I own this lovely little, if somewhat cheeky, book called Paris Versus New York. In this publication, the two most well-known cities in the world are compared side-by-side, illustrated in a series of paired images.
Paris has baguettes, New York has bagels.
Paris has the metro, New York has the subway.
Paris has the brasserie, New York has the diner.
As a native New Yorker, I would say in virtually every one of these juxtapositions, each city is on equal footing.
A French jardin is pitted against Central Park and while Central Park in New York is truly wonderful (thanks to its numerous varieties of green gardens), Paris has got New York beat … so says this native New Yorker.
Although I have been a summer resident of Paris for many years, I’m still finding all the little hidden spaces that are off the beaten path and provide relief from the bustling boulevards.
The well-known parks such as the Tulieries and Luxembourg Gardens should be on your list if you’ve never been to Paris, but even if you’re a first-timer, the thrill of new discoveries should be on your itinerary too. As you make your way further from the Seine river, you’ll come upon the real gems, oasis’ that are so serene and exclusive, you might feel like you are on a day trip from Paris!
So, today I am going to share with you two of my favorite little spots – visit them, perhaps with a bottle of wine in hand, and you might just have all to yourself:
Jardin Saint-Gilles-Grand-Veneur is a series of four small lawns covered in a riot of trellised roses and sweet-smelling maple trees and is the place to go for complete inner peace.
Located right off the bustling boulevard Beaumarchais in the 3rd arrondissement, you’d never know there are noisy cars and bustling activity right outside once you plop yourself down on one of the comfortable benches inside this bucolic park.
To reach this spot, you’ll walk down the rue des Arquebusiers, a small side street right off the boulevard. Next to a hotel located in the corner of the street is the entrance to the park.
Walk through a courtyard of a rather unassuming apartment building and you’ll be immediately compensated as you come upon this gorgeous parcel of precious land.
Put your cell phone away, sit quietly and listen to the bells of Saint-Denys-du-Saint-Sacrement toll in the distance while you admire the stunning façade of the Hotel du Grand Veneur, a white-washed Juliet-balconied noble house that overlooks the garden.
My second oasis is Square Recamier located just steps away from the well-known, yet frenzied shopping mecca of the left bank’s Bon Marche department store.
You’ll enter at 7 rue Recamier and at the end of the short street, in a cute cul-de-sac, you will have reached nirvana.
This almost postage-stamp-sized square overflows with magnolias, heather and honeysuckle all surrounded by a giant fig tree. There is a little waterfall to complete the idyllic setting.
After a fun day of collecting purchases from the famed institution, I put my feet up in this sweet spot and all is right with the world.
On every trip to the French capital, I pay my respects to the long gone who rest in Pere-Lachaise cemetery. While the cemetery itself isn’t really off the beaten track, there is a garden nearby that is certainly a secluded spot. With wild carrots and hyacinth growing among cute little toads and snails, this is a slightly wild garden, but this natural setting is a refreshing relief from the over the more manicured, “pretty for the tourists”, garden. There is a lovely pond with water lilies and reeds and enough benches to take in the welcomed silence. The closest metro stop to the park is Alexandre-Dumas and you’ll enter the garden on rue de la Reunion or rue de Lesseps. After a relaxing visit, you can take a few minutes walk to the most famous resting place in all of Paris and you can honor the likes of Oscar Wilde, Frederic Chopin, Gertrude Stein and of course, The Doors frontman, Jim Morrison.
Cite des Arts
While not exactly a park or garden, I have to include the Cite des Arts in this roundup, as it’s probably one of the most hidden spots in the French capital. In the shadow of the looming Montparnasse Tower, Paris’ only skyscraper located in the 14th arrondissement, it’s a complete surprise to come upon this very garden-like cul-de-sac that was once home to the greats in the art world. As you walk down the well-known avenue du Maine, You’ll make your turn into number 21 and you’ll think you are in another world. And you will be, as the ghosts of Picasso, Modigliani, Cocteau and Soutine linger here as this was the place these great talents flocked to for a meal, debates and musical soirees.
While you won’t see any street art here, the street itself is the art. Peer into any of the artists studios, close your eyes and picture these creme of the modern art world at work. At the end of the road, there is a little small museum telling the tale of the glory days of the artists who graced these walls. It’s a lovely way to spend an hour or so, most likely it will be just you and the spirits of days gone by.
Do you want to be able to experience Paris on a deeper level? I hope you will use my extensive knowledge of Paris to plan your dream vacation. But don’t just take my word for it. My lovely clients let you know in their own words what their trip to the City of Lights has meant for them.