemsk.tos on

Ile des Cygnes
My father and I walked to this little known island in the Seine after Mass at St. Eustache one Sunday afternoon. He thought it would be a relatively short walk, but hiking from St. Eustache in the 1st arrondissement to the
Ile des Cygnes in the 15th is not for the faint of heart. It took us about two hours and remains a peak Paris moment, partly because we walked the whole way along the Seine, taking in an amazing swathe of people and sights.

The fun of the island is the approach to its far end along the enchanting tree-lined Allee des Cygnes (photo above). The reward: a miniature Statue of Liberty at the very tip of the island. The Metro is aboveground in this part of the city, so it's fun to catch a ride from here to wherever you're going next.

(Photo credit: St. Cloud, Eugene Atget, from

St. Cloud
I love some of the parks just outside of Paris. The grounds at Sceaux, for example, are lovely. Versailles is magnificent and an easy day trip. But the park at St. Cloud is my very favorite, and not many people seem to go there.

I learned about St. Cloud many years ago through nineteenth-century French photographer Eugene Atget, who took some classic images (above) in this park along the Seine in the town of St. Cloud. You can see the flowing waters of the magnificent terraced fountain, known as the Grande Cascade, on certain days of the week and take tea or coffee at the little concessionnaire that's open in good weather.

The park is an easy ride on the Metro from Paris, and if you're so inclined, you can combine a visit there with a stop at the nearby National Museum of Ceramics.

(Photo credit: website)

At the museum, you'll be introduced to Sevres beauties (left) along with the idiosyncracies of French museology
--a sort of "figure it out yourself" approach to displaying a museum's collection. It's a lovely space and a lovely collection, so even if you aren't exactly sure what you're seeing, you'll go away happy.

Tune in next Friday for more tips from Experiential Paris!


fresca said...
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ddip said...

Me too! Gotta work on spreading the word, so tell all your traveling friends about "Experiential Paris."

PaulD said...

fresca's right; write it! Though you know I'm not about to make a statement that commits me to the trip, your writings -as your father's- are great, compelling; the photos alluring.

ddip said...

WJG's comment must be in the queue to post still, but she mentions how she loves dreaming about the places I write about. Ah, I dream about them too....