Out in my own garden today, I’m daydreaming about some of my favorite “secret gardens” in Paris. OK ….There’s probably very little that’s secret in Paris anymore but I came across these gardens quite by chance on different visits to Paris so they were a secret to me. Unlike many gardens that I admire for their plantings both large and small, the places I describe below are favorites of mine for their ability to offer rest, relaxation, and a slice of green (even in January) in an often hectic and busy city. Even the best visits to Paris can be exhausting from all the hoofing it (and wine drinking) I do and … if it is also hot out … a green quiet spot can make a world of difference for recharging my turismo batteries.
Secret Garden #1
At Cours la Reine and Avenue Franklin Delano Roosevelt near the Palaid de la Decouverte and the Grand Palais is a little slice of real estate where you’ll find the unremarkable busts of Samuel Champlain and Jacques Cartier. It is here that you will also find a charming little garden commonly known as Jardin de la Vallee Suisse. This garden is quite small and Google maps doesn’t even show it as a “green” colored patch denoting a garden; it only shows that there is a small pond at this location (denoted with blue). It is easy enough to pass right by this garden when touring this grand part of town.
The Jardin de la Vallee Suisse is a bit overgrown and the entrance isn’t immediately evident but when you find it, a rustic staircase will take you down a level; a mysterious elevation for a garden. At the bottom of the staircase, there is a rock archway which seems like a portal to a past time. As you step through you are immediately transported to a quiet and serene spot. This little garden is not the tidiest which adds to its ancient feel; as if it was simply forgotten by time and the city grew up around it. You can wander through on paved paths and take a rest on one of the benches. This quiet place with singing birds, a pond, creek and overhead footbridge is a world away from the busy streets and magnificent monuments just a stone’s throw away.
Secret Garden #2
I’m not sure how I came to find out that Paris has a doll museum; probably from something I read in one of my many books on Paris. I have a lifelong fascination with dolls (stuffed animals too). Not your typical baby dolls or Barbies, though they were a favorite in my childhood. My favorite kind of dolls these days are “art dolls” and antique dolls. I love them for their imaginative depiction of something real and for their sometimes slightly scary and/or macabre presents. It was a visit to Le Musee de la Poupee that lead me to discover enchanting Jardin Anne-Frank.
Near Le Centre Pompidou, off the busy and sometimes loud Rue Du Reaubourg, you can enter a dark and slightly intimidating alley (Impasse Berthaud) on the east side of the street just north of Rue Rambuteau. The alley bends to the left and at the end you will find Le Musee de la Poupee and the Jardin Anne-Frank. (If you fancy a strange, curious, and campy experience do enter Le Musee de la Poupee.) The Jardin Anne-Frank garden is a secluded, tranquil, and reflective place in the heart of the Marais; an apt tribute to the incredible and tragic life of Anne Frank. It has a large and beautiful wooden pergola that arcs in a half circle and in the summer is green with climbing foliage. I get a magical and spiritual lift walking through this space. If you find yourself in this part of town this garden is worth a visit. If you want to take a full rest from the city it is a peaceful place to have a picnic lunch and sit for a while on one of its many benches.
Secret Garden #3 A and B
One of my favorite neighborhoods in Paris is the Ile de la Cite. Though in the center of the Paris, it is can be overlooked by tourists except for visiting the Cathedrale Notre-Dame de Paris on its east end. However, on the opposite end of the island, is where I like to hang out in another favorite garden of mine; actually two gardens.
The first is the Square du Vert-Galant. This green space sharply points out into the river Seine and is surrounded by a walkway that brings you up close and personal to the river. On one occasion, while waiting to embark on a river cruise tour of the Seine with Vedettes du Pont Neuf boat company, a friend and I drank champagne and snacked on bread and cheese in this beautiful garden. It was the perfect thing for two American women to do on a hot July 4th summer evening. After our hors-d’oeuvre, we snuck the remaining champagne on board the tour boat and took an hour-long ride to the Eiffel Tower and back, ending in a circumnavigation of the whole of the Ile de la Cite including great river views of the Cathedrale Notre-Dame de Paris.
As a side note, Vedettes du Pont Neuf boat company is not the most luxurious but if you are looking for a good tour, away from big crowds, at a good price, give it a try. Don’t forget to sit in the Square du Vert-Galant for a moment or two …. preferably with a friend and a nice French champagne.
Very nearby the Square du Vert-Galant is the Place Dauphine. This slice of pie-shaped garden is completely surrounded by buildings on two sides and tree-lined on the third helping to keep it a “secret” from those on the outer parameters of the Ile de la Cite. It is an unusual garden in that it is completely void of grass or anything green on the ground except for a couple of flower beds at its far east end. On one January visit, to my surprise, these beds were exploding with brightly colored primrose. Other than that, the garden is dotted sparsely with vintage bench seats, light posts, and trees. It is a stark place but offers an uncluttered escape to clear one’s head and enjoy its quiet zen-like ambiance.
A small disclaimer …. I have been to Place Dauphine several times and have always found it to be quiet and uncrowded though I imagine it must have its more busy moments too. If you come to this space and are in the mood for an old-school Paris restaurant experience, try the small and quaint Ma Salle a Manger (26 Place Dauphine) at the narrow point of the garden.
Secret Garden #4 A, B, and C
One cold January visit to Paris I was undertaking one of my “wanderings” in the Marais. My wanderings consist of picking an endpoint destination and on this day it was the shop Merci (111 Boulevard Beaumarchais. Fabulous! A topic for another time!) The point of these “wanderings” which I try to do whenever I visit a big city, is to pick an endpoint destination and work my way to it via a route that I have not yet explored. If, along the way, I find something else to see, do, or experience and I never make it to my final destination, it’s all good. That is the point of the wandering.
On this particular day, I had wandered a long way on foot and was getting pooped when I found myself on the Rue Payenne. That is when I happened upon the Jardin Lazare-Rachline. This super small garden space is partially walled and gated from the street and I wasn’t sure if I was allowed to enter but the signage soon cleared this up. I slipped into this space through the gate and, despite the cold, took a rest in this room-like garden. It is surrounded on three sides by buildings, (one of which is the Hotel Donon which now houses the Musee Cognac-Jay) and the forth side is a barrier of a high wall, metal fencing, and a gate. In spite of all the potential shade, this garden was remarkably green even in January. It is a formal and orderly garden with benches lining the two long sides. Although there were no flowers to speak of during this visit, there were flower beds and I could imagine them full of color in the summer. Once again, like my other secret gardens, this garden offers a place of peaceful respite.
To my surprise, when I ventured out from the Jardin Lazare-Rachline to resume my wandering, I immediately came upon two other small but charming gardens and despite the fact that I was all rested up, I just had to take a stroll through the Square Geoges-Cain ( 12 Rue Payenne) and the Square Leopold Achille. Both worthwhile gardens with the Square Leopold Achille maintaining a small but nice playground for children if you have little ones along with you.
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