Travel notes from the real France. Carnet de Voyage is a weekly personal travel story in France sent in by readers. If you’d like to write a story for Carnet de Voyage, head here for details on how to submit.
On my first solo trip to Paris over ten years ago, I stumbled across a hidden, secret side to Paris that was to draw me back again and again. To my surprise, it was not the big-ticket items of the Eiffel Tower, the Louvre, or the Champs-Élysées, but its parks!
I had visited the better-known parks or gardens on fleeting earlier trips, such as the Jardin des Tuileries, Jardin du Luxembourg and Jardin des Plantes. Still, I was not prepared for the smorgasbord of hidden gems and lesser-known parks and gardens that I found.
Previously, when I thought of Paris, I had not associated it with its green space. It is the densest city in Europe and the 7th densest in the world (per La Grande Conversation). So, it was a revelation that as I explored Paris more, I kept stumbling across little urban oases of green. Later, I was to find that despite the city’s density, it is one of the greenest capitals in Europe, with more than 400 parks and gardens.
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Most parts of Paris have a bevy of hidden green places to explore. They are variously described as a park (parc), garden (jardin), wood (bois), place or square. The difference is based on their size, with the square or place the smallest and the largest, the wood. To add a bit of confusion, some places or squares do not have a garden at all! However, no matter their description, they became like a magnet that I could not resist.
As I began to plot my walks throughout each of the arrondissements of Paris (see my blog), my routes were increasingly diverted towards any green space I could find. Such areas became a haven for me. The unexpectedness and the relative quietness of a park or garden in the middle of a bustling city is very special. The ones I particularly liked were those hidden from the street.
For example, Clos des Blancs Manteaux in the 4th arrondissement is accessed through a red doorway you could easily walk past. A quiet local spot, it is dedicated to the memory of Diana, Princess of Wales, and is open to the public only on weekends. Its herb and vegetable garden and lovely flowers made it reminiscent of a medieval garden in the heart of the modern-day Marais.
Another favourite in the 3rd arrondissement is Square Saint-Gilles Grand Veneur – Pauline-Roland, whose garden is enclosed by old buildings. Although a public park, it feels like an inner private courtyard with roses and climbing plants. Sitting there was quite enchanting and felt like being in the plot of The Secret Garden, the classic children’s book by Frances Hodgson Burnett.
In such locations, I would often rest for a while, eat my lunch, write, read, or watch what was happening around me. As a solo traveller, I often preferred such settings and felt most connected with what I consider the more authentic Paris, beyond its main tourist attractions.
One lunchtime, on a sweltering summer’s day, I was sitting in the beautiful Place des Vosges, the oldest planned square in Paris, watching a group of kids having a water fight around one of its ornate fountains. It was chaos, children screaming, laughing, and running everywhere. Being lunch hour, seats were at a premium, and I sat next to an Italian couple, perched like we were at the theatre, entranced with the scene in front of us. Although we spoke different languages, our exchange of smiles and quiet laughter was communication enough!
Other charming small hidden gardens that I discovered included (see my Instagram account for more photos):
- Jardin Anne Frank, a quiet community garden in the 3rd arrondissement, is surrounded by a high wall tracing the old city wall.
- Jardin des Rosiers Joseph Migneret, concealed behind a discrete grilled metal gate, off the busy Rue des Rosiers in the Jewish quarter in the 4th arrondissement.
- Square Paul Langevin in the 5th arrondissement with its ivy-covered sweeping staircase
- Jardin Catherine-Labouré, a former convent kitchen garden hidden behind a stone wall in the 7th arrondissement, with grapevines, berries, and arbour-covered pathways.
- Jardin de la Folie Titon in the 11th arrondissement, opposite the pretty Église protestante luthérienne de Bon-Secours.
To me, these hidden gems, which often do not rate a mention in the guidebooks, best illustrate the richness and depth of what Paris has to offer. Like the cafés Paris is famous for, these parks and gardens, although less well known, provide the perfect spot for people-watching!
Read our other Carnet de Voyage entries here
Dianne McHugh lives in Sydney, Australia. A former accountant of over 20 years with the NSW government, she made the decision to return to university to study a Bachelor of Arts majoring in history and philosophy at Western Sydney University. She completed the degree with distinction in 2020 and was awarded the Dean’s Medal. Her love of travel has taken across the world and five times to Paris over a 30-year period, her most recent visit dating back to June 2023.
Lead photo credit : Jardin du Palais Royal © Page Light Studios / shutterstock
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